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AFRICA
New research and exchange initiatives to boost science
A flurry of initiatives ended last week’s Next Einstein Forum Global Gathering 2016 in Senegal – including five new chairs to strengthen research and scientific exchange, a mathematics postgraduate training and research institute in Nigeria, a 'women in science' initiative and a visiting scientist programme involving IBM Research.

The Next Einstein Forum or NEF, which hosted the 800-participant science and technology forum from 8-10 March in the capital Dakar, said in a release that it had wrapped up with “a clear path forward on how best to drive development through science, technology and innovation across the continent”.

Launched in 2013, the NEF is an initiative of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences or AIMS in partnership with Germany’s Robert Bosch Stiftung. It sees itself as “a platform that brings together leading thinkers in science, policy, industry and civil society in Africa to leverage science to solve global challenges”.

The Dakar forum’s main mission was to drive continental collaboration and commitment to building a strong STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – ecosystem in Africa, and to showcase STEM talent.

“Our scientists have showed us and the world that given the opportunity, they are able to do extraordinary things,” said Thierry Zomahoun, NEF chair, and president and CEO of AIMS.

“Taking our African scientists out of the shadows and giving them exposure on a global level, we're creating a youth-driven pan-African scientific community that must be sustained and expanded.”

It was also announced that the next NEF Global Gathering will be held in the Rwandan capital Kigali in 2018. The NEF said Kigali “is now home to the AIMS headquarters, Africa’s first quantum research centre Quantum Leap Africa and the NEF secretariat”.

New initiatives

The NEF said AIMS and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research had agreed on a €9 million (US$10 million) joint programme to establish five chairs to strengthen research and support scientific exchange.

“The first chair has already been set up at AIMS Senegal with NEF Fellow Moustapha Fall, with other chairs in South Africa, Ghana, Cameroon and Tanzania to follow,” said the release. Those countries host AIMS centres, and will be joined by the new centre in Rwanda by the end of this year.

NEF's Zomahoun signed a letter of intent with the government of Nigeria to open an AIMS centre there.

The NEF also announced the launch of the AIMS Women in STEM initiative, a collaborative effort to prioritise African women in STEM, supported by the African Union Commission and Senegal’s government among others.

Also on Thursday the NEF and IBM Research announced a visiting scientist initiative to promote African scientific talent and advance the knowledge economy on the continent.

NEF Managing Director Arun Sharma said: “The Next Einstein Forum is particularly pleased to partner with IBM Research on this programme which demonstrates concretely what we are trying to do – bridge brilliant scientists from Africa to global opportunities for research and mentorship, both to receive and give mentorship.”

The NEF has 15 fellows from across Africa – outstanding young scientists and technologists, at least 40% of them women, who it supports through exposure to scientific networks, media and mentoring. There are also NEF ‘ambassadors’, who help initiate public engagement with science in their countries across the continent.

The initiative with IBM, said Sharma, “will allow them to further their research and global standing”. Five NEF Fellows will become visiting IBM scientists at IBM’s global network of research labs in countries across the world.

Innovation winner

In the first NEF Global Challenge of Invention to Innovation competition – Ci2i – young scientists pitched solutions to problems to an audience and judges. The contest was won by Moses Bangura, founder of Rokel Delivery Services or RDS, an African start-up that uses advances in drone technology and network mapping to deliver urgent health care solutions.

The initiative seeks to develop an advanced prototype for testing and to install ground stations and run pilot studies in at least two African countries, said Bangura, and also to help develop legal infrastructures in the use of drones for service delivery in Africa.

“This we believe will be the first of its kind in the world. In the end, RDS will ensure that health care products are able to reach people in emergencies and those who are in the furthest regions from connected roads.”

Mary Teuw Niane, Senegal’s minister of higher education and research, said the conference had shown that Africa could become a global scientific hub. “Where there are many challenges, science provides endless solutions, both now and in the future. We must seize the opportunity by leveraging buy-in and best practice results from Africa and the world."
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