Science must drive development in Africa

Presidents Kagame and Sall with the NEF female fellows

Presidents Kagame and Sall with the NEF female fellows

An unprecedented coalition of African and world leaders today convened at the first-ever Next Einstein Forum Global Gathering, issuing a joint call to action for increased investment and support for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) in Africa. The event marks a historic first step in charting a new course for science-led development in Africa.

“The NEF Global Gathering is providing a platform to nurture African talent so the continent can return to its roots as the cradle of innovation,” said H.E. Macky Sall, President of Senegal.

“Africa has a rich history of science as does Senegal and we’re creating a ‘city of knowledge’ as proof of our commitment to investing in the education of our youth. Science must better our society. I would like to especially salute our women scientists because a future without diversity is not representative of our society. At the heart of our policy is to put an accent on the education of women and girls and the support of STEM. Together, we must meet the challenge of producing the next African Einstein- be it a man or a woman.”

Over the next three days, the 2016 NEF Global Gathering, which takes place at the Abdou Diouf International Conference Center in Dakar, Senegal, will welcome more than 800 scientific and industry influencers, policymakers, business leaders, civil society and advocates committed to building a strong STEM ecosystem across the continent.

Dignitaries present on the opening day included Macky Sall, President of Senegal (host); Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda and a high-level roster of science, technology and education ministers from Ethiopia, Morocco, Cameroon and Nigeria – all participants in the NEF Presidential Panel. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shared written remarks.  

“Many local challenges have global consequences and finding sustainable solutions will require transformative thinking, strong leadership, significant investment and deeper engagement. We’re thrilled to welcome the world to Dakar to witness Africa’s emergence on the global scientific stage,” said Thierry Zomahoun, NEF Chairperson and President and CEO of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).

Science and technology-driven innovation is an undeniable engine for economic growth and social inclusion. Today, a lack of investment in R&D and STEM fields is stunting Africa’s growth as the continent contributes just 1 percent of global research output while losing 35 percent of aid – i.e. $4 billion – each year to STEM-related expatriate jobs. An initiative of AIMS in partnership with the Robert Bosch Stiftung, NEF’s mission is close the STEM deficit and empower a new generation of scientific genius.

President Sall tells the audience that science must make Africa better

President Sall tells the audience that science must make Africa better

In a written message, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, “Science is a force multiplier for advancing progress across all the Sustainable Development Goals. Today, more than ever, we must nurture, support and harness the full power of the sciences as a force for more inclusive, sustainable development.  We need this especially for Africa, to underpin the rights, dignity, creativity and innovation of all Africans and reinforce the foundations of Africa’s progress.”

“Africa is global talent pool of the future, provided we work together now to make the necessary investments. Three principles derived from our experience have been very helpful to us in transforming Rwanda. First, always work in a spirit of partnership and collaboration, within Africa and globally. Second, we cannot afford to wait around, so get started on the journey using our own resources, ideas, and institutions. Third, women are at least half of our talent pool, and progress is impossible without their full participation at every level,” said Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda.

By building on its wealth of human capital – a young, largely unemployed and wholly untapped pool of talent – Africa is poised to emerge as a leader in the global scientific community. The 2016 NEF Global Gathering will help make this vision a reality by combining the unique perspectives and resources offered by government, academia, industry and public and private sectors, to strengthen Africa’s science infrastructure.

In honor of International Women’s Day, the NEF Global Gathering 2016 hosted a dynamic panel discussion reflecting on progress to date promoting African Women in STEM, ongoing innovative initiatives and future opportunities. The panel, “Driving the Agenda for African Women in STEM,” featured a formidable roster of women leaders and influencers in science including France Cordova, Director, US National Science Foundation, Aminata Sall Diallo, Professor and Special Advisor in the Ministry of Higher Educaion and Research and H. E. Minister Naledi Pandor, Minister of Science and Technology, South Africa.

“As a woman with a science background working in a STEM-related field, the value of mentorship and support from other women cannot be overstated,” said Seema Kumar, Vice President, Innovation, Global Public Health and Science Policy Communication, Johnson & Johnson, who also participated on the panel. “The Next Einstein Forum provides a place for women in the sciences from all over Africa to connect with each other and with leaders in the sciences from across the globe. Working together, we are better able to break down barriers to success and push the boundaries of science and technology.”

Notably, women make up 40 percent of the inaugural NEF Fellow class, 15 of Africa’s best and the brightest scientists, rigorously selected for their groundbreaking, contributions to science. Representing the continent’s rising class of STEM talent, these trailblazers include: Alta Schutte, South Africa; Evelyn Gitau, Kenya; Wilfred Ndifon, Cameroon; Amanda Weltman, South Africa; Assane Gueye, Senegal; Tolu Oni, Nigeria; Axel Ngonga-Nomo, Cameroon; Mohlopheni Jackson Marakalala, South Africa; Hallowed Olaoluwa, Nigeria/Central African Republic; Joseph Ben Geloun, Senegal; Mouhamed Moustapha Fall, Senegal; Sherien Elagroudy, Egypt; Noble Banadda, Uganda; Kommunist Weldemariam, Ethiopia And Ghada Bassioni, Egypt.

The diversity of the group punctuates the NEF’s concerted efforts to build an inclusive, globally competitive scientific community. Also unique to the NEF is a youth-focused and driven agenda with least 50 percent of the NEF Global Gathering participants aged 42 or younger.

African Press Organization