Yesterday, we were delighted to welcome over 170 guests to Kensington Town Hall for the 2016 #ScienceAfrica UnConference. Entitled ‘Generation Science: Empowering Africa’s future scientific leaders’, the UnConference challenged attendees to explore new way to equip young Africans with high-level scientific and technical skills.
Our chair and Trustee, the Rt Hon Lord Paul Boateng, opened the day by examining the implications, both good and bad, that Africa’s well documented ‘youth bulge’ has for sustainable and inclusive development on the continent. With 11 million young African expected to join the job market every year for the next decade, it is crucial that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are at the heart of human capacity building.
Also extending his welcome to attendees, PEI chairman, Dr. Álvaro Sobrinho, explained how the PEI’s mission is to ‘work for an Africa that is scientifically strong enough to grow its economies away from traditional reliance on resources and towards knowledge’. He also emphasised the importance of ensuring that the continent can realise its potential and retain its brilliant scientists, technicians and engineers.
Following this, our fantastic facilitator, Alison Coward, invited our attendees to consider the part that they could play in contributing toward ‘Generation Science’, retaining talent in Africa, and encouraging young people into science and technology. From increasing the relevance of STEM training to encouraging global collaboration and harnessing the latest technological advances such as the Internet of Things, we were thrilled to see all the brilliant ideas attendees came up with. Alison also invited our guests to complete ‘networking cards’, asking them to share their contact details, professional experience, big idea for #GenerationScience, and to explain what sort of people they would like to meet. We displayed these networking cards around the UnConference venue and the willingness to engage and generosity of time and resources offered was incredible. At the start of the day, we set out to make activists out of everyone and we’ll be using the information, contacts and goodwill captured by the networking cards to facilitate connections and introductions and make new projects and initiatives happen!
From there, Lord Boateng kicked off our first High-Level Panel and Q&A: Inspiring Generation Science, which featured our Vice Chairperson and President of Mauritius, H.E. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, speaking alongside Kedest Tesfagiorgis, Program Officer, Grand Challenges Partnership and Advocacy, Gates Foundation, and Dr. Tom Kariuki, Director of the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) – both key contributors to the newly launch Planet Earth Institute PhD Scholarship Programme. President Gurib-Fakim outlined her belief that the UnConference’s theme is particularly relevant ‘because Africa is now on the march and science has been widely acknowledged as being the vehicle of growth and development for the Continent’. She also noted that it’s imperative to ensure that young Africans have the requisite scientific and technological skills so that they can create locally owned solutions to the continent’s development challenges, and ‘ideally, with African resources’. Kedest Tesfagiorgis spoke about the Grand Challenges Program’s efforts to empower young African innovators who are solving key global health and development problems. And Dr. Tom Kariuki gave an overview of AESA’s efforts to shift the centre of gravity for managing science to the continent, and explained that the organisation wants to work with ‘all of you to build the innovation ecosystem in Africa’.
After a short break, we launched into eight simultaneous interactive workshops, which were led by organisations including IBM Research-Africa, INTL FCStone, the Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), Elsevier, the British Council and the Satellite Applications Catapult. Our workshop leaders had all worked really hard to ensure their sessions were interactive, engaging and fun, encouraging attendees to dive into the issues at hand. These ranged from satellite technology in African cities, cognitive computing, and gender as the lens and driver of better science on the continent. Walking around the venue, it was a great to see attendees discuss and debate new ideas, share different perspectives and drive to solutions.
Following lunch, another distinguished panel discussed how to make ‘Generation Science’ a reality. Panellists included Prof. Charlotte Watts, Chief Scientific Adviser, DFID, Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock, Space Scientist and Scientific Communicator, Dr. Geoffrey Siwo, Research Scientist, IBM Research-Africa, Dr. Benjamin Kumwenda, Lecturer, University of Malawi and RISE graduate, and Ylann Schemm, Program Director, Elsevier Foundation. Among the topics discussed, our speakers argued for the importance of getting a broad cross-section of people involved in science, creating well-resourced libraries in developing countries, and the issue of getting children into the pipeline of future science students.
From there, our attendees immersed themselves in a second round of thought-provoking workshops. This time around, topics ranged from primary health care in Africa to insights from the Wellcome Trust-AESA DELTAS Initiative to low power, long range sensing networks and their application to solve educational challenges in Africa. Thanks again to our partners and supporters from organisations including the GSMA, IBM, iheed, Nature Publishing and DFID for their fantastic sessions.
To round off the day, PEI trustee, Sir Christopher Edwards, offered his thoughts on the day. Drawing on the most important insights from the day and highlighting some of the key themes to emerge, Sir Christopher stressed the incredible creative value of bringing together a diverse group of people from all sorts of backgrounds, tapping into their enthusiasm and passion for science, technology and Africa, and collecting their ideas, suggestions and solutions. He concluded that the PEI #ScienceAfrica UnConference is ‘addressing something of incredible importance to the world, and not just Africa’ – looking to the future and acknowledging that if we are to achieve the sustainable, clean and prosperous future we want, science, technology and empowering the young with an appreciation of both, must be at the heart of our collective efforts. This is Generation Science.
Thanks to everyone who attended the #ScienceAfrica UnConference, and those who helped make the #GenerationScience hashtag one of the top Twitter trends yesterday afternoon! Thanks, especially, goes to our Partners, including Banco Valor, who are helping us build a movement for science in Africa.
If you would like to get involved in next year’s #ScienceAfrica UnConference, please let us know.