IFS from the Perspectives of Current and Former Members of the Board of Trustees

Published: 2022-08-31

Most of our blog posts this year have featured essays drawing on responses to questions posed to a range of IFS stakeholders. In March, we heard from among the 600+ current grantees about their perspectives on IFS. In April, selected members of IFS’s Scientific Advisory Committees (SACs) and external reviewers wrote about their views and their roles as volunteer advisors. For May, 286 IFS alumni (former grantees) shared their perspectives on IFS and its impact on them and their careers. For this month, we report on perspectives offered by 13 present and past members of the IFS Board of Trustees (BOT). As with the others, we began by asking respondents to describe a defining moment in their experience of IFS that exemplifies its role in science.

Several BOT colleagues focused on the ultimate reason for IFS’s existence: our grantees and their research. One mentioned serving on an IFS Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) over 20 years ago, while another highlighted the reviewer feedback that is helpful to applicants as they develop their proposals to the final stage. Seeing a project funded based on its content – and not the experience of the applicant – was one of the “most striking ingredients … of great value.” As one of few financial support options for early career scientists around the world, respondents noted the role that IFS plays in the transformation of students into becoming university faculty themselves.

Meeting IFS grantees and alumni in person allowed one BOT member to learn how the support has transformed not only their lives but also helped to address problems in their own countries and regions. For example, a visit to a poorly-equipped soil lab in Burkina Faso showed how a small IFS grant made it possible for two young scientists to make a difference there by conducting research that produced valuable data. One person suggested that “numbers matter” and noted the 8,000+ young professionals who have been supported since IFS was established in 1972.

A number of BOT members have experienced firsthand the role that IFS plays because they started as applicants and grantees themselves, getting a boost to their research careers, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and receiving international science awards. As one colleague wrote, “My defining moment was back in 1973 when I got news that my research on the anthelminthic plant got approved for funding by IFS. My university had rejected my application on the grounds that I lacked experience. IFS funded me because it was supporting young people with good ideas even when they did not have relevant experience.”

Moment that exemplifies IFS
A former Board member from Argentina responded: “There is no such thing as a defining moment. I have been affiliated with IFS my entire professional life, and I am who I am largely due to its support.” She recalled an informal study she had carried out that showed a high percentage of IFS grantees who stayed in Argentina to develop scientific careers in their home country, as well as a significant proportion of IFS alumni who have become affiliates of the Argentine National Research Council. She went on to say that “[t]he history of IFS support to Argentina is a success story, with several inputs: excellent candidates, an effective system to identify them (the SACs), and a national R&D system that was there to absorb them. The tangible output is a substantial contribution to the consolidation of the country’s scientific human capital.”

When asked why they have contributed to IFS as a present or past Board member, several colleagues referred to their own experiences as a motivation, whether they had started as a grantee, volunteered their time as an external reviewer or SAC member, participated as resource persons in IFS workshops, joined the Board, or because their own experience as a scientist, researcher or academic would be useful to IFS. One person’s conviction that there are many young people out there who need support “to get started” led to them serving on the Board. Have witnessed a variety of cases where young scientists have been able to get established and recognized, there is also a conviction among present and past Board members that IFS support is an effective way of empowering early career scientists in the Global South to influence the research agenda around the major challenges of our time: poverty, hunger and environmental change. Most respondents also simply stated that they align philosophically (and passionately) with IFS’s vision, mission, objectives and approach, and on the importance of the small research grant and capacity-enhancing support.

The Board of Trustees is also tasked with envisioning a future for IFS, and for crafting policies and strategies that will attract the funding necessary to create impact on the grantees and their countries. The respondents want to see an organisation that continuously refreshes its mandate, and they suggested a few areas in which IFS must take a fresh look, including:

  • Interdisciplinary and thematic approaches
  • Collaborative research in innovative fields
  • Mentorship
  • Fostering leadership in science-based entrepreneurship and job creation
  • Working with local groups related to the environment, sustainable agriculture and other SDG-related areas, and
  • Joining with national, regional and international movements in science, research and industry.

As one BOT respondent wrote when asked about defining moments, “the struggle in this direction is still ongoing” as IFS makes efforts to broaden its scientific approach to include interdisciplinary theories and methods to address urgent real-world problems. While IFS evolves into a change-making organisation better situated to meet the challenges of today’s world, it also continues to demonstrate that the vision of its four founders remains true: a research grant, capacity-enhancement activities and support do indeed contribute significantly to the work of early career scientists and to positive impacts in their countries.






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