Programme focus. In addition to supporting research and product development efforts, there is considerable need in the region to increase the human capacity, organisational capabilities and uplift infrastructure to provide an enabling environment for conducting and supporting R&D.
Strategic intent. Strengthen institutional systems infrastructure and develop human capacity to enable an efficient network that is conducive to collaborative RD&I.
Budget. This programme aims to mobilise resources to invest at least $25 million to strengthen infrastructure and institutional systems and $5 million to support MSc and PhD studies in critical biosciences areas. These studies will be integrated with the priority RD&I programmes on Programme 1 and will not be standalone.
Investment priorities. Six investment priorities have been identified:
- Strengthen the institutional systems and research infrastructure of the nodes
- Training and education for biosciences
- Strengthen linkages with continental and global scientific communities
- Boost inter-network collaboration
- Support policy efforts in biosciences
- Actively address gender mainstreaming.
1 Strengthen the institutional systems and research infrastructure of the nodes
This involves providing advisory services as well as new and upgraded physical infrastructure to nodes as needed. Not all Nodes have the requisite systems and infrastructure to participate properly and SANBio can help with some judicious investments in this regard. As an example, the state-of-the-art Regional Bioinformatics Laboratory, established at the University of Mauritius, has been active in providing short- and long-term training as well as Master’s level university education. Key efforts under this initiative will include the elevation of lab practices, consideration of ISO and other possible standards, and logistics as well as infrastructure audits.
2 Training and education for biosciences (including technical applications as well as commercialisation)
This is an important priority and given the relative success of previous efforts and the magnitude of the R&D, human capital and infrastructure needs of Southern Africa, SANBio will undertake a large training and education effort.
- Training will be provided through a wide range of short-term training courses, workshops, exchange visits and tours, on an as-needed by the various nodes and the hub basis. Training will include new tools and techniques for programme management to facilitate first-class proposal development and research management.
- Education will target at producing a cohort of postgraduate students at the Master’s and PhD levels who will champion biosciences R&D. The feasibility of introducing a Regional Accelerated Postgraduate Training Platform approach will be explored.
- Most importantly, SANBio will conduct a skills audit in the region and based on the regional needs analysis, put in place suitable skills development, vocational training, exchange programmes, as well as sponsor-relevant MSc and PhD scholarships to strengthen relevant human capacity in the region to deliver relevant innovations. Over the life of this Business Plan we expect 48 Masters and 24 Ph.D students to be trained through the Network, as well as 200 undergraduate studentships supported. These students, who will be offered fellowships to study within and outside the continent, will be bonded to their local organisations to ensure that they return to their home countries upon completion of their studies. (This is the same approach used successfully by SANBio in the past.) Affirmative action will be taken to ensure that at least 50% of recipients of these fellowships will be female and preference will be given to candidates from post conflict countries. Specific education and training initiatives will be developed after further training needs assessments which need to be undertaken early in this Business Planning period.
3 Strengthen linkages with continental and global scientific communities
This will have two foci, specifically connecting with scientific communities across the continent as well as connecting African scientific communities to those elsewhere. In the first instance there are already examples of different networks tackling similar problems and researchers not knowing of these efforts. SANBio is well positioned to make connections where common research is being undertaken and also make connections where complementary skills are available. Furthermore, SANBio can play a role in connecting African scientists living off the continent, to current efforts at home. Finally, with the emergence of high-quality researchers and research conducted in Southern Africa, SANBio can play a role in connecting researchers in the region to researchers on the African continent and elsewhere – to encourage more South-South collaboration as well as more North-South collaboration.
4 Boost inter-network collaboration
This will be facilitated by the other ABI Networks and involves ensuring that cross Network issues, ideas and opportunities are exploited. This is important as there have already been instances of unexploited overlap and duplication as well as potential opportunities not addressed.
5 Support policy efforts in biosciences
This will include a consultative support on the initiation and development of policies which facilitate biosciences within a country and which support regional biosciences efforts, particularly in the area of policy harmonisation, the lack of which is a major barrier to all forms of STI efforts. This initiative could become a major effort if Member States request support in this area.
6 Actively address gender equity
This is another big priority. As noted above, gender equity is a much greater issue in sub-Saharan Africa than in Northern Africa. Levels of female participation in biosciences research and related support activities are low and positive action is needed. SANBio will address this issue in a number of ways – giving preference to female PIs in research applications, giving incentives to women to attend important workshops and training sessions, establishing a mentorship and training exchange programme between Northern and Southern African organisations and giving preference to females in educational programmes. We will be seeking to identify other initiatives as well. In support of these efforts we will implement special data collection efforts, though the results management system to monitor and report on progress in this area.