Next Einstein Forum Brings Together Africa’s Top Minds

World leaders, scientists and entrepreneurs gathered in Senegal in the beginning of March for the inaugural Next Einstein Forum (NEF). The event, which took place from March 8-10, is the first global scientific convention of its kind to be held in Africa. The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), founded by Neil Turok, collaborated with the Robert Bosch Foundation to put together this historic meeting. In his opening remarks, Turok said, “When new cultures enter science, especially disadvantaged cultures, transformation can happen. I believe that the entrance of young Africans into science will transform science for the better.”

The NEF showcased the work of 15 innovators on the continent who are leading the way in tackling Africa’s most pressing development challenges.

One NEF Fellow, Evelyn Gitau, a native of Kenya, has developed rapid disease-testing technology to quickly diagnose a multitude of symptoms for those living in isolated, rural communities.

Another Fellow, Axel Ngonga of Cameroon, has focused his research on semantic web technologies to harness the power of big data to make information readily accessible across the continent.

The NEF also held a pitch competition to showcase the ideas of some of the most ambitious entrepreneurs on the continent. Moses Bangura presented a civilian drone system he has developed to transport medical supplies and clinical samples to isolated rural communities in his home country of Sierra Leone. He hopes to expand the project across Africa, enabling health officials to bypass dilapidated roads to deliver aid quickly to where it is needed the most.

In addition to displaying the continent’s top talent in STEM fields, NEF organizers hope that by bringing scientists, private firms and governments together, they can create a space for better collaboration and coordination.

The forum also reflects the growing need for African countries to invest more in higher education. Many of the Fellows obtained their degrees in other parts of the world where there were more opportunities and resources. Recently private universities on the continent have grown significantly, but government investment education in investment is on average less than 1% of GDP, contrasted with 1-3.5% in European countries.

A major long-term goal of the event is to curb the continent’s brain drain by incentivizing Africa’s top minds to make an impact at home. AIMS has created six centers across Africa to foster innovation by drawing upon local talent and encouraging investment. Under-allocation of resources by governments to STEM has been a major driver of emigration to research centers outside of the continent.

The NEF highlighted some of Africa’s best, most innovative achievements and offered a glimpse of what may lie ahead if states and companies divert more efforts towards education in STEM fields. The ultimate hope of the NEF, as its name suggests, is that the next Einstein may be African.