As part of my rotation in Science, I joined colleagues from across Wellcome at the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) Africa initiative inception and annual general meeting. Representatives from the International Operations & Partnerships, Population, Environment & Health, Policy and Finance teams joined the week of meetings hosted by the African Academy of Sciences in Nairobi.
The inception meeting
The Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training and Science (DELTAS) Africa initiative, initially funded 7 top African researchers in September last year. Earlier this year a further 4 were awarded. The meetings welcomed the 4 new awards and shared progress and learning between all 11 award holders from across the African continent.
Progress so far
Each of the Programme Directors gave an update on progress so far. Most already had training programmes underway with considerable interest from prospective students. And, many awards were already collaborating with one another - an important aim of the initiative.
It will be interesting to see how the programmes build on this over the 5 year funding period, as the meeting showed that this investment is already creating networks and opportunities across the continent.
Many of the DELTAS award programme directors on day 2 of the AGM, discussing challenges and changes in the research landscape.
Hearing from DELTAS-funded students
At an evening poster session, some of the DELTAS funded students presented their work. It was really encouraging to meet several young researchers who had benefited from Wellcome funding across their scientific career to date. I met an investigator working on the malaria parasite and teaching students at DELTAS funded programme MCDC in Senegal. He had begun his career as a Masters student at DELTAS programme DELGEME, based in Mali. Another fellow had completed a Wellcome Public Health & Tropical Medicine Masters Fellowship, in The Gambia where he had learnt English - he has now secured a PhD placement at Afrique One, a newly funded DELTAS scheme in Cote d’Ivoire. I clearly got the impression that many of these researchers and their peers would not have had the capacity to begin and then successfully continue their scientific career if the DELTAS programme and Wellcome funding had not been in place.
Following the poster session, over drinks he made way in securing a placement at Afrique-One in the Ivory Coast by impressing the programme director Bassirou Bonfoh with his determination and ideas. This for me exemplified the power of the DELTAS network and collaboration.
As well as success stories, awardees were also upfront to discuss the clear challenges and obstacles that they have faced. After attending meetings and sessions at Wellcome considering these issues at arm’s length, it was hugely insightful to hear the Directors discuss them first hand. The two recurring challenges that were raised:
1. How to encourage African governments to commit and engage with science funding
2. How to engage and include Western francophone countries in research networks
Ideas and discussions to address the issues above included engaging African governments and private corporations to invest in African science and setting up a centre in West Arica to support and train francophone students. There was also a huge amount of emphasis placed on recruiting women into science across the continent. It will be interesting to see if this topic is addressed over the next 5 years of DELTAS funding and it is something that Wellcome should keep an eye on.
All in all I got the impression that this meeting alone would create lasting and significant collaborations between programmes and countries. From breakfast, throughout the day to the networking dinners every evening there were many ideas being shared and plans being formed.
This trip was always going to be particularly exciting for me as my first visit abroad with Wellcome and I left with a huge amount more context, awareness and excitement in the area of capacity building and for Wellcome’s investment in Africa.
Alongside this trip, I managed to squeeze in a 2.5 day trip to Kilifi on the coast of Kenya where one of our Major Overseas Programmes the KEMRI Wellcome Trust Research Programme is based. As well as the opportunity to see this impressive centre and visit the labs, I managed to visit our very own Sophie T-B who is doing a secondment in community engagement at KWTRP. We had a great few days which included a lab tour, giraffe feeding, yoga, swimming in the creek and even salsa dancing.