African scientists gather for Grand Challenges Africa meeting

From Wednesday 24 to Friday 26 February, the Alliance for Accelerating Excellenc​e in Science in Africa (AESA) will convene 300 of the most promising innovators in Africa, for the 2016 Grand Challenges Africa Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.

The meeting, held at the Intercontinental hotel in Nairobi and featuring 475 participants from 43 countries, will help set a scientific and innovation agenda for Africa while laying the groundwork for a sustained, scientific advocacy effort to increase international and local African investment in R&D.
Launched in September 2015 by the African Academy of Sciences, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and international partners, Grand Challenges Africa will help address the issue of low investment in African R&D and drive the innovation necessary to achieve the continent’s long-term Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Currently, Africa accounts for 15% of the global population and 25% of the global disease burden, but only produces about 2% of the world’s research output.
“We understand that innovation is generally a risky, long-term investment, and therefore require a long-term funding strategy to provide innovators with the resources they need to succeed, said Tom Kariuki, Director for AESA. “This is a crucial cornerstone we need to establish if we are to create knowledge-based economies. We are heartened by the overwhelming positive response that we’ve had ahead of this event and hope for very productive discussions.”
Meeting participants include not only the innovators, all of whom are current or former Grand Challenges grantees, but also policymakers and innovation thought leaders from across Africa. Over 100 international grantees and partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and the US Agency for International Development, will also be in attendance.
The meeting will provide a platform for African scientists to network, share their experiences and expertise on how Grand Challenges Africa can best support and engage local innovators. Sessions will draw on the experience of participants to help define the shape and focus of Grand Challenges Africa, including how it can help countries achieve the SDGs, and potential challenges. The meeting will feature plenary sessions, breakout sessions and Tedx-style talks by some of Africa’s leading innovators.
“Sadly in  Africa as a whole the gap between the knowledge being created and commercialisation is still too wide,” said Evelyn Gitau, Programme Manager, Grand Challenges Africa. “To help change this, Grand Challenges Africa seeks to bridge the gap between industry and innovators and to bring together innovators and potential funders including angel funders, brokers, private equity investors and governments departments.”
Grand Challenges Africa is a flagship programme of AESA, created last September as part of AESA’s mission to build scientific capacity and to mobilise African innovators to contribute to solving the continent’s pressing health challenges. The Grand Challenges Africa Meeting is one of a series of innovation meetings AESA is hosting throughout the week, including meetings on healthy birth and development and prioritizing women and girls’ development.
Grand Challenges is a family of grant programmes that fosters innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Grand Challenges partners have invested $120 million in 380 projects in 29 African countries since 2010. Kenya is the largest recipient with about $26.1 million in 113 projects.
“The Grand Challenges approach to innovation has the potential to transform the way we work: bringing together the world’s brightest minds to solve our biggest development challenges,” said Ayo Ajayi, Director, Africa Team, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “With the leadership of AESA, along with the African Academy of Sciences, NEPAD and other partners, Grand Challenges Africa GC Africa can play a key role in nurturing an innovation ecosystem in Africa.”

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