By Mekonnen Teshome – Participating in the Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) enables Ethiopia boost its sustainable research management competence and experts.
SGCI which is a project that aims at strengthening the capacities of Science Granting Councils (SGCs) in sub-Saharan Africa is implemented to support research and initiate evidence-based policies so as to contribute to economic and social development in the sub-region. Innovation, Development and Research Affairs Director General with Ethiopian Ministry of Innovation and Technology Dr Abraham D. Woldeyohannes is optimistic that the initiative would continue assisting researchers in Ethiopia to strengthen their ability to proficiently manage scientific researches.
According to the Director General, Ethiopia’s involvement in the SGCI initiative has facilitated wide networking opportunities and supplementary capacity building programs and research fellowship. “With regard to research prospects, we can mention the current research grant ‘COVID-19 Africa Rapid Grant Fund’ in which we are involved as members of scientific communities in the sub-Saharan region,” he said.
Dr Abraham pointed out that SGCI’s capacity building and research grant activities would certainly enable the participants to manage, design and monitor research programs effectively. The process is also vital for knowledge exchange among the various partners of the initiative.
“What is more interesting about the initiative is the coming together of various actors in the areas of Science, Technology and Innovations from around the world to strengthen research management.”
The Ethiopian National Science, Technology and Innovation policy attaches great emphasis equally to the selection, adaptation and utilization of appropriate and effective foreign technologies as well as to addressing the establishment of national innovation system.
The national STI policy vividly states: “The acquisition, diffusion and improvement of foreign technologies require a considerable local effort which focuses on adaptive research. Research in Ethiopia should address the major challenges of the country and contribute to the achievement of national development objectives.”
However, numerous studies in Ethiopia show that researchers in STI are facing a variety of challenges. Belachew Tesfa, an Ethiopian researcher at the Tech Center in his recent paper entitled “Challenges of Ethiopian Researchers and Potential Mitigation with Ethiopian Science, Technology and Innovation Policy” indicates that in the developing countries and Africa in particular, researcher and the development system are facing range of bottleneck.
Belachew pointed out that the unavailability of funds and a clear strategy for research management is other constraints of researchers in developing nations. “Developed countries on average spend 2.5% of their gross domestic product on R&D, while India allocates 1.2%; Brazil, 0.91%; China, 0.69 %, [however] most developing nations devote less than 0.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) to research and development,” he added.
Innovation Development and Research Grant Team Leader of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, Mr. Habtamu Tesfaye is one f the beneficiaries of the online training based on a previously conducted needs and capacity assessment.
The Team Leader said that the online training which was well organized with its professional guideline was very helpful and supportive for the participants who took part in the program in 2017 and 2018. He pointed out that, through its online training programs, the initiative assisted Ethiopian researchers drawn from 30 universities across the country build their research management capacity using its interactive application loaded on Website-Virtual Hub platform.
“The online trainings touched cross cutting strategic areas including gender inclusiveness, how to collaborate with partners and practical examples in various countries and benchmarking. This was really a wonderful experience,” he added.
Many Ethiopian participants also took part in face-to-face trainings held in various sub-Saharan countries receiving further mentoring program on well-organized research management. According to Habtamu the training and the networking was also an eye opener for most of the participants to see the various possibilities of in finding alternative source of research funds.
“Securing funding is one of the major challenges of researchers in most countries of the sub-Saharan region. As we know government is the major source of funding in Ethiopia. Around 80 % of research funding comes from the government. Therefore, SGCI is helping us to see other alternatives of funding and capacity building through its trainings and networking.”
To this end, the STI policy review document published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in 2019 corroborate this as: “The Ethiopian financial system is at an early stage of development. Commercial banks are generally risk-averse and unwilling to lend for technology or new innovative projects. Innovation entails high risks, and specialized instruments for financing are generally risk-averse and unwilling to lend for technology or new innovative projects. Innovation entails high risks, and specialized instruments for financing are generally required such as technology and innovation funds, development banks and venture capital.”
Participants have also been encouraged not only with the receiving of SGCI trainings programs but also with their certification by famous educational institutions upon the successful completion of the online trainings.
The partnership among the initiative, the participating Science Granting Councils (SGCs) in sub-Saharan Africa and the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) as well as other associates was pivotal for the success of the program that aims at enhancing and strengthening the skills and capacity as well as deepening awareness of research management of Councils in the 15 participating sub-Saharan countries.
Habtamu says that the involvement of Ethiopian researchers in SGCI especially those serving in the government institutions responsible for initiating policy development has enabled the country to adopt new Science and Technology directives and policy amendments.
For example, Ethiopia has now established a National Research Foundation with a dedicated staff complement, but within the present Ministry of Innovation and Technology (former Ministry of science and Technology). Many of the employees of the Ministry of Higher Education and Science also have benefited from the program.
Consequently, the Ethiopian innovation development and research grant initiative run by the Ministry of Innovation and Technology is a new progress and is believed to be complementary and supportive of the SGCI and efforts are made considering such accommodating endeavors. The new reformist government has expressed a strong will to make scientific research relevant to local development and avail funds to basic researches and innovations.
Ethiopia has clearly defined its Science and Technology based development visions of achieving a middle-income nation and aligning its goals with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 that highlights STI as priority to realize vibrant continent and national economies.