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.

PEI to Award 10 PhD Grants in 2016

Continuing its efforts to support scientific education in Africa, the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) has partnered with the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) to fund 10 PhD programmes in 2016.

The PhDs will be focused on water, energy, agro-business and basic scientific research, the purpose of the grant being to support a new generation of African scientists that can lead the continent in an era of science, technology and innovation.

The programme will fund 10 PhDs in 2016, with the possibility of more to come in the future. Organised in conjuncture with private business partners, the programmes will be highly focused on generating industry relevant knowledge.

PEI Chairman, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho expressed his delight at the new partnership between the PEI and AAS and he explained why the project is so important, “If we want to ensure that our continent has the capacity to develop solutions to its greatest development challenges, we must dramatically increase investment in scientific research.”

Mauritian President and PEI trustee HE Dr. Ameenah Gurib-Fakim also commended the new initiative. She emphasised the importance of basic scientific research in generating long-term growth in Africa, arguing that it basic research is just as important as applied research.

The agreement to fund the PhD programmes was formally agreed on 2nd April 2016. Candidates will now have the chance to put forward proposals in line with the objectives of the grant. This programme is one of several PhD grants being supported by the Planet Earth Institute.

The PEI Announces #Science Africa UnConference 2016

Following on from last years successful event, the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) will once again host a #Science Africa UnConference in London, UK.

The previous events have each focused on a pressing issue related to African economic and social development. In light of the African ‘youth bulge’, this year’s conference will discuss Africa’s future generations and explore how Africa’s future scientific leaders can be empowered.

The theme follows on from last year’s event, which explored the role science and technology will play in securing African’s scientific independence. During the 2015 conference, PEI Chairman, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, delivered a speech regarding African’s scientific emancipation, while Lord Paul Boateng discussed the way in which technology drives sustainable development.

This year’s event will be marked by speeches on the need to improve the quality and accessibility of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education for young Africans. The PEI and its Chairman, Dr Sobinho, are staunch advocates of scientific education in Africa, believing that Africa’s economy will be increasingly based on technology and science in the future. If young Africans are to be prepared for the job market they will enter upon gradation, then they must focus on the STEM subjects.

Prestigious guests will attend the event from business, government, academia and civil society groups, along with the PEI trustee Lord Paul Boateng and Her Excellency Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the President of Mauritius. Delegates will be invited to offer their insights on the events theme and to work together to find solutions and policy suggestions.

The event will take place on July 20th at Ravensbourne College in Greenwich and will be attended by over 180 guests.

Space: Africa’s Next Frontier

Only a week after Alvaro Sobrinho’s endorsement of the Fourth Revolution as a huge opportunity for Africa, the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) has announced it will be hosting a policy roundtable on Africa’s first space policy.

As Chairman of the PEI Dr Sobrinho is no doubt enthused by the possibility that Africa will begin to develop its space science capacity. It is a move that is clearly inline with his own recommendations regarding African development, which have focused on improve the access and quality of education in the fields of science, technology and engineering.

The roundtable, which will take place at the House of Lords in London, will “examine how space programmes can contribute to sustainable and inclusive development on the continent”.

Importantly, from the perspective of Dr Sobrinho, the roundtable will also focus on how the necessary scientists and engineers that would be required for the establishment of an African space programme could be trained.

The decision to host the event is a consequence of the upcoming African Union Heads of State summit, where the space policy proposed last October by a group of African science and education ministers is due to be ratified.

In the foreword of the proposed policy document the Chair of the African Union explains the importance of a formal space policy for Africa; “the manifold benefits” he argues, “that accrue to society at large from a formal space sector will assist us to translate the vision for a united, prosperous continent at peace with itself into reality.”

Dr Sobrinho has as yet made no comment regarding the upcoming roundtable event. Though it is likely, given its focus on the need for education and training that he will be extremely pleased with the direction the initiative is heading.