Global gathering of top minds to boost science in Africa

A first global gathering of top (especially young) scientists to be held on African soil, aimed at advancing African science and innovation and showcasing scientific progress on the continent, is being held by the Next Einstein Forum in the Senegalese capital Dakar in March – a year after the first African Higher Education Summit took place there.

The three-day “more than a conference” will be hosted by Senegal’s President Macky Sall from 8-10 March and attended by numerous other African presidents as well as top global scientists and young African fellows and ambassadors of the Next Einstein Forum, or NEF. It will be the first of a planned two-yearly series of global gatherings.

According to the conference website, “50% of participants will be young (under age 42) representing all countries in Africa. At least 40% of attendees will be women and the global gathering aims to feature 50% participants from Africa and 50% from the rest of the world”.

“The feedback that we’re getting from our partners internationally is extremely strong and extremely positive,” Arun Sharma, managing director of the Next Einstein Forum, told University World News.

The gathering

The NEF says its global gathering “will showcase often under-reported scientific progress in Africa, holding up the NEF fellows as examples of the exceptional scientific potential and progress across Africa”.

The NEF fellows currently comprise 12 of Africa’s top scientists under 42 years old. Also in Dakar will be NEF country ambassadors, who help initiate public engagement with science in their countries.

The idea is to connect Africa’s top young scientists with leaders on the continent and from the rest of the world including top scientists, policy-makers, business people, journalists, civil-society representatives and entrepreneurs.

“The programme is quite diverse. We’re trying to avoid being a boring old person forum. We’re trying to have a lot of people who are young Africans full of life,” said NEF communications and media manager Nathalie Munyampenda.

Plenaries will discuss major topics such as science, technology, engineering and maths – STEM – and development, advancing science through world-class higher education and research, the cutting edge of science, knowledge-based enterprises, climate change, science strategies and cultivating STEM talent to tackle global challenges.

There will be different types of events ranging from ‘spotlight’ sessions highlighting the work of NEF fellows to meetings for government ministers and parallel sessions dealing with science, policy and the kinds of investments required to advance science in Africa.

Ten selected young scientists will pitch innovation ideas to the gathering, and there will be practical workshops on publishing, communicating science and obtaining research funding.

“People will also be able to meet with the scientist of their choice,” Munyampenda told University World News, in sessions sort of like speed dating.

“We’re trying to make the gathering as interactive as possible and also respond to the various audiences who will be there are well as politicians.

“In the end we will have 10 concrete recommendations and outcomes that will be shared with the African presidents who will be attending. We are hoping to have 10 presidents – the African Union’s 10 champions of science and education.” The presidents will share a panel with young scientists on the role of leadership in promoting science and development.

The proceedings will be in English and French with translation and there will be live-streaming, enabling far more than the 500 anticipated participants to follow the proceedings.

The gathering is by invitation only but, Arun Sharma stressed, “we’re still getting the word out and we’d love to hear from people who want to attend. There are a lot of people who have expressed interest.”

Next Einstein Forum

The NEF is an offshoot of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences or AIMS, which for the past 12 years has been providing postgraduate training to Africa’s brightest students in mathematical sciences. AIMS started in South Africa and now has institutes in another four African countries.

AIMS launched the NEF – based on the premise that the next Einstein will be African – as a continental platform to strengthen science education and research, showcase Africa’s top young scientists and leverage science-led development.

The NEF’s theme is “Connecting Science to Humanity”. The global gathering is one of its two major programmes.

The second is the NEF Institution, whose initiatives include the fellows and ambassadors programmes, a campaign to highlight the stories of Africa’s top young scientists and exciting science – it comprises a video and a 1 million signature petition in support of science-based development in Africa – a ‘science and technology institute’ to convene gatherings of top researchers to contribute to evidence-based policy, and an African Women in STEM Taskforce.

The NEF’s ambitious expected outcomes between 2015 and 2020 include: 50 young scientists across Africa selected as NEF fellows; 1,000 young STEM ambassadors; 200 leading scientists in the diaspora facilitated to play a role in Africa’s scientific renaissance; and 100 Nobel laureates brought to Africa to mentor up-and-coming African scientists.