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“Science and Leadership for Transforming Institutions”—Young scientists are a light for Africa.

Published: 2017-05-04

The week of March 5th through 10th brought distinguished organizations and committed young scientists from around the world to the University of Dar es Salaam Business School for the postgraduate course “Science and Leadership for Transforming Institutions”. Instituted by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences as part of the Sida funded ENGAGE Programme—ENGendering AGrbusiness and Entrepreneurship, the two week course was aimed at helping PhD students advance in their fields and develop leadership skills to solve global development challenges. IFS was invited to partner with SLU and RUFORUM (Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture) in offering a course to help students build competencies to enable them to transform their institutions.

Twenty-four students came from across southern Africa, from universities in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and Tanzania. Their backgrounds and fields of study were as diverse as their geographical locales, ranging from soil science to disaster preparedness, integrated water resource management to railway engineering, computer science to agricultural economics. The students are at various phases of  their PhD studies and came from universities such as Makerere, Bunda College, Addis Ababa, Kiisi, the University of Dar es Salaam and Kenyatta. Despite these differences, they all had one objective in common: to bring about change—in their institutions and throughout the continent of Africa.

The  week before the course was dedicated to individual study from the students'  home country, and comprised of material ranging from peer reviewed articles on North-South collaboration in the sciences, to TED Talks on leadership. The second week, students convened at the University of Dar es Salaam Business School for face to face and peer to peer collaborative learning. Content included techniques for working in teams, international protocol and improved networking and communications, tactics for negotiations and conflict resolution and the role of science in transforming institutions.

Dr Nighisty Ghezae, Director at IFS, contributed to the course with a discussion on “Gender in Science”, emphasizing the importance of STI (Science, Technology and Innovation) for promoting sustainable development, yet highlighting how frequently women are deterred from studying or pursuing careers in science. “If it is widely accepted that creating knowledge and understanding through science will allow us to find solutions to today’s acute economic, social and environmental challenges, in order to achieve sustainable development throughout the world, then science cannot continue to deprive itself of the full scientific potential of over half of  the planet’s population”. As part of her module, Dr Ghezae invited students to share their personal experiences about being a woman in science or stories about the influential roles that women played along their educational and career paths. The stories were emotional, inspirational, and highlighted not only the crucial yet often hidden roles that women play in promoting science in African countries, but also the challenges that many still face. The testimonials will be compiled and published by SLU Repro Productions later this year.

Building on Dr Ghezae’s presentation, Dr Moses Osiru, Deputy Executive Secretary at RUFORUM, discoursed policy frameworks for STI in Africa with a focus on the AU’s strategy for promoting STI in the coming years, addressing progress that has been made in this area, but also underlining areas where students can affect change. “There are several challenges in implementing initiatives: Lack of African human capacity, heavy reliance on external funding, targeting short-term activities – need to ensure long-term financial sustainability, deficiency of partnership among initiatives, lack of evidence for policy making and weak institutions”.

In addition to reports from institutions such as IFS and RUFORUM, students received training from experts in the private as well as academic sectors. Dr Linley Chiwona-Karltun, Lecturer and Research Fellow at SLU, coached students on the importance of working in teams and power of networking. Drawing from her vast experience collaborating on international projects and working with organizations from the World Bank to a women’s cassava collective in Malawi, she offered first hand insights and practical wisdom to help students grow their professional networks and navigate the often demanding multinational context of the international development scene. Dr Sarah Wamala Andersson, independent International Consultant in health systems and leadership development, inspired students by sharing her personal story of success. Utilizing a cutting edge approach, students received insights into their personal leadership style and techniques to better understand, develop, and optimize their own strengths and best utilize them to develop a personal roadmap for personal and career development.

In celebration of International Women’s Day and in conjunction with the “Science and Leadership for Transforming Institutions”, IFS and UDSM hosted a networking event on the UDSM campus on the evening of March 8th. Students, faculty from UDSM, IFS alumni and others from various institutions and networks convened at the event “Women in Science” and were privy to a key note speech by Professor Bertha Koda on “Women and Science Education in Tanzania”. Attendees had the chance to network and share ideas and experiences while enjoying local foods.

The week was intense and enriching, wrought with challenges and abundant in rewards for students and facilitators alike. The young scientists who came from far and wide, gained insight and practical knowledge as to ways in which they could utilize their strengths to become leaders and transform their institutions, they formed a network and collaborative partnerships to support each other as they move forward to complete their PhD studies and embark upon their careers. On the final day of the course students committed to paper concrete action steps that they would take the following week, and already some have started to embark upon these endeavors: speaking to school age girls about opportunities in science, forming partnerships with local schools to mentor underprivileged youth and supporting the mothers and wives in their own families bridge the gender gap. Many of the students expressed interest in building upon the course and offering additional trainings in collaboration with other universities in the region. If the commitment, enthusiasm, intellect, and ingenuity of these 24 students is any indicator of Africa’s future, things are looking bright.

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