Dr Alvaro Sobrinho to Attend ScienceAfrica UnConference

The Planet Earth Institute has brought back its #ScienceAfrica UnConference this year and will host the event next month, in London, UK. The event will be attended by many members of the Planet Earth Institute board, including Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, the organisations chairman.

The conference will explore the challenges posed by Africa’s exploding young population, a topic Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has discussed and written about at length. Participants of the conference will be asked to give their expert input and to offer their views on how policy-makers and businesses can and should approach the youth bulge challenge.

In previous work, Dr Sobrinho has argued that the youth bulge presents both an opportunity and challenge. On the one hand, absorbing the bulging young generation into the labour market poses some serious obstacles, particular, as Dr Sobrinho has pointed out, when Africa’s economy is moving towards a low-labour, high-technology model. Low skilled jobs will be increasingly replaced by robotics and high-tech solutions in the coming decade, claims Sorbinho. This presents a situation where large numbers of people are entering a job market that is shrinking.

However, while recognising the potential dangers of the situation, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho remains positive and has argued that the problem can be overcome through education and training. By giving Africa’s youth the skills they need to exist in a high-tech economy they will not only find work but also fulfilling, challenging opportunities that will improve their lives.

The conference has been named, “’Generation Science: Empowering Africa’s future scientific leaders”, to reflect the focus on science, technology and education. The conference will look specifically at how youth education in Africa can be improved and how more students can be encouraged to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, which will prepare them for the economy they will enter upon graduation.

The event will take place on the 14th September at Kensington Town Hall in London. Registration is free and can be done online or by contacting the Planet Earth Institute events team.

STEP Week: Future Women Leaders in STEM

As part of the Science and Technology Enrolment Programme (STEP), the Planet Earth Institute, with the help of generous partners and state support, organised a week long event for female students to learn and be inspired about the prospects offered by gaining a science based education.

Taking place on the 18th to the 21st July, the Future Women Leaders in STEM week saw more than 100 secondary school students attend a mixture of educational workshops, classes and lectures. Taking part in hosting and organising the sessions were WiseOceans, a marine conservation group. Members of the WiseOceans team talked about marine science with the students and discussed climate change. The WiseOceans session reinforced many of the lessons learning by students who attended the marine explorer tour, a state-of-the-art vessel, some weeks earlier.

Other sessions included learning about wildlife from Casela Adventures, a Mauritian nature tours company. Students were excited to have the opportunity to work with the animals and learn about them. Alongside, the active participation elements of the week, students were also given the chance to hear lectures from teachers at the Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre and professors from Ecole Centre de Nantes.

The week of events was rounded up by a prestigious ceremony hosted by members of the Planet Earth Institute board. Students who had expressed particularly special attributes or effort were award prizes from the board members. President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim offered a special message to students and guests at the ceremony, concluding that if Africa is to become “a knowledge-based economy, we must equip our young people with the high-level scientific and technical skills they need to prosper.”

Dr Alvaro Sobrinho also offered thoughts on the programme, saying that it is hugely important to “make sure that students can experience new and exciting elements of science, and understand its huge variations, forms and potential benefits”.

A “proud day” for the Planet Earth Institute, says Chairman Alvaro Sobrinho

After month of work and effort, the Planet Earth Institute has finally announced that winners of the Her Excellency Mrs Ameenah Gurib-Fakim PhD Scholarship Programme award. 10 Mauritian researchers have been selected by the Planet Earth Institute’s academic board, to receive funding for their PhD projects.

Chairman of the institute, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, described the occasion as a “a proud day for the Planet Earth Institute”. The scholarship programme, he continued, “is about quality. We are heavily investing in some of our brightest minds to give them the opportunities not to be good, but to be great, world leading scientists.”

The announcement of the winners comes nearly two months after the submission deadline closed. The Planet Earth Institute academic board rigorously examined all of the proposals before coming to a final decision. Submissions to the scholarship award were required to meet certain criteria in terms of quality and focus. Only proposals that examined specific issue areas related to African development were considered.

All successful candidates have now been notified. Each one will receive funding for the duration of their research project. Tuition fees, research costs, accommodation, travel and living costs are all covered by the scholarship. Funding has been gathered from a variety of partners, including Alvaro Sobrinho, who personally gave generously to programme. The rest of the funding was derived from the Planet Earth Institute, the African Academy of Science, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and several more international organisations.

Alvaro Sobrinho said he believes that recipients of the scholarship now have the chance to become “true scientific leaders”. Each winner will have the chance to showcase their findings at Planet Earth Institute events and will be given access to industry in the form of placements at cutting edge companies.

STEP Week Announced

After the success of the Science, Technology Enrolment Programme’s (STEP) trip to the Ocean Explorer vessel, the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) has announced a four day event aimed at promoting scientific education and careers to female secondary school students. Called STEP Week: Future Women Leaders in STEM, the event will give 100 to 120 students the chance to learn, explore and be inspired by science.

Organised in partnership between the PEI and the Medine Educational Village, the four day event will include lectures from experts, interactive demonstrations and a variety of workshops, including sessions on marine science hosted by WISE Oceans and the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. Throughout  the event, girls will be encouraged to gain a greater appreciation for science, its real world applications and the career opportunities it offers.

Teachers from the distinguished Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre will take part in running some of the events and PEI board members, along with Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, will hold a Q&A session with the students.

The STEP was created to inspire students and improve their perspective of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The hope is that students will be motivated to choose to study in one of these fields. Not only will this improve their chances of gaining fulfilling, well-paid employment but they will be able to contribute to improving the scientific capacities of the African continent. The PEI has consistently placed the latter outcome as a top priority and has taken many steps to improve the situation already. 

Charity Organises Marine Explorer Tour

The charity of Alvaro Sobrinho, the Planet Earth Institute, recently organised a special outing for students attending its Science, Technology Enrolment Programme (STEP). By working with the Chinese in embassy in Mauritius, the Planet Earth Institute were invited to bring students on board a Chinese ocean research ship.

Once on board, students were given a guided tour of the state-of-the-art vessel, with crew members explaining the complicated control systems and research apparatus. After the tour students were invited to take part in science based learning activities led by the crew.

As part of the STEP the day was intended to inspire students to pursue education and careers focused on science, technology, mathematics and engineering. By giving students the opportunity to get a visceral experience of just one of many possible careers, the day spent on a marine research vessel was a complete success.

After disembarking from the ship, students took part in a question and answer session hosted by Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim. Questions were fielded by researchers and scientists working on the ocean explorer. Students demonstrated a keen interest in the topic of marine life, asking many pertinent and imaginative questions.

More about the work of Planet Earth Institute and their work to inspire young students to study the sciences can be found Alvaro Sobrinho’s Youtube Channel. Alongside the STEP, the organisation has funded a research centre and will be funding more than 10,000 scholarships over the coming years.

Alvaro Sobrinho, the driving force behind the Planet Earth Institute, has identified a lack of science based skills among Africa’s younger generations. He believes that such skills will be essential in the future economy of the continent. It is for this reason that the Planet Earth Institute is spending its time and resources promoting science based learning among young Africans.

Business can Electrify Africa says Philanthropist

In the wake of Barack Obama’s Power Africa development initiative, launched in February, Alvaro Sobrinho calls for further private sector investment in Africa’s energy grid.

Dr Sobrinho has often convincingly argued in favour of private involvement in development programmes. He believe – and not without reason – that the private sector is more capable and willing to offer the kind of investment that Africa needs in order to achieve economic and social progress.

While he supports Obama’s Power Africa programme, claiming that it “deserves credit for marshalling private investments” as well as focusing on the role of government, he believes that far more could be done to encourage businesses to take part in electrifying Africa.

Power Africa, Sobrinho points out, will only reach 50 million Africans, leaving a further 500 million without electricity. The private sector, Sobrinho goes on to say, is capable of achieving what African governments and international aid efforts have so far failed to do: electrify the continent.

Africa’s renewable resources are impressive; more than 10 terawatts of solar energy are available on the continent, alongside an enormous amount of wind power and geothermal energy. Bar a few notable exceptions, such as Morocco’s gigantic solar farm, African nations have largely failed to harness the renewable energy on offer. In part, this is due to lack of political willingness, but more often it comes down to technological know-how and financing; this, argues Dr Sobrinho, is where business can step in and offer assistance.

The private sector can wield huge resources and is teeming with technological know-how. For these reasons Dr Sobrinho feels that the private sector, rather than governments or aid agencies, is best placed to deal with Africa’s energy problems.

Dr Sobrinho recognises that a developmental feat such as bringing electricity to an entire continent cannot be achieved single-handed however. He has called on business to, “join forces with African governments and the broader civil society to help address this challenge.”

As yet, the question remains whether business will rise to the challenge.

Science Africa UnConference to be held in London

On September 15th the Planet Earth Institute will host its popular Science Africa UnConference once more, this time in London. The African NGO claims that “this year it’s going to be bigger and better than ever!”

Focusing on the the problem of the African baby boom, which has now grown into the African ‘youth bulge’, the conference will bring together more than 200 high profile delegates from business, academia and government. Together the delegates will discuss the youth bulge and the challenges it poses for policy makers across the African continent.

In an article written for the UN, Kingsley Ighobor, a journalist and UN programme coordinator, described the youth bulge as a “ticking time bomb”. Africa has more than 200 million citizens aged between 15 and 24, giving it the youngest population demographics in the world. Ighobor goes on to say that the ticking time bomb of Africa’s youth could become a great opportunity for the continent. There is “no shortage of ideas” on how to deal with the problem, argues Ighobor.

The Planet Earth Institute’s Science African UnConference aims to highlight a few of the ideas available. In particular, the institute will stress the need for improved education access for young Africans, especially in the scientific fields. The title of conference “Generation Science: empowering Africa’s future scientific leaders” aptly reflects the intention of the conference.

Alongside 200 or more delegates, the conference will be attended by Planet Earth Institute Chairman, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, and several of the organisations trustees, including HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim and Load Paul Boateng.

Applications Open for PEI Scholarship

10 PhD grants offered by the Planet Earth Institute (PEI), in partnership with the the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the African Academy of Science, are now open to applications from suitable candidates.

Titled the Her Excellency Mrs Ameenah Gurib-Fakim PhD Scholarship Programme, in honour of Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the grants are available to students undertaking research in areas of great importance to African development.

In particular, grants will be awarded to research focused on energy issues, water and sanitation, solutions for agri-business, health and so-called Blue Sky research, which focuses on imagining solutions that might not yet seem entirely plausible in the real world.

Each student receiving a grant from the scholarship programme will spend time in both an African university and in the UK. On top of this, students will be encouraged to develop strong ties with industry and will be offered the possibility of selecting from a variety of placements within high-profile companies associated with the programme.

Applications will close on the 31st May 2016 and scholarship winners will be announced in June. To be eligible to apply students must be conducting research in Mauritius or be a Mauritian student or researcher. Applicants must have a strong academic record and have a relevant research proposal.

Interested persons should send a CV and research proposal to agfscholarship@pei-foundation.mu. The programme will be coordinated from the Planet Earth Institute office in Mauritius.

Alvaro Sobrinho Outlines the Role of Business in Overcoming Climate Change in Africa

In a recent article published on Thomson Reuters, Dr. Alvaro Sobrinho made an impassioned case for increasing business investment in green solutions to Africa’s economic and environmental challenges. As a successful businessman and philanthropist, Dr. Sobrinho is a firm believer in the ability of the business sector to provide viable solutions to many of the obstacles Africa will have to overcome in the near future.

Dr. Sobrinho has been active in creating partnerships between education institutions and industry, arguing that a close connection between the two pillars of society will result in the most pragmatic outcome. Universities can benefit from the financial support and expertise offered by business, while business can gain access to the best and brightest students with skills relevant to the challenges businesses are dealing with.

Africa’s situation is dire, points out Dr. Sobrinho. Despite having the lowest green house gas (GHG) emissions of any region of the world, the continent is likely to face the harshest effects of climate change. Africa’s predicament is particularly troubling due to the continents lack of development, which leaves it unable to adequately and affectively respond to climatic changes. In general, rich western countries have the resources and skills needed to react to climate change, unfortunately, cash strapped, indebted and property stricken African nations are not so well equipped

Yet the potential for overcoming the impact of climate change is huge, according to Dr. Sobrinho. He points out that the continent has vast renewable energy resources. The continent can generate enormous amounts of solar and wind energy and also has the potential to harness geothermal energy sources as well.

Dr. Sobrinho highlights the case of the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project in North Africa, which is being partly funded by Google. The projects, says Dr. Sobrinho, will generate enough renewable energy to power over 2 million homes. This projects is a perfect example of how business will be an integral part of the solution in Africa, agues Dr. Sobrinho.

Concluding his message, Dr. Sobrinho calls on, “private sector companies operating across the continent to join forces with African governments and the broader civil society” to meet the challenge of climate change together. An inspiring message at a time when collective action is undoubtedly necessary.

Dr. Maulloo Explains the Importance of STEP

In February we reported on the launch of the STEP (Science, Technology Enrolment Programme) in Mauritius. Hosted by the Planet Earth Institute (PEI), the STEP initiative aims to encourage young African students to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.

To achieve its goal, STEP events have been held at schools across Mauritius featuring talks from professionals and workshops for the students. The first events have been well received by teachers and pupils alike. The level of engagement from students has been exceptional, with many indicating their intention to study the sciences in the future.

The Rajiv Gandhi Science Centre in Mauritius has acted as a partner to the PEI in order to make the STEP initiative possible. Centre Director Dr. Aman Maulloo recently explained the importance of STEP in an interview. Dr. Maulloo drew attention to the fact that Mauritius is a small island with few natural resources. He pointed out that the only significant resource available to the island is its inhabitants, in other words, its human resources.

While the overall number of students on the island is high, Dr. Maulloo said that only 20-30% of those students study science subjects, with only 6% studying biology. While the figure for mathematics is a little higher, at 40%, he made it clear that such small numbers of students studying STEM subjects is a huge problem.

The government of Mauritius, led by President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, has set a development policy based on the advancement of the island nations scientific capabilities. Dr. Maulloo argues that such a policy will require a much greater number of scientists to meet the growing need for specialist knowledge and skills.

The countries economic success, claims Dr. Maulloo, will depend on scientists. It is sciences that will ensure food security, sustainability, and discover ways to exploit the marine resources of the island.

Dr. Maulloo is happy to be a part of the STEP initiative, which is also supported by Dr. Alvaro Sobrinho. The programme is a first step in persuading young people in Mauritius to study STEM subjects.