Programme is targeting early-career scientists in Africa

Early-career researchers from African countries which have limited scientific capacity are set to benefit from a US$5 million research initiative fronted by the World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), a UNESCO programme unit, with funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The Seed Grant for New African Principal Investigators (SG-NAPI) is targeting young scientists who are trying to get established in their home countries, or those who are about to return home from abroad for research careers in a university.

The funding will provide about 20 grants in the current call, with up to US$67,700 per proposal for periods of up to 24 months, awarded to “promising high-level research projects” in agriculture, biology, chemistry, earth sciences, engineering, information computer technology, mathematics and medical sciences, says a call for applications notice posted by TWAS.

Beneficiaries aged below 41 are envisaged to come from a total of 47 countries in the Sub-Saharan African (SSA) region deemed by TWAS to be lagging behind in science and technology, a majority of them part of the group of Least Developed Countries. They should also be attached to institutions that lack research facilities, the call adds.

Notably, nearly all countries in the SSA region are on the TWAS list except South Africa and Seychelles, and with Mauritania as the only eligible country from outside the region.

Female scientists to benefit

“The current call is the third and last in the current term of funding. It is hoped that the donor will renew the funding and continue this superb capacity-building programme,” said Max Paoli, the programme coordinator of TWAS.

While the grant will fund the purchase of scientific equipment, consumables including ‘partial’ fieldwork, including maintenance of equipment, and specialised literature such as textbooks and proceedings, among others, it does not cover scientists’ salaries. It can, however, be used to support a masters student as part of the project.

In addition, successful applicants can request funding for attending international conferences and money for industrial links, as well as mobility and open-access publication grants.

Uniquely, it has a component which seeks to “enhance the productivity of female scientists returning to academia after a maternity leave”, described as the “scientist-after-child grant”.

“The scientist-after-child scheme is important because women scientists who went through a pregnancy and then the birth of their child missed out time in the lab. Therefore, in relation to their male counterparts, they may be less competitive and their students may have also missed out on day-to-day supervision,” Paoli told University World News.

“The scientist-after-child scheme provides support for research assistance which can hopefully compensate for the time, or some of the research time that was lost by women scientists as a result of becoming mothers. This is a modern approach to gender equity in the laboratory, and we believe it is gender-empowering,” he added.

The grant, he said, is ‘modular’ in nature, meaning that researchers can request different types of support in relation to the specific needs of their projects, such as collaboration with industry or training in different laboratories, through a mobility grant.

This, he further noted, makes the programme both “flexible and versatile”, allowing for support to a wide range of project needs.

“The projects funded in the first and second calls were highly rated by international reviewers. The proposals were solid and original, with great potential to yield new knowledge and address fascinating issues of regional as well as global relevance,” the officer noted, adding that the main beneficiaries have been university-based researchers.