Science academy launches ‘good practice’ tool

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) has introduced a 'good practice' tool that it hopes will boost funders’ willingness to pay grants directly to African researchers and improve African research institutions’ grant governance.

In a statement, the AAS said the Good Financial Grant Practice (GFGP), a global standard to promote transparency and strengthen the governance of grant funding worldwide which was developed in collaboration with the African Organisation for Standardisation (ARSO), is the first such tool developed in Africa for international use.

It said before its launch, the GFGP had attracted increasing interest from multiple funders and grantees in Asia, South America and the UK, where government organisations have tested and endorsed it.

The AAS said international funders tend to award funds to researchers or institutions in the North who then distribute it to partners in Africa or other low- to middle-income countries because of the doubt that directly-awarded funds are consistently well-managed in the latter, and because of a perception of the fragility of recipient institutions.

It said the tool assures grant makers that their funds are going to recipient organisations with certified capabilities to manage grants.

The organisation said the tool also reduces the resource burden of grantees by streamlining the audit process and mitigates the risk of corruption and fraud.

“The enabling platform allows community-based organisations, NGOs, research and academic institutions of any size to rate their capability to receive and manage grants. It provides an online self-assessment tool covering four grant management practice areas –financial management, human resources, procurement and governance – adopted by ARSO to promote transparency in the use of funds by local organisations to mitigate the risk of fraud and corruption,” the AAS said.

Rating grant management capacity

“Institutions are benchmarked on a cumulative four-tier assessment – Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum – that rates their capabilities to manage grants.”

Across the globe, it said the multiplicity of funders and recipients with differing financial mechanisms, capacities, controls and internal systems, resulted in a poor understanding of funders’ financial guidelines and the risk of mishandled expenses and duplication of effort by funders.

“A strengthened local capacity allows greater ownership and a locally-driven scientific agenda. Local agencies who are normally first responders can now deliver faster, cheaper and more culturally appropriate help in cases where the international system is unable to reach them quickly and effectively,” said Raymond Murenzi, director general at Rwanda Standards Board.

Simon Kay, head of international operations and partnerships at Wellcome Trust, which has committed over £250 million (US$318 million) to fund health research and build research capacity in Africa in partnership with the AAS, said the tool will allow researchers to focus on science, rather than lose time navigating complex or unclear administration. He said the Good Financial Grant Practice will help catalyse transformative change and show the benefit of a coordinated approach.

Robert Felstead, head of the Global Challenges Research Fund Network for UK Research and Innovation that supports thousands of talented researchers around the world, said the GFGP provides a brilliant opportunity to reduce the administrative burden on organisations and enables them to focus more effort on delivering on research.