We are very proud to partner with Elsevier, the world’s leading provider of science and health information, which serves more than 30 million scientists, students and health and information professionals worldwide. The Elsevier Foundation, an independent charity founded and funded by the company, provides grants to institutions around the world, with a focus on support for the world’s libraries and for scholars in the early stages of their careers. Since its inception, the Foundation has awarded more than 80 grants worth millions of dollars to non-profit organizations working in these fields, and has a particularly strong presence in Sub-Saharan Africa. This week, we were fortunate to speak to Ylann Schemm, Program Director, Elsevier Foundation, who gave us a fascinating insight into Elsevier’s efforts to help accelerate scientific and technological advancement on the continent and its exciting initiatives including Publishers Without Borders and the Elsevier Foundation Women scientists in Developing Countries awards.
1) What is Elsevier doing to help drive scientific and technological advancement in Africa?
In a nutshell, Elsevier is a data and evidence-driven company. Exactly a year ago, we partnered with the World Bank to produce a special report, “A Decade of Development in Sub-Saharan African Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Research”. This study aimed to assess the current state of sub-Saharan Africa’s research enterprise and help governments and development partners accelerate support for research and research-based education. Drawing mostly on Scopus data, we learned that African authors had nearly doubled their article share during that time, but most of that growth has been in health where the majority of investments had been made. In short, the report revealed a burning need for additional investment in the STEM fields to help meet Africa’s ambitious development goals.
We believe that there could be a much greater return on investment over the next ten years if African institutions, access programs and publishers could address awareness, usage and research capacity in a collaborative and integrated manner. The Elsevier Foundation has been deeply engaged in programs to foster the growth of the continent’s scientific community, and support African researchers. In the past decade, the Foundation has awarded almost 50 grants worth over $2 million to innovative libraries in developing countries, which will help build research capacity through training, infrastructure, networks and digitisation. As one of the leading contributors and drivers of Research4Life, a UN-publisher access partnership, we’ve also helped to increase the accessibility of 50,000 peer-reviewed free and low cost resources on the continent.
2) In the last two years, Elsevier and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) have been working together to support African publishers. Could you please tell us more about your work?
In 2013, the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) and Elsevier collaborated on a workshop to explore “Open Access in Africa” at Academy’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. We brought together key research stakeholders from across Africa to share their experiences, their thoughts on how publishers can help enhance access to African research, and approaches to open access (OA). This was the start of an ongoing collaboration.
As part of their education program, the AAS created ‘Climate Impacts Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement in sub-Saharan Africa’ (CIRCLE), a programme that aims to help African researchers write impactful research articles on climate change. Elsevier is supporting this programme by sharing teaching presentations and videos from the Publishing Campus, a comprehensive online platform that offers free lectures, interactive training and professional advice to researchers, and 300 on-site author workshops that our publishers deliver every year. The AAS has used its own expertise to build on our materials, resulting in a fantastic new package for African researchers. This is a great example of how Elsevier is helping to boost scientific research at a local level.
3) Elsevier is also contributing to the advancement of early to mid-career female scholars through the Elsevier Foundation Awards for Early Career Women Scientists in the Developing World. Beyond this initiative, what else can we do to support female academics and researchers on the continent?
As a bit of background, we give the Elsevier Foundation Women scientists in Developing Countries Awards in partnership with the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World and The World Academy of Sciences. Last year we celebrated five physicists and mathematicians—four of whom hailed from Africa: and of this three were from Nigeria and one from Sudan. It was inspiring to experience these women’s dedication, ambition and talent first hand.
Given the lack of role models in many developing countries, recognition is crucial, but mentorship, support for professional visibility through travel grants and career development training are also important. One of our Foundation partners, the Association of Women in Science, published Equitable Solutions for Retaining a Robust STEM Workforce: Beyond Best Practices, a book that distills strategies from our most impactful New Scholars grants to promote better work/life satisfaction in universities and organisations specialising in STEM fields. These are, of course, geared towards the Global North, but female scientists in Africa face many of the same issues and could benefit from the strategies that the book proposes.
4) In 2014, Elsevier also launched ‘Publishers without Borders’, a volunteering project that allows employees to share their knowledge first-hand with Tanzanian scientists, librarians, research managers and publishers. What have been some of the highlights so far?
It has been an amazing collaboration! Over the past year, eight Elsevier employees joined the Publishers without Borders program, and they each gave a series of publishing workshops over the course of a month in Tanzania. This was part of TZAP, a broader initiative to strengthen Tanzanian publishing that we are driving with partners including INASP, VSO and the Tanzanian Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH). The following videos provide an amazing look at some of the highlights from Publishers Without Borders:
These videos were shot by our Publishing Director, Charon Duermeijer, TZAP’s Publishing Advisor, Maaike Duine and a Tanzanian camera crew, and explore the reading, publishing, research and copyright culture in this vast and beautiful East African country.
Below is a selection of photos from the Publishers Without Borders project.
5) What does Elsevier hope to see in science and technology in Africa in 2016?
Elsevier’s goal is to maintain our active support for the growth and discoverability of African research in 2016 and we’ll do this by driving the activities described above. Within our journal business, Elsevier is also developing a publishing program that aims to improve the quality, visibility and accessibility of journals on the continent. We will partner with 39 journals in Egypt, five journals in Nigeria, and three in South Africa, and provide local institutions with strategic advice as well as access to our editorial systems and production facilities. The institutions will maintain full ownership of the journals, but their content will be hosted on ScienceDirect as Open Access, making them available to African researchers and international communities.
Another initiative that I’m very excited about is “the African Megajournal”, a project that aims to address issues around the discoverability and accessibility of African research. We will do this by leveraging the expertise of local African partners, the support of funding agencies, governments, and NGOs, and our own scientific publishing capabilities to create a common platform for African research. Our ultimate goal is to increase the visibility of African research, foster inter-African collaboration, enhance access to the continent’s scientific research for policy makers, and help train the next generation of African researchers. We’ll keep you posted!
Ylann Schemm (@ylannschemm) heads Elsevier’s corporate responsibility program, which focuses on advancing women in science and developing research access in the developing world. She also serves as the Program Director for Elsevier Foundation’s New Scholars program, a project that helps early- to mid-career female scientists balance family responsibilities with their demanding academic careers. Through this program, the company helps address the attrition of talented women scientists as well as the specific challenges that female researchers face in low and middle income countries.
In addition, Ylann runs the Elsevier Foundation’s Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries program, which enables research capacity-building projects in science, technology and medicine, a majority of which in Africa. In 2014, she worked with nonprofits VSO and INASP to launch “Publishers without Borders”, the Foundation’s newest program in Tanzania that aims to strengthen the Tanzanian publishing ecosystem by providing skills based volunteering with Elsevier publishers. Ylann also chairs the communications taskforce for Research4Life, a UN-pan publisher access program working to bridge the digital research divide in developing countries.
Banner image: Elsevier Foundation Women in Science Awards 2015, Alison Bert for Elsevier