2016 will be an important year for science, technology and innovation in Africa. It will see the continent begin to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals agreed on at last year’s UNGA, and honour the commitments set forth in the Paris Agreement. While 2015 saw Africa build on its growing status as a centre for innovations, I hope that 2016 sees for-profit companies take a more active role in spurring scientific and technological advancement for the continent, and the creation of industry-relevant STEM education at secondary and higher levels.
Africa: a growing hub for STI?
As I wrote at the beginning of last year, the continent is increasingly recognised for cutting edge technologies and solutions to address its development challenges. 2015 saw Africa consolidate this growing status, with news including the development of the world’s first ‘drone-port’ in Rwanda for the delivery of medical supplies. In addition, Cameroonian scientist, Dr. Wilfred Ndifon, proposed a solution to the original antigenic sin, a complex problem that has hindered efforts to combat infectious diseases on the continent. I am also overjoyed to see the proliferation of tech hubs across the region that are sparking some of the most exciting ideas and products to come out of Africa.
There is also growing recognition of science’s crucial role in developmental decision-making among the continent’s leaders. Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim is leading the way with her strong efforts to encourage African governments to increase their investments in scientific research. The governments of Senegal, Rwanda and Ethiopia also deserve commendation for their support for the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund. The Fund is the first initiative in the World Bank’s ‘Partnership for Skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology’ (PASET)’ Programme, and will train 10,000 PhD African students in its first ten years, working closely with industry. The Fund will also invest in educational infrastructure and new innovations that can help spur African science to be among the best in the world. The Africa Business Champions for Science, a group of influential figures from industry with a passion for STI on the continent that I chair, will also contribute to the Fund. Initiatives such as these will help accelerate the creation of a labour force with high-level scientific and technical competences that the continent’s employers are looking for. I encourage other successful entrepreneurs to support us in this endeavour.
Reflections on a successful 2015
The beginning of a new year is always an opportunity to reflect on last year’s achievements and consider areas for future growth. 2015 was a landmark year for the PEI, as we strengthened our efforts to build a coalition of people passionate about and working in science in Africa. To name a couple of highlights, we supported the creation of the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund in June. What’s more, in July, we welcomed nearly 200 people to Ravensbourne for our largest ever #ScienceAfrica UnConference. In November, the PEI also launched in Mauritius, with the support of HE President Gurib-Fakim who became our Vice President and Trustee. In 2016, we will continue our campaign for science, tech and innovation in Mauritius and the broader African continent. With the assistance of the Partners Forum, the PEI will host events in the UK, Mauritius, and the broader African continent that underscore business’ key role in increasing scientific and technological output.
Our 2016 priorities
This year, our priorities include enhancing African STEM education, encouraging private sector investment in science, and creating Africa’s scientific leaders of tomorrow. We are also excited to support the rollout of PASET in Mauritius and the Regional Innovation Fund, which will be operational by June. Given Mauritius’ international standing as a financial centre, we will be working to establish a number of innovative financing mechanisms to support PASET and other science focused investments. Alongside these plans, the PEI will run local educational and capacity building programmes in Mauritian schools and universities.
2015 was a seminal year, which saw science assume an even more important place in Africa’s development agenda. I hope that 2016 will see our beloved continent strengthen its growing status as a player in STI, and to support this through the PEI’s activities around the world. Thanks to our colleagues, partners, and other friends whose support make our work possible, and here’s to a successful 2016!