Africa's contribution to global scientific knowledge stands at 1.1%. Currently, the ratio between scientist and inhabitants stands at 79 scientists per million inhabitants, the lowest in the world. At the same time, scientists trained in Africa often end up working elsewhere due to the lack of infrastructure and availability of resources.

Globalization 4.0 presents Africa with a unique opportunity to position itself as a knowledge-led economy and to harness its demographic dividend – the youth – in addressing its grand challenges. Researchers have proved beyond doubt that knowledge and science-driven development is key to the socio-economic growth and wellbeing of the people of a given country.

A quick scan on the internet reveals, however, that Africa has no synthesis centres, which foster collaborative research by bringing interdisciplinary groups of specialists and experts together. This is a huge obstacle to addressing the continent's challenges.

Synthesis centres present a unique opportunity for Africa to assemble its human capital to hypothesize, conduct research, and co-curate solutions for grand challenges, such as unemployment, climate change, and poverty, through interdisciplinary collaboration.

Global investment in R&D, 2007
Image: UNESCO

Essentially, Africa would have to connect science to humanity by applying a systems-based approach to problem-solving and opportunities available today. To succeed in this new era of globalization, Africa should adopt these three key strategies:

1. Regional synthesis centres as a critical research infrastructure

Today, there exist over 40 ministries responsible for National Science and Technology policies in Africa. However, there are compelling problems we have to resolve in other to enable these institutions to carry out their mandate.

Africa would have to set up a network of Pan-African regional synthesis centres that offer a unique coalescence of leadership, culture, infrastructure, and support that propels scientific discovery on issues crucial to science and society.

Backed by huge investments from both the public and private sector, a combination of logistical support, postdoctoral fellowships (for social, fundamental and applied scientists), Artificial Intelligence expertise, and most importantly, an opportunity for group discussions and reflections, would provide an opportunity to promote creativity and the cross-fertilization of ideas.

2. Addressing Africa’s grand challenges through knowledge brokering

The importance of translating research evidence into policymaking and practice is essential in improving the socio-economic progress of Africa. Our inability to do so in the past has led to wasted resources and inequalities in health among others. Moreover, in spreading and supporting the use of research evidence, knowledge brokering plays a significant role in the creation of research evidence.

A key strategy in knowledge brokering is to assist decision makers to commission research through the synthesis centres by identifying and transforming their issues into clearly articulated research questions. The output of these regional synthesis centres becomes key to addressing our challenges such as climate change, poverty, and health problems among others.

3. Promoting public understanding in science through science communication

In today’s world, we must communicate our scientific endeavours effectively in order to build trust in science. According to the Wellcome Global Monitor 2018, over half (57%) of the world's population don’t think they know much – if anything – about science. Globally, 20% of people feel personally excluded from the benefits of science.

How then do we reverse this situation? There is no doubt that the products of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics have enormous potential to improve the livelihoods of the estimated 2.2 billion people expected to live in Africa by 2050, and counteract environmental threats.

Communicating about science, online and in our cities, rural and urban areas is crucial in building an inclusive science-driven society, bridging the gap between the scientific community and everyone else.

Investing in making science popular in Africa provides a unique opportunity to solve the problem of unemployment. These investments would not only help build capacity in developing both high and low-tech solutions but would also drive the progress of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on the continent.