AFRICA: International research initiatives launched

A number of international initiatives have been launched in Africa recently to develop research and innovation across the continent, and to transform new ideas generated by higher education and research into improved products, processes and businesses. The projects include a technology development and transfer network, a continental research framework programme and a science-to-business challenge.

The initiatives were announced at the second Science with Africa conference, Science, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, held from 23-25 June in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the city headquarters of the EU-style African Union Commission, or AUC.

The gathering was organised by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, UNECA, and was a follow-up to a first conference held in 2008, which recommended that African countries ensured intellectual property resource institutions were adequately funded and operated efficiently.

Vera Brenda Ngosi, director of human resources, science and technology at the African Union Commission, announced at the conference that the AUC had designed a EUR15 million (US$18.4 million) African Mini-Research Framework programme to directly finance and build the capacity of the commission to manage research grants.

"To respond to the techno-entrepreneurship needs of the African continent, the commission is at an advanced stage of establishing a science and technology incubators programme," Ngosi added.

The AUC is also setting up a Pan-African University, a network of universities and satellite campuses in five thematic areas. Ngosi said the university would be launched this year and would be aimed at enhancing links with industry as well as identifying and strengthening networks of centres of excellence so that African science and technology could contribute to the global pool of knowledge and innovation.

The United National Economic Commission for Africa has launched an African Technology Development and Transfer Network. It is composed of communities of technologists, scientists, trainers, mentors, coaches and experts as well as research and higher education institutions and agencies responsible for technology development.

The network is intended to "generate economic and social value" from research and development outputs from universities, to facilitate technology adaptation, diffusion and commercialisation, to encourage investment in R&D and to promote learning, exchange of experience and collaboration across countries and institutions.

It will also organise training and workshops on the protection and management of intellectual property and the commercialisation of technology, provide online platforms, databases and knowledge resources for universities, and support technology transfer initiatives within businesses.

During the conference a memorandum of understanding was signed between UNECA and the Spain-based Technology Centre for ICTs, or CTIC. Its aim is to promote the development of technologies as well as to ensure the successful transformation of students' creative ideas into products and services that could help small and medium enterprises.

The partnership will focus on enhancing governance through the adoption of open data systems by African countries, developing innovation centres and establishing a Creatic Laboratory based on a project in Spain where young researchers develop ICT projects.

CTIC will issue a call for proposals, to be submitted via UNECA, with successful applications given a one-year grant to enable students to work on information technology and internet-related projects at the Creatic facility in Spain. Two to five final year or newly graduated students will be based at CTIC in Spain every year. This year the partnership has set aside EUR100,000 for research grants for qualifying students.

Another initiative launched during the Science with Africa Conference was the African Science to Business Challenge, in partnership with the Research Triangle Institute-International and the African Science, Technology and Innovation Endowment Fund, which stimulates research commercialisation through public-private partnerships.

The challenge will focus on translating research into sustainable products, processes and services, and aims to equip African researchers with the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to bring research-based ideas, inventions and innovations to market.