IFS at Almost-50: Moving Ahead with Clarity in a New Year

Published: 2021-12-17

In a year of challenges and victories, how reassuring and pleasant it has been to know that we can count on so many dedicated colleagues and friends of IFS. On behalf of the Secretariat, I extend our appreciation to each and every one of you for your valuable contributions to IFS and our present and former grantees. With the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, inadequate progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and climate change, growing societal concerns about inequality and social cohesion, and the opportunities and risks presented by evolving technologies, the need for scientists to be engaged in and with the world is more acute than ever.

Nighisty Ghezae, DirectorNighisty Ghezae, IFS Director

At the same time, IFS finds itself in a period of great change and adjustment as an organisation, as do our grantees, and we have all needed to respond rapidly and skilfully as 2021 prompted us to reconsider what has remained familiar and effective, and what needs to change. Thus, IFS has continued without pause to support the capacity enhancement of early career women and men scientists in Low- and Lower-Middle-Income Countries (LLMIC), so that they may join our large numbers of IFS alumni who are of fundamental importance to addressing local and global challenges. Attainment of such high-level outcomes begins with talented researchers working alone and in teams, within and among institutions, and across borders and differences, and this is at the heart of what IFS has been doing for almost 50 years.

As always, our success is possible because of the scientific passion of our grantees and alumni, the hard work of our small and mighty staff at the IFS Secretariat, the dedication of our Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) members, our collaborations with strategic partners, and the financial contributions of our donors, as well as the strong leadership of our Board of Trustees. However, any accomplishments are not ours alone. We thank all who have contributed to our vision, especially in the midst of a particularly difficult landscape.

I am struck by what has been achieved in the past year. Here are some highlights, as we:

  • Worked closely with our grantees whose projects are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, so as to support them to complete their research activities as conditions allow.
  • Continued to have all gatherings virtually, such as the Board of Trustees and SAC meetings, and the nine capacity-enhancing workshops organised by IFS on its own, or in collaboration with strategic partners or alumni associations, most in response to requests from grantees and partners. The development of IFS’s virtual meeting tools that started in 2020 continued throughout 2021.
  • Followed up on the outputs and results of the 102 people awarded IFS grants in 2017, with 32 of their publications submitted.
  • Began the evaluation of the collaborative research Pilot 3 and – together with the two previous pilots’ evaluations and lessons learned – continued the development of mentorship guidelines and a policy brief on mentoring.
  • Continued working towards gender equality by incorporating gender in all our activities, increasing the visibility of women in science through the IFS Women in Science Public Contact List and supporting the 1000 STEM Women Project, and supporting initiatives identified by the women grantees themselves.
  • Worked with alumni in Benin, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria on several activities, including a virtual conference that explored collective imaginations of decolonization of research in Africa, and a conference on “Scaling Research Impact and Ownership in the Global South: IFS’s Next Chapter”.
  • Joined with Philippines-based SEARCA to pilot the IFS-SEARCA Mentorship Program for Advanced Grants, and successfully held a Mentoring Workshop, which led to eight of 27 applicants being awarded an Advanced Grant to conduct research into pandemic-related food security issues in Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam.
  • Awarded 68 grants (62 Basic Grants and 2 Renewal Grants) through a 2021 call upon invitation for applications within the regular IFS programme.
  • Opened a call upon invitation for 2022, with a plan to award 93 Basic Grants and 45 Renewal Grants.
  • Clarified outstanding issues pertaining to the support from Sida, and came to an agreement with our long-time donor on how to phase out the existing programme and in parallel start an assessment of IFS’s next chapter. In addition to Sida, our second donor SNSF have also been supportive in the changed circumstances.
  • Conducted a tendering process for the IFS 2.0 Assessment, which resulted in Nairobi-based ECI-Africa being contracted to carry out the study, kicked off with an Inception Report and Meeting

Looking ahead, 2022 will be an exceptional year in these extraordinary times. IFS will reach the milestone of our 50th anniversary, a celebration of a half-century of passion for supporting early career scientists in LLMICs, and a commemoration of all that we have accomplished. It is also a testament to our perseverance in an environment of competing demands for limited resources, and to our longevity, integrity and strength.

We invite everyone to celebrate with us throughout 2022 as we begin phasing out ongoing activities in a responsible manner, and to remain fully engaged with us as together we create a future for IFS. I am confident that the years and decades ahead hold boundless opportunities for IFS’s work and for the many early career women and men scientists who will walk into the future with us. To quote C S Lewis, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind”.

From and to all of us in Stockholm and around the world, may you have a happy, healthy and successful 2022.



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