Defining Science in Africa in 2017 and Beyond

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating (NEPAD) Agency created the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) with the support of the Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID). AESA is the result of Resolution 10 of the Declarations, Decisions and Resolutions of the January 2015 African Union Heads of State Summit, which created the Alliance as a platform to encourage health innovation for poor communities.

Annual update from AESA’s Director

This is the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa’s (AESA’s) first annual update to report progress to our stakeholders and partners. These communications are intended to stimulate discussion and action across the continent to promote the growth of science, technology and innovation (STI), and to set the scientific agenda for Africa in 2017 and beyond.

Since AESA was launched in September 2015, it has been laser-focused on improving science on the continent. The AESA platform, in partnership with African and global institutions, is positioned to harness science to achieve Africa’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDGs, in turn, fuel Africa’s knowledge-based economies, the foundation of economic development on the continent.

We are deeply committed to the dramatic growth of our population of world-class researchers by instilling a culture that promotes scientific leadership and excellence, improves our research infrastructure, promotes trans-disciplinary science within and among institutions, fosters development of new tools and technologies, and increases training opportunities for young scientists.

Over the past year, we have achieved some significant milestones toward our goal of becoming a major funding platform and setting the science agenda for Africa:

  • We have established new and expanded existing programmes to support the brightest scientists in Africa, working in productive environments, and fostering scientific excellence, leadership and innovation that address health and developmental challenges.
    • At the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, we and our partners announced the creation of the Coalition for Research and Innovation (CARI), an alliance of African science leaders, international funders, private corporations and philanthropists who have joined forces to catalyse investment in research and innovation. CARI partners will coalesce to better coordinate spending and support regional science initiatives like AESA and Planet Earth Institute.
  • We continue to invest, with our partners, US$150 million in research and innovation on the continent.
    • In partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we launched Grand Challenges Africa (GCA) Innovation Seed Grants. Grants will be awarded to projects with solutions and strategies to reduce maternal, newborn and child deaths in Africa, as well as those that have proposed creative communication strategies to inspire African governments to fund research and development.
  • The Good Financial Grant Practice (GFGP) programme facilitates transparency, accountability and good stewardship of grants, ensuring that every dollar meant to support science in Africa is responsibly spent.
  • AESA’s vibrancy and productivity as it emerges as a leader in African science has attracted a dynamic team of people who have built world-class systems and policies to develop, expand and manage our organisation and programmes. The AESA community includes eminent reviewers and advisers, financial and grant management officers, and monitoring and evaluations teams.
  • Early-career climate scientists receive training through the Climate Impact Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) fellowship programme, which provides research and career development for the next generation of climate science leaders.
  • In partnership with the NEPAD Agency, we are developing a 15-year Africa Health Research Strategy to define the continental priorities in health research. We are also assessing Africa’s STI landscape, the results of which will be compiled into a report detailing opportunities and challenges for growth.
  • AESA is expanding programmes into new science frontiers, including precision medicine and stem cell research to address infectious and non-communicable diseases.
  • We are developing strategies to address Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and encouraging trans- and interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving at the nexus of health, food, water, sanitation and climate sciences in Africa.
DELTAS Africa grantees at their first annual meeting held in Nairobi in 2016

October, 2016
The Wellcome Trust handed over the management and leadership of two of its programmes– Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) Africa and Human Heredity and Health in Africa (H3Africa) – to AESA. This represents a significant change in the relationship between African science management and international funders and is a resounding endorsement from a large global funder of AESA’s success in developing local leadership, thus moving the centre of gravity of African science where it belongs: in Africa.

AESA is in discussions with other funders interested in following the lead of the Wellcome Trust in order to empower African researchers and their institutions to manage their own grants and set their own agendas, establishing a new era of partnership between Africa and global organisations.

AESA was established to disrupt the status quo and to ensure that Africa takes ownership and leadership in shaping the destiny of African science. Our programmes train scientists, help them build their careers, and provide the infrastructure they need to conduct quality research.

This leadership will translate into increased funding for science to ensure that Africa’s gross expenditure of R&D (GERD) as a percentage of gross development product (GDP) increases from the current inadequate 0.45 per cent. Increasing R&D expenditure has had a tremendous impact on countries such as China. Growing the number of researchers, patents and innovations ultimately translates into robust economic growth.

“We are funding the development of AESA and share the vision of supporting the next generation of outstanding African researchers, who will help solve some of the continent’s greatest health and economic challenges.”

Joint statement from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID and the Wellcome Trust

Looking ahead

AESA's priorities for the continent in 2017

Expanding our partner network

AESA’s global partners have been critical in advancing the science, technology and innovation agenda. Such partnerships are more important than ever: funders not only make significant financial investment, but also help define a new era in global science, ensuring that decisions for Africa are made on the continent. This is a critical step toward the development of research and human capital in and for Africa, to meet the needs of the continent as well as contribute to global welfare. The challenges faced by the continent require a clear voice and a strong collective effort and we will continue to leverage new alliances and establish a network of social entrepreneurs and impact investors, especially through the CARI Initiative.

Inspiring African governments to increase R&D investments

Commercialising our best ideas in science is critical to the growth of economic engines across Africa, but it’s not happening fast enough.

AESA is establishing advocacy initiatives to inspire African governments, philanthropists and the private sector to invest in STI. This includes engagement between scientific leaders and policymakers to fully appreciate the promise and impact of investing in R&D. This is particularly important to ensure that governments promote polices that foster innovation as well as maintain their 2007 commitment to allocate 1% of national GDP to science at the African Union level.

Mauritian President and AAS Fellow H.E Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is an African leader who has championed science globally and with enormous impact.

One of AESA’s goals is to engage the research community continent-wide as a strong, united advocate for research investment. AESA provides a forum for African researchers to speak with one voice, share concerns and set the stage for collectively identifying solutions for the common good.

Climate change and health

Economies can only prosper if we can ensure a healthy, productive workforce. We must make significant investments in training our future generation of researchers to bring innovative health solutions to individuals and populations on the continent. We must also ensure that these investments are scalable, equitable, efficient and transparent. Further, challenges posed to Africa by climate change are acute and will have serious health, economic and environmental consequences continent-wide. This crisis – both human and natural – is quickly escalating and requires strong evidence-based advocacy and policymaking. In addition, climate scientists require increased funding for basic research, training and infrastructure so that we can accelerate our efforts to address the real and immediate threat of climate change.

Africa is home to some sustainability innovations. In fact, programmes like Grand Challenges have funded a number of high-impact solutions including a solar powered cold room for preserving farm produce created by Nigerian Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu; a stove that purifies water developed by Kenyan social entrepreneur Keneth Ndua; and a mosquito repellent that can be safely used on babies, providing protection for four hours longer at less cost than previous solutions, by South African Peter Yiga.

Africa accounts for 15% of the global population and 25% of the global disease burden yet only produces about 2% of the world’s research output and holds only 0.1% of the world’s patents.

Empowering Women in Science
A significant discrepancy exists between the number of men and women in Africa who pursue a career in science, with only 30% of those entering a science career being women. Leaders of African science have an opportunity and a responsibility to lower the barriers that enable women to pursue scientific careers and become research leaders, because Africa won’t succeed in lifting the continent out of poverty without the contributions of all of our best minds. AESA continues to actively encourage and monitor grant recipients to recruit and mentor more women.

The time is now

It can be done. African science can grow to become a significant contributor to global discovery. Moreover, innovation creates jobs and leads to solutions to our health and developmental challenges. AESA and its partners believe in the future of the continent and are united in our commitment to accelerating STI to benefit generations to come.

Africa’s future is in our collective hands, and 2017 will be the year we push science forward, building on the enormous momentum that has already been created. Let’s harness it to translate rhetoric into action, to do right by our people, and to shift the centre of gravity for African science where it belongs: in Africa.

Tom Kariuki, PhD
Director, AESA

AESA: Africa Impact

$150M

Investing in research and innovation

131

Young researchers participated in stem cell sciences workshops

380

Grand Challenges grantees

100

CIRCLE Visiting Fellows in 10 countries

1,300

Scientists to be trained through DELTAS Africa

11

DELTAS Africa programmes in 18 African countries