As we wrap up a successful year and my first quarter as Executive Director, I am pleased to transmit the first of a series of periodic updates and developments from the African Academy of Sciences.
Growth of the Academy
The growth of the Academy has been nothing less than phenomenal. We have witnessed an increase in the number of programmes from three in 2015 to the current eight. These programmes have been implemented through the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), the funding and agenda-setting platform created by the Academy together with the NEPAD Agency.
Current programmes tackle the world's biggest challenges: climate change, the health of Africa's people, promotion of innovation, and extending scientific frontiers, including cutting-edge research in stem cell regeneration, genomics and precision public health. Moreover, Africa Science Desk, a new programme builds the capacity of African science journalists, and three more initiatives will be launched in the first quarter of 2018; these will focus on the facilitation of intra-Africa collaboration, tackling the global challenge of anti-microbial resistance, and building postdoctoral fellowships.
The Academy's staff complement has grown impressively to 44 talented, dedicated women and men, and we anticipate further rapid increases to support our expanding portfolio of programmes. To sustain this rate of growth, the AAS is undertaking fundraising activities, the first of which have been in east and southern Africa. Together with members of the Governing Council, including Dr Boitumelo Kgarebe, the Vice President for southern Africa, we have met government officials from Botswana, Mozambique, Rwanda and Swaziland and look forward to additional visits to Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia in the new year. Our message is that it is crucial for not just global funders and foundations, but also for African governments, to scale up investment in science, technology and innovation so that nations enjoy ownership and research progress is sustained and built over time. The response has been overwhelmingly positive -- though as you know, the lead time for mobilising funding can be long and require many "bites at the apple" in order to translate to actual funding.
AAS Open Research
As custodians of the AAS, Fellows have recommended that the Executive Director extend discussions with existing and potential partners on the creation of a pan-African open access journal. I am pleased to report the launch of AAS Open Research, a platform for scientists within the AAS community, including Fellows, to publish immediately, transparently and without access barriers. There has been wide and enthusiastic reception for AAS Open Research, including coverage in Nature. The platform will be open to receive your outstanding submissions in the first quarter of 2018.
Coalition for African Research and Innovation (CARI)
Going forward, resource development will become the central goal of the Coalition for African Research and Innovation (CARI), an initiative of the AAS with partners including the Wellcome Trust, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the NEPAD Agency and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. CARI will bring together critical stakeholders-governments, the private sector, funders and research institutions-to mobilise and grow support for science performed collaboratively to meet short-term development objectives, while building long-term capacity and coordination mechanisms.
CARI recently received an enthusiastic response at Science Forum South Africa (SFSA), organised by South Africa's Department of Science and Technology. Distinguished panellists included Science Minister Naledi Pandor from South Africa; Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the NEPAD Agency; Ed Whiting, Director of Policy at Wellcome; Alma Scott, Head of Africa Operations and Partnerships at Johnson & Johnson and AESA Director Tom Kariuki.
Representation of the Academy by the AAS President
AAS President Felix Dakora has hit the ground running, promoting investment in science and innovation to government representatives from Ghana, South Africa and the Equatorial Guinea. He has also represented the Academy at various forums, including the 2nd International Conference on Tissue Engineering and Regenerative Medicine, where he urged for investment in training young African scientists in stem cell research, tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. The President additionally attended the 4th Senior Officials Meeting of the EU-Africa High Level Policy Dialogue (HLPD) on Science, Technology and Innovation on behalf of the Academy, in Brussels.
Professor Dakora also participated in a ministerial delegation to launch Ghana's Radio Astronomy Observatory and presented the Africa Synchrotron project to the 2nd Ordinary Session for the Specialized Technical Committee (STC) Meeting on Education, Science and Technology (EST) in Cairo, Egypt. The synchrotron project, if successful, will represent a new level of ambitious project to drive science in Africa; the AAS is counting on the support of African and global partners, including through CARI partnerships, to achieve this vision.
Over the course of 2017, the AAS developed several new partnerships, including with China's Tsinghua University and the African Innovation Foundation. We are delighted by the involvement of the AAS President as the Academy is committed to extending such partnerships in the new year, including with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, as well as by formalizing its engagement with the Wellcome Trust India Alliance and the UK Royal Society.
Review of AAS Strategy
The AAS secretariat has initiated a strategic review exercise to inform Academy priorities going forward. You will be kept abreast of this work and we count on your support in the process of defining our strategic goals for 2018 and beyond.
Compliance and Governance
We anticipate some significant changes to our governance structure in the first quarter of 2018. As an organisation hosted in Kenya, the Academy's Governing Council (GC) is required to periodically review and align our constitution to the framework provided by the national Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) board. The GC recently reviewed proposed revisions to our constitution as part of this process. Among issues identified was the need to limit the number of GC members to nine, and to include three Kenya nationals. The GC continues to monitor compliance with NGO Board requirements diligently.
Transforming AAS Headquarters into a World Class Facility
The AAS headquarters in Nairobi is being renovated to be able to offer a world class facility for meetings and the daily administrative functions of the organisation. You will find a state-of-the-art, transformed Academy the next time that you visit us.
Engagement of Fellows
One of my priorities as Executive Director is to inspire greater involvement of Fellows in the activities of the Academy. Coincident with SFSA, I was pleased to host a gathering of local Fellows and other friends of the Academy, resulting in lively and engaged discussion. We hope to continue these face-to-face meetings in the new year, in coordination with existing meetings and conferences around the Continent. As part of our efforts to ensure that these events and other activities are as useful as possible, we will be circulating a survey in the new year to solicit Fellows' views on the optimal approaches to engagement.
11th General Assembly
The AAS will host the 11th General Assembly, a gathering of AAS Fellows and Affiliates, in South Africa. Dates and venue will be announced in the coming months.
Remembrance of Distinguished Fellows
It is with great sadness that the Academy recognizes the recent deaths of two of our most distinguished Fellows, Francis Allotey and Calestous Juma. Professor Allotey was a world-class, Princeton-educated mathematical physicist from Ghana whose work on X-ray spectroscopy resulted in the "Allotey Formalism." Professor Juma, a longtime member of the Harvard faculty, was a Kenyan who was an internationally distinguished authority on the application of science and technology to sustainable development globally. Both contributed immeasurably to the advancement of science in Africa and to the international leadership of Africans pushing the frontiers of science.
Thank you for your continued support of the Academy. We look forward to your ongoing collaboration in our important and exciting drive to advance science, technology and innovation in Africa.
I wish you happy holidays and a prosperous 2018.
Nelson Torto, PhD
The African Academy of Sciences