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Winter 2007/2008
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"Crossing Borders"
A column by Doug Richardson,
Executive Director, Association of American Geographers


Reaching Out to Developing Regions

Doug RichardsonWhile the AAG has long advocated providing greater support to and increasing scholarly and research exchange with geographers and the GIS communities from the developing regions of the world, the lack of financial resources has limited our ability, as an association, to implement such initiatives broadly. However, the AAG's financial foundation is now strong and growing, and as a result, I believe we can afford to share some of our membership benefits with those around the world who do not currently have the resources to access our publications, meetings, research programs, technology innovations, and other membership benefits.

We are therefore pleased to announce a new, subsidized AAG membership program for geographers and others interested in geography and GIS from developing regions of the world who wish to join the AAG. A summary of the new program, which is in effect now, follows below.

Summary of the Program

Geographers and others interested in joining the AAG who are from and living in developing regions and have an income of less than $25,000 per year are now eligible for AAG membership at the deeply subsidized rate of $20 per year. The AAG developing regions membership includes all regular AAG member benefits, including online access to AAG's leading research journals, newsletters, and numerous other geography- and GIS-related publications. Optional hard copies of journals or newsletters are also available for a small incremental fee to cover cost of shipping only. Other benefits include eligibility to participate in AAG research grants and awards programs, as well as reduced registration fees at AAG annual meetings and other AAG-sponsored symposia, workshops, and seminars.

Developing regions AAG members also gain access to "members only" Web site resources, such as employment opportunities, job listings, inclusion in the AAG Guide to Geography Programs and Directory of Geographers, curricular materials, research knowledge environments, and much more. Members are also able to participate in AAG's specialty groups, LISTSERVs, chat rooms, and other interactions. A list of the many developing regions and countries from which AAG members may participate in this new membership program is available on the AAG Web site at www.aag.org.

Everyone Benefits

The AAG's Developing Regions Membership Program will benefit not only those geographers and GIS specialists from developing regions who wish to participate but also those of us in the "developed world." Greater international networking, information sharing, and interaction are becoming increasingly common—and necessary—in the work and lives of most geographers and GIScientists, both in so-called "developing regions" and in wealthier countries. As the AAG membership and the attendance at our annual meetings have grown in recent years, international geographers' participation in the activities of the AAG has grown at an even faster rate than that of domestic U.S.-based geographers. With more than 6,000 attendees already registered for the AAG Annual Meeting to be held in Boston this April (2008), nearly 27 percent are from countries other than the United States, up from approximately 20 percent a few years ago. Yet most of our current international membership and participation are still from the wealthier countries in Europe, Asia, and North America.

The AAG developing world membership category recognizes the obvious: that vastly different financial resources are available in different parts of the world. This new category of membership, while recognizing the more extreme financial needs of geographers in the very lowest-income countries, is not wholly inconsistent with the AAG's current general membership fee approach for the United States and other wealthier countries, which also recognizes income level differences among individual members in establishing membership fees.

And, of course, enabling greater participation of geographers from the "developing regions" of the world in activities and networks of the AAG also enriches the experience, research, and scholarship of the AAG and its current members in myriad ways, providing both personal and professional benefits to us far exceeding the financial subsidies we might extend to our colleagues in some of the poorest regions of the world.

How You Can Help

The implementation of a new program of this scale is a large and complicated undertaking, involving the development of new AAG infrastructure for international outreach, materials creation and distribution, language translation, Web site development, and communications. The AAG has established a tax-deductible Developing Regions Membership Fund to help fund the infrastructure and staff needed to support the new program and also to provide financial grants for memberships for those developing regions' geographers for whom even $20 may not be affordable. A contribution for infrastructure or memberships to this fund can have a far-reaching impact. A donation of only $100, for example, would support five student members from Latin America for one year. A $1,000 contribution could support AAG membership for ten geography faculty members from Africa for five years.

AAG and Esri user community members can also help by informing colleagues and friends in developing regions of the new program and perhaps by offering to sponsor memberships directly for colleagues, former students, research collaborators, and others who may be interested. The AAG already has developed brochures in four languages (Spanish, French, Portuguese, and English) describing the Developing Regions Membership Program, and plans more of these in many other languages, including Chinese and Arabic, as funds become available. A specialty group or GIS community may wish to support additional flyers in these or other languages and also might help with the translations. Copies of these flyers are available from the AAG in hard copy or as a digital .pdf file for anyone who wishes to distribute them to colleagues and friends in developing regions.

More Information

For more information on this new program or to join the AAG as a Developing Regions member, visit the AAG Web site at www.aag.org. I look forward to working with you to help build and sustain the AAG's new Developing Regions Membership Program in the years ahead.

Doug Richardson
drichardson@aag.org

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