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SGCI Plays Capacity Building Role among Ethiopian Researchers

ADDIS ABABA – Research experts say that sub-Saharan Africa’s Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) has played a motivational and capacity-building role among Ethiopian researchers and it should be carried out more sustainably.

Selamyhun Adefris, Director General for Research and Innovation at the Ethiopian Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MoIT), told a Science Africa reporter that the Initiative has motivated Ethiopian researchers, especially in Universities.

Selamyhun, who is also Ethiopia’s SGCI focal person, indicated that SGCI’s networking in Ethiopia has to focus on realizing institutionalization of research activities through building research infrastructures and laboratories, creating an enabling environment, and designing related policies and strategies.

According to the director, taking part in the SGCI would lay a foundation for well-coordinated research management competence and skills among the Ethiopian research and development community.

Reaffirming Ethiopia’s commitment to collaborating and engaging in the SGCI regional initiatives and skills-building efforts, Selamyhun called for further support, especially in his country’s plan of institutionalizing research and development activities at the national level.

The Ministry of Innovation and Technology has involved the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences to devise a national research strategy and currently the conceptual framework is being developed for the same purpose.

Selamyhun is confident that strengthening the Science and Innovation Council in Ethiopia and SGCI’s partnership and assistance would facilitate robust research activities.

Plant Bio-technologist Dr. Solomon Benor is among the researchers who successfully conducted a research project, funded by SGCI Ethiopia, on Environmental Pollution published in 2017 titled: ‘Phytoremediation of Industrial Wastes and Generation of Commercial Products from Recycled Plant Biomasses’∙

Dr. Solomon, a Director General for Science and Research Affairs at the Ministry of Education, noted his research project supported by the Science, Technology, and Innovation Research Council, has been a great inspiration to him and to all the participating fellows.

The initiative needs to be further strengthened, he suggested.

“Initiatives like SGCI would have a significant impact if they are aligned with the establishment and strengthening of a ‘National Research Council’ as an Institution headed by researchers themselves, organized procurement system and generally a holistic research system in Ethiopia,” Dr. Solomon said.

“Our national research activities are currently led by a research committee, not a National Council,” he continued “So, we need to establish a council that gives organized and sustained leadership.”

A report named ‘Assessing the needs of the research system in Ethiopia,’  corroborates with Dr. Solomon’s assertion.

The report says Ethiopia receives considerably less financial support for research compared to other Low- and medium-income countries (LMICs).

“Organization-level interventions will be arguably more impactful in Ethiopia than they would be in more advanced LMICs. The rapid growth in the number of universities and the number of students creates both challenges and opportunities for Research capacity strengthening,” it says.

“We recommend that priority be given to collaborations with established universities that are already engaged in research, to create national role models for research production and management,” the report underscores.

Therefore, Dr. Solomon says, the very priority of research partnership in Ethiopia needs to be putting the right systems and organizations in place. International actors including SGCI should first focus on these basic issues, according to him.

Former Director General of Innovation Development and Research Affairs at MoIT, Dr Abraham Debebe Woldeyohannes also recalled that Ethiopia has benefited from a Covid-19 Africa Rapid Grant Fund which was conceptualized under the auspices of the SGCI as it was announced in October 2020.

According to him, the main objective of the research fund was to support knowledge generation and translation to inform diagnostics, prevention, and treatment of COVID-19, as well as strengthen African regional and continental science engagement efforts in response to the pandemic, and leverage existing and new multilateral collaborations.

Its focus was mainly research and science engagement with science advisers in response to the pandemic. Ethiopian fellow researchers and communicators successfully played their part in participating in this effort, he said.

Apart from science advisors and researchers, the Ethiopian scientists were appreciative of the involvement of health journalists and communicators from across sub-Saharan Africa in the SGCI’s initiatives that were coordinated and guided by Science Africa, a Kenya-based science communications consultancy firm.

As to participating fellows, SGCI is one of the opportunities provided to researchers in sub-Saharan Africa where capacities related to research funds and systemic organization are very low.

To this end, the report that assessed Ethiopia’s research system further says the government has indicated a desire to attract international research funding to support its development plan.

“Collaborations with the government should build on the national development priorities identified by the government and seek to fit within current strategies for research and technology transfer,” the report says.

SGCI’s push, therefore, is expected to bring about a strong research organizational structure in Ethiopia as part of its effort to strengthen the capacities of Science Granting Councils in 15 participating sub-Saharan nations and support them to have evidence-based policies that will contribute to economic and social development.

By Mekonnen Teshome

Featured Image caption: Selamyhun Adefris, Director General for Research and Innovation at the Ethiopian Ministry of Innovation and Technology.