World-renowned water specialist appointed to develop Water Institute

Posted on March 16, 2012

The Water Institute of UP is a unique academic institute that is addressing a wide range of water issues, including water and agriculture, water and health, water and global change, water treatment and infrastructure, and water governance. It emphasises working across academic disciplines and faculties and follows a strong transdisciplinary approach to solving water challenges. 

Prof Kfir has a PhD from the University of Pretoria and MSc (cum laude) in Management from London Business School, Department of Economics, University of London. Her association with the South African and the global water sector began 32 years ago when she joined the CSIR as a doctoral student.

She initiated a comprehensive comparison study comparing indirect and direct re-use of water and conducted pioneering research on direct reclamation of sewage effluent into water of potable quality. Prof Kfir spent two years doing postdoctoral studies working on Microcystis (prominent blue-green algae) blooms. During this period, South African research into the field of algal bloom and algal toxins was recognised worldwide as advancing the frontier of science. Prof Kfir’s studies focused on developing an immune-based method for detecting this algal toxin and the development and use of monoclonal antibodies.

From 1986, Prof Kfir was acting as a Group Leader of the Microbiology Group and thereafter as the Programme Manager of a programme addressing water and health, both at the CSIR. She addressed a wide range of land and water uses (from domestic to agricultural use) and in addition to conventional water microbiology and chemistry, her research group focused on toxicology and biotoxicology. 

From 1994–1996, Prof Kfir was Director of the Division of Water Technology at the CSIR. She managed 210 staff members (scientists, engineers and technologists), all dedicated to water research. From 1996–2000, Prof Kfir served as the CSIR’s Technology Manager, a strategic position that covered the management of the CSIR’s investment in research, on-going assessment of fund allocation and the development of strategic concepts and investment decision frameworks and processes. Prof Kfir developed competencies in R&D and Knowledge Management and was lecturing as an invited professor at the University of Pretoria. She became very active in the field of R&D Management both locally and internationally.

In 2000, she moved from the CSIR to the National Research Foundation as an Executive Director: Knowledge Management. In 2001, she was appointed as the CEO of the Water Research Commission (WRC), a position that required her knowledge of water and water research and her competencies in business and R&D management, as well as her skills in knowledge management.

The WRC provides leadership for research and development through the support of knowledge creation, transfer and application. The organisation engages stakeholders and partners in solving water-related problems which are crucial to South Africa’s sustainable development and economic growth, and are committed to promoting a better quality of life for all.
Prof Kfir authored and co-authored approximately 80 refereed publications and more than 200 business reports and co-supervised a number of PhD and MSc students. She has served on many national research steering committees, presented a number of papers and keynote addresses, and was an invited speaker at numerous local and international conferences.

She also served on a number of international committees and boards and has chaired global initiatives such as Streams of Knowledge, a coalition of resource centres addressing water and sanitation. She has been actively involved in NEPAD’s initiative aiming at building centres of excellence for water research in Africa, and has represented South Africa’s academia in many gatherings addressing water research.

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