As the challenges we face in the world, and especially in Africa, become more complex, a different style of science leadership is required. The Africa Science Leadership Programme (ASLP) was launched in June 2015 to address this, and recently concluded its second round of interactions with fellows from across Africa. The programme is part of the Future Africa initiative of the University of Pretoria (UP). It is being conducted in partnership with the Global Young Academy, KnowInnovation and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. It serves early-career researchers in basic and applied science, engineering, social sciences, arts and the humanities, using a highly interactive approach to training, application of skills to leadership projects, peer support, and mentorship.
Prof Bernard Slippers, who leads the Future Africa and the ASLP initiatives at UP, said that: 'It is a feather in the cap of the University of Pretoria that it has so successfully supported the establishment of this programme in collaboration with leading global institutions. The programme addresses a key need for African science, but also has global relevance. We are extremely excited about the fellows we have already been able to engage with through the ASLP, and the potential that this network of science leaders holds.'
The eight-day ASLP workshop commenced on 11 April and focussed on the new group of 22 fellows for the first six days of the intensive programme. The process involved an approach that cycled between theory, application and reflection. Participants were challenged to work collaboratively to design initiatives that advance a new paradigm for their field. On the sixth day, the inaugural cohort of fellows from 2015 returned and there was a brief meeting of the two groups before they attended a Gala event in the evening. The Gala event showcased the fellows and their visions for African science development, as inspired by the programme. The remainder of the programme was spent following up on the progress of the inaugural cohort's projects and reflecting on the year of learning.
Prof Derick de Jongh, Director of the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership at UP, joined the workshop on the first day as a provocateur. Prof de Jongh shared his thoughts on leadership, which provoked rich discussions among the fellows. On day two of the workshop, three provocateurs from UP gave presentations: Prof Robin Crewe, Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship; Dr Willem Fourie, Ethicist at the Albert Luthuli Centre for Responsible Leadership; and Prof Tinyiko Maluleke, Professor in African Spirituality and Culture in the Faculty of Theology. They shared their experiences and thoughts on the different facets of leadership, then answered questions and had discussions with the fellows. Anina Mumm of ScienceLink joined both cohorts and facilitated learning on science communication and how to connect with audiences as a leader. Prof Stella Nkomo, who joined the 2015 cohort of fellows on day two of their programme, shared her view on the characteristics of a true scholar. She challenged the fellows to find their authentic scholarly voice as an essential part of their development as research leaders.
The programme identifies early-career academics who have demonstrated leadership potential and an interest in developing their skills. It supports them in applying the skills they acquire to projects that are relevant to the development of their academic career. It also creates a network of early-career academic leaders that spans disciplinary boundaries and advances a curriculum for the development of academic leadership, which can be utilised by others.
The workshop covered elements of collective leadership, creative and systems thinking, development of effective networks, stakeholder engagement for change, maximising the efficiency and impact of collaborative efforts, advanced dialogue and communication skills, effective problem solving and decision making, and much more.
The programme aims at continuing the formation of a community of like-minded researchers in Africa, who possess qualities that will contribute towards solving the complex challenges that face this continent. Everyone involved – from the organisers, to the facilitators, provocateurs and fellows – has been inspired by the programme.
As one of the fellows said in their anonymous feedback: 'The ASLP initiative gave me an unexpected new vision of what leadership is, and of our collective role in the development of African science. It also connected me to excellent young scientists, from various disciplines and from across Africa, with whom I can work towards these goals. Much can be achieved from this!'