RSIF: An initiative on the rise
In May 2021, the Government of Mozambique signed an agreement with icipe, for the investment of USD 6 million in the Regional Scholarship and Innovation Fund (RSIF). icipe is the Regional Coordination Unit (RCU) of RSIF, the flagship programme of the Partnership for skills in Applied Sciences, Engineering and Technology (PASET), an initiative established in 2013 by African governments and partners. Mozambique becomes the eighth country to invest in RSIF, joining the governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda and Senegal, in addition to the World Bank, Government of Korea and the European Union.
In the interview below, Moses Osiru, Manager, RCU-RSIF, discusses the Fund’s tremendous growth over the past two years including rising investments, soaring demand for opportunities from prospective scholars and grantees, surging interest in partnerships, rapid increase inRSIF scholars and body of world class knowledge being generated, as well as progress in promoting gender representation in RSIF.
Q. RSIF is built on the vision of becoming a sustainable pan-African science fund. What is the progress in this regard?
A. Over the past two years, RSIF has gained incredible momentum with rapid evidence of the Fund as an outstanding platform for socio-economic transformation in Africa for example by embracing the fourth industrial revolution. Indeed, many stakeholders are appreciating RSIF as an effective channel for resources to achieve continental visions and agendas, as well as acceleration of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The most significant outcome of this appreciation is growing support by African governments. As of May 2021, the governments of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal had committed investments in RSIF. In addition, the Government of Korea, the World Bank, and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), through the European Union, are supporting RSIF. Private sector partners including Nestlé, South Africa, and the Samsung Dream Scholarship Foundation, who are also financing various aspects like research activities linked to optimising industrial applications and language support for students on sandwich placements in Korea. Several other private sector partners are supporting collaborative research activities to co-create knowledge related to their for-profit activities. Meanwhile,we are in the process of establishing a professionally and independently managed Permanent Fund that will ensure sustainability of RSIF and its goals of capacity building for science training, research and innovation in Africa. We have also commenced discussions with a range of potential endowers including individuals and family foundations, corporate-sponsored foundations, corporate donors, charity programmes and independent foundations.
Q. How appealing is the RSIF model to the academic and innovation communities in Africa and beyond?
A. RSIF has a unique approach that combines intra-Africa exchange, and international training. The Fund incorporates a network of 11 African Host Universities (AHUs), which are competitively and rigorously selected universities that offer a PhD programme in any one of RSIF’s thematic areas. RSIF is also building a network of international partner institutions (IPIs), globally recognised universities, research institutes, public and private companies. The RSIF hybrid model takes scholars from their home countries to an AHU where they are initiated into research working directly on challenges facing the continent. The scholars then proceed to an IPI for sandwich placements where they have access to state-of-the-art research and training facilities, advance their scientific skills, broaden international networks, and strengthen industry linkages, among other outcomes.
The best evidence for the appreciation of RSIF design is the soaring demand from prospective scholars and grantees. Currently about 8,200 individuals are registered on the RSIF database. In the third call for scholarships in 2021, we received a total of 2577 applications. Also, there is significant demand from top international institutions to be part of the network evidenced by numerous requests received by RCU-RSIF.
Q. How is RSIF demonstrating return on investment?
A. Primarily, this is evidenced by the rapid pace with which the number of RSIF scholars is increasing. In May 2021, following the third call, RSIF awarded 103 scholarships, bringing the total number of scholarships awarded so far to 184. Of these, 117 have gone to countries investing in PASET and RSIF, while the rest have been allocated to other African countries, with geographical diversity across sub-Saharan Africa. Investing countries also benefit from the competitively awarded grants to strengthen research and innovation ecosystems and outputs in public higher education institutions. Yet another indicator is the growing body of world class knowledge generated by RSIF scholars and its potential translation into solutions and innovations for social economic transformation. As of May 2021, RSIF scholars had authored 39 peer reviewed journal articles. We have created a repository for this growing knowledge base:
Q. RSIF has set itself an ambitious goal by reserving at least 40 percent of its support for women? Why is this important, and what is the progress?
A. The issue of gender is very central to RSIF. Women constitute 30 percent of researchers in science fields in SSA, about the same as the global average of 28 percent. Still, this means that only a fraction of women’s potential contribution to science and technology is currently being harnessed. Therefore, enabling more women to enter and thrive in the field will substantially contribute to the overall ambition of increasing the continent’s scientific capacity, and to achieving inclusive and holistic development. Currently, 39 percent (a total of 71 scholars) of the 184 RSIF scholars are women. This is good progress, but we keep aiming higher. Also, RSIF appreciates that achieving gender equity requires a holistic approach that brings together numerous actors, including men. Indeed, we have recently published a study titled ‘Making it to the PhD: Gender and Student Performance in Sub-Saharan Africa’, which illuminates obstacles and opportunities in higher learning. These findings will inform the RSIF gender strategy while also supporting efforts of likeminded stakeholders, and opening avenues for collaboration.
A good example is a recent partnership between RSIF, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and Africa Renewal, the United Nations information programme dedicated to the continent’s economic issues. This collaboration was in honour of International Women’s Day (March 2021), and it was located within the wider view of the UN Decade of Action, launched in 2020 by the UN Secretary General to accelerate achievement of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development. The outputs were profiles of three RSIF female scholars published by the two UN partners and promoted through successful social media campaigns. The personal narratives of the selected scholars demonstrated how RSIF is unlocking and nurturing women’s scientific potential, and the impact on critical developmental challenges. These insights should inspire the continent and the world to do more to harness the mighty resource of women scientists, including by supporting RSIF.
This article has been prepared by the icipe Communication Unit for the icipe e-bulletin.