The International Foundation for Science, with support from Carnegie Corporation, the Carolina Mac Gillavry Fund, and the Belgian Science Policy Office, has piloted a system to support collaborative research in Africa through a facilitated social networking platform and a web-based application review system.
The objectives of the conference were to showcase the pilot approach and engage with organizations who wish to fund or support research collaboration using a similar approach. Early-career scientists representing the 19 IFS-supported collaborative research teams came from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda to present the progress of their research through professionally prepared posters and to interact with participants from organizations such as AAS, ACPC, AfDB, AGRA, BecA, Carnegie, CODESRIA, IDRC, IFS, ICIPE, PASGR, RISE, SEARCA and WIOMSA.
A widespread feeling among the conference-goers was that the collaborative research projects brought together women and men from across disciplines, languages and regions to find African solutions to development issues on the continent. While there was a clear professional benefit to each young researcher in terms of what they are learning and experiencing, and also a potentially wide scope to disseminate their results, it was acknowledged that efforts are needed to make clear the economic benefits of the research and the approach to a non-scientific audience. Constructive discussions took place on improving collaborative research teamwork, mentoring, progress reporting and internet connectivity.
IFS and AAS are committed to working together toward policy changes across the continent and within institutions. Although there is a recognition that collaborative research is needed in Africa there is little political will or commitment to support it. Examples of relatively small steps that could lead to significant change include the facilitation of visas for scientific exchanges, the transport of experiment samples and equipment, and the transfer of funds to research and educational institutions. In her remarks at the end of the conference, the IFS Director, Dr Nighisty Ghezae, encouraged the representatives to look inside themselves for all the energy and potential they have to be unleashed, and to define the role of young researchers in Africa. For his part, Prof Berhanu Abegaz, Director of AAS, described the early-career scientists present as calm, confident, articulate, serious, content-rich and forward-looking.