Solving the infamous African brain drain has proved a challenging task for Africa’s policy makers, NGOs and inter governmental organisations alike. Scores of educated Africans continue to depart from the continent in search of more promising and plentiful opportunities elsewhere. Finding ways to make them remain in Africa is a key development challenge for a continent in desperate need of science, technology and innovation.
In recent publications, Dr Álvaro Sobrinho has argued for better science education and more varied post-graduate opportunities. To this end, Dr Álvaro Sobrinho has been financing a PhD programme run by the Planet Earth Institute which hopes to fund some 10,000 PhDs over the next decade. To qualify, applicants must be intending to focus on one of several key areas relevant to African development including water, energy, agriculture and health care.
Now, other notable scientists on the continent are calling for the same increase in opportunities for young African scientists as a way of persuading them to remain in Africa. Professor Kelly Chibale, currently the Director (and founder) of Africa’s first drug research centre, H3D in South Afirca, has called on African policy makers to provide opportunities for scientists that all them to use the skills they gained during their education.
In order to achieve this goal, policy makers will need to focus on creating public-private partnerships, teaming up with the well-resourced and equipped private sector. This approach has been put forward by Dr Álvaro Sobrinho on many occasions and underpins the PhD programme he funds along with support from the World Bank and other members of the African business community.
Improving the Africa’s domestic scientific infrastructure will have knock-on benefits beyond reversing the brain drain. Homegrown science will contribute to the development of innovative African businesses and has the potential to solve many of the health and public service problems the continent faces.
The South African government has announced its intention to focus on ICT training and education in an effort to “cement its position in the fourth industrial revolution”.
As detailed in pervious articles, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be characterised by the use of robotics, computer technology and automation. Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has written extensively on the threats and opportunities posed by the coming industrial revolution; he has argued persuasively for an increased focus on STEM education to prepare young Africans for the changes predicted in the economy. In particular, low-paid, low-skilled jobs will become increasingly redundant, forcing young Africans to acquire high-level skills or face a challenging future.
South Africa has indicated its awareness of the situation and believes providing high quality ICT training to students will help ready them for the fourth industrial revolution. “We must expose the youth to as wide a variety of technological innovations as possible”, said Minister Jeff Radebe, “It is our local innovators and entrepreneurs who will ultimately create the millions of jobs that we need to grow” he continued.
With nearly 50% of young South Africans unemployed it is a dire necessity for the government to begin offering education that will lead to worthwhile job opportunities. Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has been promoting the importance of STEM education for many years; only through increased knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics can young Africans contribute to the new economic era.
Currently, the ICT sector is still surprising analysts with its ability to create new jobs; in many cases, the jobs created simply did not exist just a few years before. For this reason the South African government views ICT education as a sound investment that will greatly benefit the lives of South African graduates and will contribute to building a modern economy in South Africa.
As perviously reported, the Planet Earth Institute hosted the Science Africa UnConference last month in London on the 20th July. The conference brought together a wide range of experts, professionals and enthusiasts all interested in discussing Africa’s future. According to the Planet Earth Institute the conference aimed to “shine a light on innovators harnessing science and tech for real social impact on the continent”.
Focusing on the notion of “big ideas”, the conference encouraged attendees and guest speakers alike to share their solutions to some of Africa’s most pressing challenges. Ideas concentrated on key areas including food, water, public health and energy – areas the Planet Earth Institute and its founder Dr Álvaro Sobrinho have identified as crucial to African development.
Guest speakers offered their expert insights on particular problems and time was given for the audience to respond and begin a discussion. On top of this, the audience was actively encouraged by facilitators to share their own ideas and even to detail the skills, expertise and financing needed to make them a reality.
In an effort to drive African development and create real and lasting opportunities for Africans, Dr Álvaro Sobrinho been sharing his own “big ideas” in a series of publications. From suggesting innovative approaches to funding education, to advocating alternative ways to conduct necessary agricultural research.
At the Science Africa UnConference participants followed Dr Sobrinho’s lead calling for the enhancement of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education using low-resource methods, and for flood waters that cause a deluge to hit east African cities every year to be stored and used for crop irrigation.
Alongside these big ideas were a host of others that aimed to support a range of people such as young mothers, scientists and children. Of particular note was the idea to provide meaningful vocational training for young people, especially young mothers. Another inspiring idea championed the use of AI (artificial intelligence) to deliver health care information directly to people’s mobiles.
The Planet Earth Institute’s annual Science Africa UnConference was hailed a success by the organisation after taking place in London on the 20th July. Founded by Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, the Planet Earth Institute has hosted the conference three years running. This year’s event focused on big ideas for Africa, in particularly the conference highlighted the ways science and technology are shaping the continents future.
High-level speakers from the South African government, the Ghanian government, IBM Research African and a selection of prominent African NGOs gave their views on wide variety of topics. Blade Nzumande, Minister for Higher Education in South Africa, discussed emerging science and technology development in Africa and how they will impact the continent. Professor Kelly Chibale from the University of Cape Town, South Africa, talked about the work of H3D, Africa’s first drug discovery and development centre. Professor Chibale emphasised the need for better scientific training, an issue the Planet Earth Institute and Dr Alvaro Sobrinho have been working hard to rectify over the past few years.
Simon Kay from the Welcome Trust introduced the Coalition for African Research and Innovation (CARI), an initiative created by the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa and supported by the Welcome Trust. CARI aims to support African innovation and enterprise through a well-organised and well-funded central organisation.
In the afternoon, Global Challenges Research Fund, the African Foundation for Development and Amref Health Africa led workshops for attendees of the conference. Described as “highly participative and stimulating” the workshops focused on gender issues in processes, research and policy and large scale solar power systems. Attendees responded well to workshop facilitators invitations to share, connect and exchange with one another.
Alongside the presentations and workshop, the Planet Earth Institute organised the PEI Partner Fair, an area of the arena where organisations could show-off their work. Attendees could use breaks to peruse the fair and explore cutting edge science being exhibited by leading organisations such as IBM, the British Council, University of Exeter, and others.
After such a well-attended and participatory day, the Planet Earth Institute will undoubtedly host the conference again next year.
As part of a series of seminars dealing with various issues facing Africa, the Planet Earth Institute held an event on health care in Africa, which took place in London. The conference focused on the challenges and possibilities surrounding public health care in Africa and featured experts from academia, business and policy.
Founded by Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, the Planet Earth Institute focuses on the scientific advancement of Africa. The Spotlight series is intended to highlight specific areas of interest – which the Institute has been focusing on in other areas of its work – in the hope of supporting and promoting the findings of experts working in those areas.
For his part, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has been a vocal advocate of increased investment in research and development form both public and private sources. Technology and innovation, argues Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, will provide the economic and social progress the continent needs in the 21st Century. Alongside his private investments in tech-focused companies that are bringing much needed services to parts of Africa, Dr Sobrinho has brought together fellow business associates to raise funds for PhDs and other science and technology focused education initiatives.
Health care is one of several areas the PhD scholarship funded by Alvaro Sobrinho priorities, and it is a key area of interest for the Planet Earth Institute. The Spotlight Seminar on public health care, which was hosted in London, included presentations from Dr. Diana Marshall, editor of the BMC (BioMed Central) journal series, Dr. Manjinder Sandhu, Director of the APCDR (African Partnership for Chronic Diseases) and Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for the UK.
The presentations were followed by a panel discussions chaired by Lord Paul Boateng (who recently replaced Dr Alvaro Sobrinho as chairman of the Planet Earth Institute). The panel focused on medical innovations emerging from Africa, including new mobile based applications that are helping women save money for medical expenses. Other contributions to the session revolved around the need for better financing of medical research and medical IT development.
From calling for more investment in agricultural research, funding a PhD programme and promoting scientific leadership in Africa, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has always been a staunch advocate of entrepreneurial innovators. On numerous occasions and in many publications, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has reaffirmed his belief that Innovation and technology are key drivers of economic growth and, as a result, drivers of social progress.
As a champion of innovation, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has promoted the achievements of individual innovators on many occasions. In particular, Dr Sobrinho has drawn attention to E-Lab, an engineering education start-up using cutting edge pedagogic methods, and a Kenyan company using new technology to bring micro-finance to previously disconnected farmers.
Africa is producing more and more innovative individuals as technology and skills become widespread on the continent. Innovators worthy of celebration are emerging everyday. These include Peris Bosire from Kenyan. Bosire created FarmDrive, a finance-tech company focusing on farming. Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has argues persuasively for more investment in agriculture, as the sector is currently underdeveloped. Bosire is try to do just that, by offering farms the ability to collect data on their farms and compile risk assessments. Farmers have been able to use the risk assessment reports to persuade financial institutions to grant them much needed credit.
Another cutting edge innovator worth of praise from Dr Alvaro Sobrinho is Nokwethu Khojane from South Africa. Khojane has development cooperative purchasing groups using mobile technology. This is allowing poor people to buy products in large quantities and gain discounts on the prices by utilising their collective purchasing power.
The Nigerian, Olanisun Olufemi Adewole, must be particularly celebrated from developing an innovative new way to test for tuberculosis (TB). Using only sweat, the innovative new detection method can determine whether or not a patient has TB. This information can be gathered and analysed in 10 minutes, whereas previously patients had to make multiple hospital visits before a diagnosis could be given. Some three million cases of TB are missed or the diagnosis is delayed because of the cumbersome detection process. The method gives hope that TB might finally be eradicated in Africa.
Dr Alvaro Sobrinho will continue to celebrate and champion African innovators such as Adewole, Bosire and Khojane. Their work will lead Africa into the 21st Century and beyond.
A new report by the World Bank has drawn attention to the failing transport sector present in African cities. To reverse the failure, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho is calling for a increased investment in the sector. Building cost-efficient, high-quality transport links in Africa’s urban centres will boost growth and development, argues the Angolan businessman.
Most African cities currently rely on informal transit systems, most based around minibus networks. These systems are expensive, have a low passenger capacity and cannot be scaled up. Dr Sobrinho points out that “one-third of commuter trips in Lagos, Dakar, Addis Ababa, [and] Dar es Salaam are made by foot”. This reality, he argues, prevents residents of these cities from finding work and forces employers to pay higher wages in order to cover the transport costs.
On top of the social costs imposed by a failing transport sector there are huge environmental and health costs. The OECD estimates 700,000 people a year die from air pollution in Africa, while 13% of global green house gas emissions are derived from transportation. Therefore, Dr Sobrinho calls for the creation of “cost-efficient, reliable, and low-carbon transport infrastructure” across Africa.
To fund the design and construction of the new system, Dr Sobrinho suggests using Green Bonds. These bonds are offered by the World Bank and specifically intended for investments designed to mitigate climate change or help communities to adapt to the existing impacts. Using this method of financing, Africa cities can build “low-carbon alternatives to the motorised transport that dominate their roads”, believes Sobrinho.
Success will mean a boost for economic growth, a boost for urbanisation and bright future for Africa’s growing cities.
NGO of Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, the Planet Earth Institute, as announced an event on health care in Africa, to be hosted in London on the 4th July. As part of the NGO’s Spotlight Seminars series, the event will highlight the important work being done to advance science and technology in Africa in the area of health care and treatment. The organisation aims to provide a platform for individuals and groups at the cutting edge of health care research, policy creation and solution building.
The Planet Earth Institute believes “the continent stands on a precipice” in regards to health care provision. The actions taken today, says the Institute, will determine whether Africa achieves “substantial and lasting improvements in public health, or be perpetually left behind.” Currently, Africa’s share of disease on a global scale is far higher than its population would indicate. With just over 15 percent of the world’s population, Africa is afflicted by more than 25% of the world’s disease burden.
While the situation in many parts of the continent is devastating, yet the Planet Earth Institute insists progress can be made towards overcome the challenges and argues “technology must be at the heart” of this process. With that in mind, the Institute has invited some of the leading experts on health care and medicine to speak at the Spotlight Seminar in July. The assembled group of specialists will share their insights on African health care from a technical and policy perspective. The intention is to create a shared understanding of the problem and of the solutions.
In partnership with the British Council, IBM, the United Nations and many other prestigious organisations, the Planet Earth Institute will deliver a full day of presentations, discussions and workshops around the issue of health in Africa. The event is open to the public and registration is free.
In Africa, agriculture accounts for 60% of all employment. This is a vast number when put into perspective with highly-industrialised nations, such as the US, UK or Germany, where those employed in agriculture comprise a fraction of the population. With so many supported by agricultural work the subject of developing the sector becomes even more relevant and pressing. For this reason Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has turned his attention to turning African agriculture into a business, rather than a subsistence activity.
He joins numerous other philanthropists, businesses and international organisations, all of whom are a calling for major changes to African agriculture. Bill Gates and his foundation are well-known for their vocal support of industrial, high-tech agriculture in Africa, while the World Bank and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have teamed up with the likes of Danone, Kellogg’s and the Rainforest Alliance to form the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture, a group promoting high-tech solutions to the impact of climate change on agriculture in Africa and other places.
Alongside the international attention African agriculture is receiving, positive reports from the field (quite literally) are demonstrating the potential of developing the sector further. Farmers across Africa have reported productivity gains over the last 10 years. New innovations, such as drought-resistant plant varieties are making farming easier.
In light of this, the World Bank predicts African agriculture will become a 1$ trillion industry as early as 2030. It has also been pointed out that African boasts the largest amount of uncultivated arable land, which would easily be put into production, thus increasing Africa’s agricultural output dramatically.
New development in solar and wind technology will also play a role in developing African agricultural capacity. The continent boasts a huge, untapped, reservoir of clean energy: 10 terawatts of solar, 1,300 gigawatts of wind and 15 gigawatts of geothermal. Developing these resources in tandem with African agricultural development could propel the continent into the 21st Century.
Alvaro Sobrinho, trustee and founding member of the Planet Earth Institute, has declared his support for the development of African agribusiness. In an article published online, the philanthropist and Angolan-born businessman explained how and what African agriculture can learn from Brazil, a country that has transformed itself into an agricultural power-house in only a few decades.
Central to Brazil’s success, claims Sobrinho, has been the financial support and investment of the government. In 1973, the Brazilian government created the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation. The newly established organisation set about looking for commercially viable plant varieties to stimulate Brazil’s ailing agricultural sector. The discover of a new variety of soybean, one that is better suited to tropical climate and can develop into a harvestable product in a much shorter time.
As a consequence of the discovery, Brazilian farmers have been able to grow to soy harvests a year, leading to a boom in soy production. The country is now one of the largest soy exporters in the world, selling to Europe and China, primarily to feed livestock populations. Alvaro Sobrinho believes this transformation has made the country an “agricultural power to rival the United States and Europe.”
Africa must learn form Brazil’s success, concludes Sobrinho. This means funnelling much more investment towards agricultural research institutions, in the hope that they will produce productive plant varieties, specialised machinery and other useful technologies. Innovation of this kind could transform African agriculture from subsistence farming to an industrial sector that drives development and change on the continent.
Given the dire warnings given by the African Development Bank that the population of undernourished people on the continent will rise from 240 million to 320 million by 2025, transforming African agriculture has never been more important and, at the same time, more possible.
“Brazil has shown what is possible”, says Alvaro Sobrinho, now it is time for action in Africa.