The Future Africa Institute at the University of Pretoria is pleased to announce the launch of their Research Leader Fellowship program, funded by the Carnegie Corporation in New York.

The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is an early career research fellowship program focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills. In particular, the programme seeks to build a network of emerging African scientists who have the skills to apply transdisciplinary approaches and to collaborate to address complex challenges in the human well-being and environment nexus in Africa.

The kind of challenges that Africa faces can usually not be answered by or within one topic: we need solutions that comes from across different disciplines. Transdisciplinarity brings a bottom-up approach involving the community who are affected by issues addressed in the research. To address these complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa, the program recognises the value of creating a long-term network of future-focussed science leaders with transdisciplinary research skills, who can address the challenges of a post-Covid-19 society.

Program Director, Prof Stephanie Burton, said that the 25 early career research fellows were chosen from more than 300 applications from across Africa and are potential continental leaders in the sciences. “It is most exciting to experience the quality and motivation of our young post-doctoral researchers – all of them quite accomplished already, in their home institutions and countries.”

FAR-LeaF enables a network of early career researchers to work with UP mentors, collaborate with each other and researchers in their respective home institutions to establish a new generation of science leaders across the continent. “Our goal to build capacity with other institutions is well on track, despite some challenges for the fellows who are based in universities across ten African countries.” The fellows will work from their home countries but are set to travel to the Future Africa Campus at least twice during the program to meet each other and their UP-assigned mentors face to face. This will support interaction with leading researchers, leadership training and network-building. The first congress is set for August.

 

 

“We chose some very talented early career researchers with excellent and ambitious projects relevant to the sustainability goals. There is an amazing range of topics – from biodiversity in environmental science right across the board to policy in agriculture, policy in landgrabs and policy in education; one on the impact of women in land governance and one on misinformation in communication in media. There is also a project on blockchain methodology in farming: using artificial intelligence systems to monitor climate and combine it with indigenous knowledge to develop a model farmers can use to monitor weather conditions to consider climate change in their day-to-day decision-making. There are quite a few projects on climate change, also on land usage – a very relevant issue - and even one about rehousing homeless children. The successful candidates present a vast, interesting range of well expressed, well-described projects with clear research questions, all feasible and relevant.”

Burton is very appreciative of the fellows’ supervisors at their home institutions: “They work closely with our researchers, as part of this team and program. I was pleasantly surprised, at a recent online meeting, where the fellows introduced their supervisors: The supervisors’ support of the fellows is critically important, and they will be involved all along, with regular interaction anticipated.”

Prof Burton said that Future Africa is proud of the base that the Far-LeaF team have established in the interim. “Logistics across the continent took some time, having to work across international borders, time zones and within online communication limitations, to finalize research plans, contracts, and budgets. From here on it is all about maintaining good communication, understanding the challenges the fellows are facing – and working things out.”

There is also much excitement about the virtual research environment (VRE) which will enable the fellows to share research through online collaboration. A critical factor for this project is connectivity, to enable community building and to establish research connections. Prof Burton pointed out that the FAR-LeaF team are taking a very hands-on approach to the programme, with regular meetings and interactions where the fellows get chances to input and air issues. In this way, the Future Africa Institute address challenges in Africa and look into the future to find sustainable solutions through research – this is one of the Future Africa key focus areas: research capacity building and networking to enable collaboration, and transformative change, across Africa.

“The Carnegie Corporation, whom we know are watching with interest, might soon find that this is a model for a program that can be expanded upon by Future Africa, and across Africa.”

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