International Award

Faisal Hossain

University of Washington



Faisal Hossain has long recognized the gap between use-inspired research and research that is actually used. He relishes the practical hurdles necessary to close this gap, leveraging the academic environment as an incubator for developing new cohorts of problem-solving scientists who learn to meet these challenges as students. Authentic stakeholder engagement is key, and Faisal trains students to codevelop solutions with diverse groups by first recognizing cultural and socioeconomic contexts. Faisal calls his training philosophy the “backward-forward hybrid model for capacity building and training.” In short, teams of scientists and graduate students iterate between spending time in first-mile (i.e., laboratories) and last-mile (i.e., stakeholder) environments. 

Using this approach, Faisal built an innovative flood forecasting system that is currently serving over 80 million people in Bangladesh since 2014. In early 2016, his team took advantage of their recent innovation in satellite gravimetry to help the Pakistan government overcome costly groundwater management challenges for 100 million people in the Indus Basin. He extended this work to a pilot study of 700 farmers eager to use better data for conserving water and improving crop yield through a satellite-based text messaging system. This system was later expanded to 100,000 farmers in the Indus Valley. Having proved the concept, his team is now using satellite and weather models to forecast crop water demand for the entire country. This information has revolutionized agricultural practice by empowering farmers to make data-based decisions regarding scheduling irrigation based on regular forecasts delivered through cell phones.

Faisal is not content to move between the field and the laboratory. He is also passionately committed to inspiring scientists and the next generation of students through professional-grade films that can communicate the societal value of science to the world at large. Since 2017, Faisal has organized a Student Film Contest at the University of Washington, which may be the first such film contest for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) majors, where STEM is combined with the arts (as STEAM) to showcase the importance of science for the public.


In closing, I am delighted to nominate Professor Faisal Hossain from the University of Washington for the 2020 International Award. The nomination is for his role in fundamentally improving access to information and research innovation on water resources in the developing world. 

Lisa Graumlich, University of WashingtonSeattle



I am truly humbled and honored to receive the AGU International Award. I want to thank Lisa and the amazing cheerleaders George, Soroosh, and Ashraf for their enthusiastic endorsements. 

No one person can have an “international impact aloneit takes a community of colleagues, students, and stakeholders unified by the common goal to make science serve society better and faster. So this award really belongs to all my studentsShahryar, Nishan, Hisham, Indira, Claire, Matt, SafatXiaodong, among otherswho went beyond their dissertation work and volunteered their time generously to build real-world solutions. This award also belongs to the numerous stakeholder agency staff around the world who were willing to walk with us hand in hand and to the vast community of scientists who were unselfish in sharing their knowledge to solve pressing problems related to water. 

I often wonder what “international really means today and what the role that science needs to play here is. We live in an increasingly connected world where actions in one place impact the livelihood and environment in another place. So, to me, “international really means everywhere”—wherever there is work to be done to make the region more equitable so that we leave no community behind and empower the marginalized who urgently need solutions grounded in science. 

On final reflection of this award, I feel I owe a lifetime of debt to the people of United States of America, of which I am a naturalized citizen. Without this citizenship, it would have been fundamentally impossible to have this international impact for countries around the world. Yet I am reminded that this citizenship would have never happened without the Civil Rights Act that paved the way for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The international impact that I have had so far as a scientist therefore owes a huge amount of debt to the generation who worked and continues to work selflessly toward a more equitable America that now accepts people like me to thrive as scientists. I therefore must do my part to keep striving for a better USA because without an equitable USA, an equitable planet will never be realized. For me, the path to having an international impact runs through these United States. The onus is now on me to evolve as a better scientist mentoring future scientists who together can apply scientific discoveries to reduce inequities we have today for essential livelihood resources.

Thank you.

Faisal Hossain, University of Washington, Seattle