NEXT EINSTEIN FORUM: CAN THE NEXT EINSTEIN COME FROM AFRICA?

Delegates attending the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) held in Senegal's capital Dakar

There’s a group of people who think so. Why did Albert Einstein have such a unique scientific mind? Because he came from a disadvantaged background. These are the sentiments of TED Prize winner and founder of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) Neil Turok. AIMS is a pan-African network of Centres of Excellence for postgraduate training, research and public engagement in mathematical sciences. AIMS’ mission is to enable Africa’s brightest students to flourish as independent thinkers, problem solvers and innovators.

The Next Einstein Forum (NEF) is a platform that brings together leading thinkers in science, policy, industry and civil society in Africa to leverage science to solve global challenges. Founded in 2013, the NEF was launched by two key partners – The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) and Robert Bosch Stiftung. It has managed the philanthropic bequest of industrialist, engineer and inventor Robert Bosch for more than 50 years.

The founders were driven by the changing landscape of Africa. The rapid transformation taking place on the continent, driven by the power of demographics, economic growth and political will, has unlocked the power of discovery and innovation. Given the scale of change, there is a pressing need for a global forum that showcases the often underreported scientific progress moving the continent forward. This is where NEF comes in.

The NEF forum is youth driven. At least 50% of participants are aged 42 or younger. The NEF will also showcase the contributions of Africa’s brilliant youth to Africa’s scientific emergence through its class of NEF Fellows who are Africa’s top scientists and technologists, all under the age of 42. The 2016 fellows include: Noble Banadda, Evelyn Gitau, Axel Ngonga, Mouhamed Moustapha Fall and Assane Gueye, to name a few

The NEF has two programmes that work together hand-in-hand. First is the NEF Platform which is an online hub for the best information on science, innovation and policy. The NEF Platform will share information with scientific leaders, and young innovators about the transformative potential of science, the advances being made in Africa and opportunities to get involved. Second is the NEF Global Gatherings. It is a biennial convening which brings together an elite group of scientists, policymakers, industry leaders, civil-society representatives and entrepreneurs to share ideas and go beyond discussion to action.

The first NEF Global Gathering was held in Senegal on 8 -10 March 2016. During the conference, the fellows were chosen so as to present their research, meet each other and draw from a vast network of nearly 1,000 people to advance their work and reduce isolation within their field. Here, they rubbed shoulders with Senegal President Macky Sall, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, and research and science ministers from various countries as well as funders.

One of the fellows, Evelyn Gitau from Kenya had this to say, “Africa might be luckier going forward,” she said. “Here we have to discuss and address deep, serious social challenges, and from there we can leap.”

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