This month we lost one of the greatest scientific minds the world has seen. Professor Stephen Hawking’s work as a theoretical physicist gained him notoriety throughout the scientific community, and made him widely known throughout the world, proven by the huge outpouring of emotional from every continent following his death. There is no doubt that he was a hugely gifted man, whose education and residence at Cambridge University, gave him a platform for brilliance. But, if he had been born in Africa, would things have turned out the same.
It is hard to speculate, and maybe his brilliant mind would still have taken him to great places. But, limited opportunities for the best of the best academic minds creates many challenges and hurdles to overcome to make sure brilliance is utilised. Getting through the education system to reach university is the first challenge, and if that is hurdled, it is then necessary to find the fees to attend a university, and then hope that they are get the right development opportunities within the university. It is possible, but very tough.
Even when you finish university, where do you go. If you haven’t already had to travel oversees to get the best education, you may have to now travel oversees to get an internship with the best firm. This paints a very negative view on education in Africa, I know, and this is certainly a generalisation, but cultivating an excellent mind in Africa simply isn’t easy, which is why only 2 percent of global scientific research comes from Africa!
If you ask people to mention an African scientist of note, they may find it difficult to answer. But with a huge population, the talent is certainly not lacking. And to exclude the excellence of Africa is a great loss to academia worldwide. Scientific knowledge from Africa can only benefit worldwide research, and must be cultivated. Fortunately, there are a group that are intent on making that a reality and finding the next Einstein.
You may have heard of the Next Einstein Forum, which is an initiative launched by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), aimed at connecting science, society and policy in Africa and the rest of the world. Their goal is to “leverage science for human develop globally” and making sure that Africa are part of that process. That are an essential driving force behind Africa’s scientific renaissance, and they want the world to know about it, by making sure that scientific breakthroughs within the continent or by African mathematicians and scientists do not go missed by world media.
Aptly, this year the forum was in Kigali, Rwanda. The president himself, who sees Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) vitally important for the development of the Rwandan economy hosted the forum. With over 1000 attendees, 50% of them under the age of 42, and 40% of whom were women, the event is incredibly diverse, which fits with such a diverse continent.
A general theme of health, education and the gender gap ran through this years event. And within these themes a plethora of topics were covered, including Accelerating Africa’s lab to market process, Blockchain opportunities, driving innovation through Africa’s digital economy, laying the foundation for knowledge leg economies and changing the way we learn and building scientific culture early on. I wish I could go through all of these topics individually, but there simply not enough words in a blog to do so, but fortunately for us, NEF have a youtube channel in which many of the discussions are already documented. (I urge you to go and check out the videos, some of the interviews are incredibly inspiring!)
One exciting news from the forum was the launch of Scientific African, an open access journal, which aims to boost the reach and impact of research by Africans globally. This peer reviewed publications will give a place for scientific break throughs from Africans, to be published and showcased to the scientific community and others worldwide. Many do not consider the African continent with regards to excellence in general, and it is important that African’s are present representing excellence in every sector, from business, to heath and in this case science. Showcasing African excellence in this manner will help to open the minds of people worldwide to the truth that the continent is packed full of brilliant individuals.
This will also have a knock on effect, in line with the mission of the NEF and AIMS, to promote STEM to young Africans. If they are to find the next Einstein (And Zuckerberg, Hawking and Brunel for that matter) the youth need to see maths and sciences as an attractive option from an early stage.
And event like this in Africa would not be complete without an innovation competition, and they didn’t disappoint. With 16 winners announced, NEF is another exciting location to see the best innovations of Africa. In subsequent blogs we will have a look through some of our favourites from the finalists.
The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences and the Next Einstein Forum are an incredible opportunity for Africa to showcase its excellence to the world and itself. Many young African’s will be inspired by the knowledge that there is a platform that aims to support their excellence. They make it possible for the best students form the continent to receive the best education, without leaving to the US or America. These are schemes that need to be supported, pushed and boosted by the public and the private sector. Cultivating the next generation of excellence in Africa, and taking another step towards creating an African continent that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world, if not head and shoulders above.