African Science Granting Councils and Partner Meetings call for enhanced research funding, research impact and collaboration

African Science Granting Councils and Partner Meetings call for enhanced research funding, research impact and collaboration

“The gathering of the African Science Granting Councils (SGCs) and our Partners on the occasion of the World Science Forum (WSF) 2022 highlighted the need for us as SGCs to continue strengthening efforts to enhance research and granting systems in support of excellent and inclusive science. The meetings have emphasised the importance of transdisciplinary approaches, and advanced insights and skills, as we strive to catalyse our science systems for impact.” 

National Research Foundation (NRF) Chief Executive Officer, Dr Fulufhelo Nelwamondo made these remarks about the recently concluded African Science Granting Councils and Partner Meetings, held on the sidelines of South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation (DSI)-hosted World Science Forum. The NRF hosted these high-level meetings held annually under the auspices of the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Global Research Council (GRC).

Bringing together international, regional and local partners representing 50 countries, the meetings provided a platform for science funding agencies on the continent and beyond to share experiences; advance good practices in research management; and evaluate the progress in the implementation of capacity strengthening and collaborative activities. 

The SGCI was launched in 2015 and strengthens the capacities of Science Granting Councils in 18 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa so that they can contribute to economic and social development. The SGCI is supported through a partnership of the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the NRF, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and the German Research Foundation (DFG).

The SGCI Annual Forum reflected on how the SGCI has enabled the SGCs of member countries to leverage additional research and innovation funding, promote partnerships with local and international science actors, and unlock research success in terms of new products and knowledge uptake. Delegates discussed the importance of engaging in STI foresight to inform research and innovation, especially priority setting and STI policy-making in general, shaped by a masterclass paper, authored by Prof John Mugabe (University of Pretoria) on the topic. 

Since its establishment, the programme has facilitated the funding of research projects across the SGCI participating councils in the broad areas of industrialisation and manufacturing, sustainable economies and societies, emerging technologies and development, and social sciences and humanities. Over 70 projects have been funded. During the SGCI academic symposium, the SGCI brought together projects funded in the domains of agro-processing and insect physiology and ecology. At the same time, practical ways of using systems approaches and thinking in research were presented. The Sub-Saharan Africa region is gearing up to implement activities under the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) Sub-Saharan Africa Regional Member Organization (SSARMO) with a focus on strengthening the understanding of systems approaches in research.

The Global Research Council (GRC) regional meeting gathered the perspectives, experiences and approaches of public research funding organisations in relation to the thematic topics of rewards and recognition and climate change. A seminal report titled “Politics and Policy in Knowledge Production for Development” was launched. Written by Professor Teboho Moja and Dr Samuel Kehinde Okunade and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the report recommends that the research community disseminates their research products through other non-academic platforms to benefit the broader community. It recommends that the research community communicate their findings to policymakers through policy briefs, and on the part of politicians and policymakers, they need to be aware of and champion the value of basic research for possible long-term impact. 

Its recommendations support the call by Dr Mamoeletsi Mosia, Managing Director at the NRF-South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), at the forum on development of early-career researchers across Africa that science communication should be strengthened. “We are not as effective as we can be in communicating with everybody else, except scientists. Many universities are now offering science communication,” she said. Science communication will ensure “that you are able to read your audience and communicate at all levels”, Mosia added.

The Open Science Day (OSD) was hosted by UNESCO and the Africa Open Science Platform (AOSP) took stock of the progress made in supporting the implementation of the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. Lessons were shared on approaches to open science from across the world, and newly developed tools and guidelines in different areas of science aimed at sensitising emerging researchers on Open Science practices were shared. 

The NRF-Carnegie Corporation PERKA final conference on early career researcher development in the post-PhD phase facilitated conversations on designing, implementing, funding, and monitoring interventions that support early-career researchers. Case studies from programmes successfully implemented were featured. At the convening, a set of guidelines for designing impactful post-PhD support programmes in Africa were launched. They provide guidance for and share the experiences of African programmes in implementing such initiatives, describe partnership models for funding, and provide action points and recommendations for enhancing support across the continent. 

Under the leadership of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) with the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (Cirad) and the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE), the Transforming Food Systems and Agriculture through Partnership research with Africa (TSARA) initiative held its first General Assembly. Launched in March 2022, this initiative aims to strengthen science cooperation for sustainable agriculture and food systems, youth employment and gender equity between African and French organisations.

The NRF utilised the opportunity to advance several research funding relationships. Nuffic, the NRF, NWO and the Dutch mission in South Africa co-hosted meetings to strengthen synergies between the different collaborative initiatives in the field of knowledge, research, innovation, and education with the prospective to frame future cooperation. 

A working meeting of the African-Japan Collaborative Research on Environmental Science (AJ-CORE) consortium was held. AJ-CORE is a partnership between the NRF, the Japan Science and Technology Agency, and SGCI participating councils to support joint research and innovation projects in environmental science between researchers from Japan, South Africa and SGCI participating councils.

The Africa Regional Expert Scoping Workshop, hosted by the NRF and Belmont Forum engaged on the ways to deepen not only public-private partnerships for funding and collaboration, but also bringing the broader community on board for research advancement. “We want to bring the private sector into this discussion. We want to bring the community into this discussion,” commented Dr Nicole Arbour, Executive Director of the Belmont Forum.

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