Africa’s needs on research and infrastructure can be filled with an active “Community of Scientists”.
Recent data, as shown in Figure 1, from Google reveals that poverty in Africa is decreasing from 100% in 2005 to about 20% in 2019, while science and innovation fluctuate between 20% and 3% respectively. It is a good sign that poverty in Africa is decreasing with time, however low outcomes of science and innovation have negative effects on the continent’s growth. Therefore, we need to focus more on science and innovation through enhancing STEM in Africa.
There are more scientists and engineers in the United States and Europe compared to Africa, and African scientists are still emigrating in droves. To change this, we need increased political will and greater collaboration between academia, policymakers and the private sector in proposing and implementing concrete solutions, including a continental research fund, regional research centres, and similar goals.
On the 16th of May, 2019, the UNESCO International Day of Light “Illuminating Education” conference was held at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. I was happy to be invited to the conference as one of the speakers to discuss the challenges that lead to lack of research funding, poor infrastructure etc.
Among the many participants were students and early career researchers from all over the world. There were other African participants from eight countries, and some came directly from their countries to the event, in addition to students from the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) or Trieste University.
The 2019 theme was “Illuminating Education”, comprised of conferences packaged with various activities/outreach, light applications, and the physics of light, addressing diverse challenges for education, science and development. The event covered a wide range of topics and the main messages could be summarized as: (1) Light can be used as a tool for science and development; (2) Using light and its technologies, we can advance science communication and public engagement as demonstrated in the conference YouTube link using light art and technologies to engage students and the public.
I participated in the conference as the outgoing Vice-Chair of the Next Einstein Forum’s (NEF) Executive Committee. I spoke briefly about NEF, and Africa’s infrastructure challenges.
I highlighted that the NEF is Africa’s global forum for science that “connects thinkers and stakeholders in science, civil society, industry and policy to leverage science and its applications to solve the world’s challenges.” NEF holds, among other continental initiatives, a biennial NEF Global Gatherings (GG) where the global scientific community meet in Africa to discuss how science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) can provide solutions to global challenges. Furthermore, NEF is breaking down walls for women, with at least 40% of NEF Fellows and Ambassadors being women. NEF’s GG2016 and GG2018 consisted of 40% women, demonstrating NEF’s commitment to gender equality.
Africa faces many challenges, of infrastructure, health, education, energy, and so on. The steps shown in the diagram in Figure 2. need to be followed in order to lead African countries to successful knowledge-based economy.
A pan-African scientific community would be the solution, and the NEF Community of Scientists (CoS) stands as a model. NEF CoS is made up of young talents and scientists from different scientific fields. NEF CoS is growing quickly, where bi-annually about 54 Ambassadors and 15 Fellows are admitted into the program. So far NEF CoS are only made up of NEF Fellows and Ambassadors, and soon we will open its membership opportunity to other promising young African scientists.
The objective of NEF CoS is to create a unified African scientific identity that will steer a robust scientific transformation of Africa through fostering an environment for innovative scientific discovery. In this regard, the NEF community builds strategic objectives to push the continent into a knowledge-based economy. The foundation of those objectives are policy, partnerships and funding, where education and training, research excellence and innovation, and entrepreneurship have bidirectional relationships.
To achieve our vision in NEF CoS, we run different activities such as the publication of Scientific African, and the organization of NEF Africa Science Week, the hosting of seminars, workshops, conferences and community outreach programs. NEF Africa Science Week, an annual week-long celebration of science and technology across Africa, is helping to promote science across Africa. The first edition in 2017 was held in 13 countries spanning each region of Africa, and the second edition in 2018 was held in 34 countries. The NEF hopes to extend NEF Africa Science Week to at least 40 countries in 2019, and all 54 countries by 2022. The overall goal is to promote science and technology to the African public to improve retention in the sciences.
The key objective of NEF CoS, in ten years, is to have excellence centres and pan-African research funding available for scientists.
At the end of the event at Trieste, I was enriched by its various topics and activities that inspired students and scientists, and glad that I have been able to benefit from participating in such activities. Ultimately, it was a great opportunity to tell participants, Africans and non-Africans, about NEF and NEF CoS, and by the end of the event many students and scientists requested for my business card, and expressed interest in joining NEF CoS — or collaborate with the community on research projects.
By Dr. Amna Abdalla, NEF Ambassador to the Sudan.
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Next Einstein Forum.