SEATTLE — The Next Einstein Fellowship is searching to find great African scientists to address local and global issues of poverty, health and more.
From March 8-10, Dakar, Senegal was filled with some of Africa’s most exciting, innovative, and up-and-coming leaders. The Next Einstein Forum brought together scientists, policy makers, designers and others to showcase technological and scientific advances taking place on the African content.
Among those present were the 15 current Next Einstein Fellows. These young researchers, all under the age of 42, are scientists and technologists working to develop solutions to some of the biggest problems facing Africa and beyond.
The goal of the program is to foster the future of African innovation. The fellowship was originally the brainchild of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), in conjunction with a number of big sponsors, such as Johnson & Johnson Innovation.
These partners wanted to answer a pressing question: why are some of the brightest talents being overlooked in Africa?
The answer, according to the Huffington Post, may have to do with the fact that the funding for innovation has simply not been present on the continent. Government funds tend to be allocated for big infrastructural and developmental projects, and is not traditionally funneled toward scientific exploration.
Furthermore, experience shows that biases have kept African scientists from greatness. For example, a 2014 lawsuit against the Kenya Medical Research Institute found that African doctors were being overlooked for promotion, while their European counterparts moved far more easily through the ranks.
Not only do these practices reinforce systemic prejudice, but they prevent African researchers from solving the problems of their own communities. Poverty, health crises, literacy and other issues plaguing developing countries might be best solved by those who understand them on a personal level. And yet, African innovators are routinely overlooked.
In order to change this dynamic and keep African researchers from being forced to seek funding abroad, the Next Einstein Fellowship is providing financial support and mentoring to African scholars.
Dr. Molapo Qhobela, CEO of the National Research Foundation of South Africa, articulated the importance of Africans leading the charge on research that will affect their own countries: “The most important thing we must do is invest in our young people because it is they who will come up with solutions for the future. We want to be in a situation where it is us who, for example, find the cure for Ebola, HIV or tuberculosis, rather than wait for others to come in and help us.”
The fellowship program is also very concerned with creating gender equity in the STEM fields. Forty percent of the New Einstein fellows must be female, in order to promote the voice of women in the scientific and technological arenas.
The Next Einstein program does a lot more than simply seek out young geniuses – it is actively shaping a commitment to support African pioneers and empower people to create change in their own communities.