Category Archives: Announcement

Africa Needs Scientific Infrastructure

The issue of the African ‘brain drain’ phenomena has been on the development agenda for more than a decade. Highly educated Africans have a tendency to migrate to better developed areas of the world where opportunities are more numerous and pay is higher. The impact on their home countries has been devastating (though its worth noting that remittances to Africa play a significant part in generating many countries foreign reserve capital and supporting poor families) as a serious lack of professionals has meant key services are unstaffed, in particular health care services.

International NGOs and governments have attempted to resolve the situation using several strategies but with little success. Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, the Planet Earth Institute and many other experts are now calling for a new approach. Specifically, these experts claim “African countries lack the infrastructure and entrepreneurial support needed to retain science graduates”. If young professionals are to be persuaded to stay in Africa, the continent needs to offer them the opportunities and resources they would find elsewhere.

Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has called for governments to increase domestic spending on science and technology and to work with private business to create an innovative business environment that gives graduates the chance to use their skills. This perspective is shared by Kelly Chibale, Professor of Organic Chemisty at the University of Cape Town; Chibale said that by “allowing people to put to work the training they’ve received, we can reverse brain drain.”

For his part, Professor Chibale returned to Africa after completing his PhD in the UK. He now heads up the Drug Discovery and Development Centre, H3D, which is working on a new anti-malaria drug. For more scientists to follow in the footsteps of Chibale a broader scientific infrastructure must be created, policy makers will be at the forefront of achieving this goal.

Scientists in Africa Need Urgent Support

Dr Álvaro Sobrinho is a long-time advocate for science in Africa; he has played a pivotal role supporting science in Africa as founder and chairman of the Planet Earth Institute, and he continues to support science education and technological development on the continent. Yet African scientists continue to lack the support they desperately need; and without more committed patrons like Dr Álvaro Sobrinho they will only ever survive rather than thrive.

This is particularly the case in South Africa, a country that despite some successes has failed to significantly expand is science and technology sector in recent years. This is partly due to the lack of adequate funding and opportunities for young scientists to pursue their subject with passion.

In South Africa it is estimated that nearly 48% of all young people are currently unemployed; as Dr Álvaro Sobrinho has often pointed out, improving educational opportunities and providing young people with the skills and experiences they need to be relevant in a modern, tech-based job market, is a sure way to find meaningful, fulfilling employment for young people.

This notion has not been lost on the South African government, which recently indicated its intention to focus on ICT training and education for young people. Minister Radebe, who is heading up the ICT education project, said “we must raise a new generation of young people that will not be job seekers but job creators”. Dr Sobrinho has offered a similar message on numerous occasions, arguing for the creation of a “generation science”, a generation of African graduates ready to lead Africa into a bright future through the application of innovative, home-grown science and technology.

Education will be the key component in creating generation science, as Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has repeated pointed out. Without access to high-quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education young Africans will fail to aquire the skills they need to be useful as the fourth industrial revolution takes hold.

Government and industry must work together to provide the funding and opportunities necessary for young African scientists to thrive and not just survive. Only then will Africa be able to embrace the fourth industrial revolution and create a brighter future for South Africa and the entire continent.

PEI exChange Launched by Alvaro Sobrinho NGO

NGO founded by philanthropist, banker and investor, Alvaro Sobrinho, has launched an online platform that will improve the way people “do good and do business in Africa” by connecting likeminded individuals who have big ideas and relevant skills.

The platform, provided by the Planet Earth Institute, will use an algorithm to match people from the same area, industry, interest and expertise in order for them to communicate, share ideas and problem solve together. The Institute hopes this will facilitate the innovation and technological breakthroughs Africa needs in order to thrive in the 21st century.

The latest in a long line of initiatives aimed at promoting the scientific advancement of Africa offered by the Planet Earth Institute, the PEI exChange will help make “big ideas for Africa a reality”. Alongside connecting individuals and facilitating the development of ideas, the PEI exChange will help good ideas find the necessary funding, an essential component of the process.

Alvaro Sobrinho’s work with the Planet Earth Institute has centred around education, which he views as a means to equip Africans with the skills they will need to become leaders in science and technology and thereby ensure a bright future for their continent. Sobrinho has advocated for, and in some cases financially supported, the introduction of new technology to Africa, in particular wireless internet and renewable energy. Alvaro Sobrinho has also made a compelling case for the reinvention of African agriculture, a renewal of the public transport system and a redesign of education funding.

The launch of the PEI exChange by the Planet Earth Institute can be viewed as an attempt to give more Africans the chance to shape their continent in the way Alvaro Sobrinho has been doing. By utilising bright ideas coming from Africans, for Africa, the continent will be able to reveal its full capacities in the 21st century.

Science Africa UnConference Report

Last week the NGO founded by Dr Álvaro Sobrinho, the Planet Earth Institute, hosted its annual Science Africa UnConference. The event brought together some of the biggest names in African science, education, government and business to share their ideas regarding science, technology and innovation in relation to African development.

The day included high-level presentations by guest speakers, panel discussions, workshops and networking. The day began with an introduction from Lord Paul Boateng, who recently replaced Dr Álvaro Sobrinho as the Planet Earth Institute’s Chairman, after which Nick Staite unveiled the PEI exChange, an online platform for exchanging ideas and helping them to become reality.

After the introduction of the PEI exChange the agenda led neatly on to a session facilitated by Alison Coward attendees spent a portion of the morning considering their own “Big Ideas for Africa”. During this sessions attendees enthusiastically joined the experts to exchange ideas and share information, “everyone wanted to connect, exchange ideas and drive change for Africa”, said the Planet Earth Institute. Ideas presented ranged from the local to the pan-African, from complicated science and technology to ideas created of pure simplicity.

The late morning and afternoon saw the much anticipated guest speakers taking to the stage. First up was the South African Minister for Higher Education, Honourable Minister Blade Nzumande, who discussed some of the great scientific and technological discoveries African scientists have uncovered. This presentation was followed by Maya Kulycky who talked about IBM Research-Africa’s efforts to improve healthcare on the continent using data.

Further panel discussions and workshops followed the presentations. Attendees discussed a wide-range of topics including space science and agriculture (a topic Dr Álvaro Sobrinho has also recently written about). Sir Christopher Edwards, Planet Earth Institute trustee closed the day with a few well-chosen words.

Spotlight Seminar Focuses on Health Care in Africa

Dr Álvaro Sobrinho’s charity, the Planet Earth Institute, recently hosted a Spotlight Seminar focusing on the future of public health care in Africa. The event brought together high-profile speakers from health care related fields, including research, publication and practise, each of whom shared their experience and expertise on the topic.

The speakers gave in depth analysis on the health care situation in Africa and each offered a set of solutions to commonly found problems. This format has been encouraged by Planet Earth Institute founder Dr Álvaro Sobrinho, who believes better policies, designed to promote the use of science, technology and innovation, will solve many of the problems Africa faces, not just in relation to health care.

Max Mallas Secrett, Somaliland Programme Manager at Kings College, used his talk to emphasis one problem in particular: the need for more post-graduate training opportunities for health care professionals. He pointed out the severe lack of health workers in Somaliland, a country that has only 200 doctors and a population of 4 million (to give some perspective on this figure its worth noting that the United States has just over 1 doctor per 1000 people). Post-graduate training and higher education training in general has been a focus of the Planet Earth Institute and Dr Álvaro Sobrinho. The Institute has launched several initiatives aimed at promoting higher education in Africa, including a PhD scholarship and a science enrollment programme for school children.

The Spotlight Seminars also raised the issue of financing and investment, an issue Dr Álvaro Sobrinho has often commented on in relation to African development. Samy Ahmar, Acting Head of Health for Save the Children called for “fair, progressive and transparent taxation” in order to raise the money needed to offer free at the point of care medical assistance in Africa. For his part, Dr Sobrinho has regularly called for increased private and public investment to solve Africa’s development challenges.

International Businessman Makes the Case for Investment in African Transport

Successful international investment banker, Dr Álvaro Sobrinho, has laid out a plan for improving African urban transport and boosting economic growth in the continent’s cities. The rapid urbanisation of Africa, he argues, means investment is required in transportation if African cities are to become drivers of growth and development.

Over the next 30 years, Africa’s urban population is set to swell by more than 200%. To cope with the huge increase in residents, Africa’s cities will need modern, efficient and affordable transportation. Taxis and minibuses will not suffice to meet the growing demand in a dependable way.

But making transport affordable and efficient is only one side of the story, according to Dr Álvaro Sobrinho. The new transport links must also reduce carbon emissions through energy efficiency and the utilisation of renewables. This will reduce Africa’s contribution to global green house gas emissions from transport – which currently accounts for around 15% of all emissions – and could lead to greater energy independence, as Africa boasts a huge reservoir of renewable energy.

A clean and green transport system will also improve life spans in urban areas; currently more than 700,000 people per year die prematurely as a result of air pollution. Removing dirty diesel engines from the roads would be a first step, building high-speed electric rail powered by solar farms and wind-turbines would be the ultimate goal.

To achieve this target, Álvaro Sobrinho advocates the involvement of the private sector, which he believes has the resources and technological know-how to achieve the desired outcome. In particular, the lack of necessary skills in the workforce can only be overcome by the private sector, argues Sobrinho, which has the “resources and expertise” to “help African cities equip their youth with the skills needed to deliver high quality and sustainable transport infrastructure”.

Rapid action must be taken if the necessary changes are to be realised and African transport is to become a viable investment in the future.

Spotlight Seminars Focus on Health Care in Africa

On the 4th July the Planet Earth Institute will host the second of its Spotlight Seminars Series. Having focused on innovative technology for agriculture during the first seminar, the second will look at the crisis and opportunities presented by health care in Africa.

With Africa “accounting for 24% of the global disease burden, the challenges the continent faces are many and complex”, explains the Planet Earth Institute. To overcome these challenges, the Institute believes more science and technology are needed. Only through innovation and research can Africa find solutions to its mounting health care problems. While there are many challenges, the Institute argues “there are also a great many opportunities and science and technology must be at the heart of addressing and capitalising on both”.

Significant progress has already been made, however, Africa still accounts for 90% of deaths from Malaria, 70% of the global population who are living with HIV and has been the site of several deadly outbreaks in recent years, including the infamous Ebola crisis. These problems are compounded by raising rates of non-infectious diseases, including cancer and diabetes. By 2030, it is believed Africa will have higher rates of illness and mortality caused by these kinds of diseases than by infectious ones.

Addressing and capitalising on this situation will require intelligence, creativity and determination. The Spotlight Seminar will bring together some of the leading academics, policy makers and business people who are at the forefront of providing solutions. The seminar will include high-level presentations, panel discussions and Q&A sessions.

The event will take place on 4th July, 2017 in the library of the Royal Society of Chemistry, Burlington House, London. Starting at 10am with tea and coffee, followed by an introduction from Lord Paul Boateng, the Chairman of the Planet Earth Institute since Dr Álvaro Sobrinho stepped down earlier this year.

African Agriculture Embracing Science and Technology

The history of African agriculture is a turbulent one. The continent has famously been wracked with famine, drought and a lack technological capacity. Over the last 70 years, efforts have been made to overcome and rectify the issues plaguing agriculture on the continent. Happily, some progress has been made and a bright new path has been laid for the direction of African agricultural development.

Álvaro Sobrinho recently published his thoughts on the issue, stating clearly the need for more public investment in agricultural research and the creation of new, custom made financial packages especially for farmers. His views have been echoed by the Planet Earth Institute, who point to Africa’s low-level of public investment in farming as a key impediment to the development of the sector.

Planet Earth Institute trustee, Her Excellency President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, recently noted the commendable efforts of African entrepreneurs to bring innovative financial packages to African farmers. During a speech at the 40th session of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Her Excellency pointed to the example of the M-PESA payment gateway, that has brought reliable crop insurance to farmers in Kenya. Meanwhile, the Planet Earth Institute has highlighted the achievements of Madagascan entrepreneur, Heritiaina Randriamananatahina, who created a company that uses only Malagasy raw materials to create dairy and confectionary products.

For his part, Dr Álvaro Sobrinho has placed the spotlight on Brazil, hailing the country’s agricultural success as a prime example for Africa to follow. In particular, the development of new plant varieties, through government funded research, is a model he emphasises Africa needs to adopt. Even on the continent, the benefits of investing in the development of new plant varieties can be seen. Drought resistant maize has transformed farms in South Africa, increasing their yield from 2 to 5 tonnes per harvest.

It is clear that science and technology have an important role to play in the further development of African agriculture. It is now up to governments, businesses and NGOs to act on this knowledge.

African Development Hinges on Fulfilling Continents Agricultural Potential

According to international businessman, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, African agriculture is far from fulfilling its potential. He argues that Africa agriculture could, if properly utilised, be turned into a driving force in Africa development. For this to happen, argues Dr Sobrinho, Africa must view agriculture as a business, not a lifestyle, and invest accordingly in agricultural technologies.

In regards to agriculture, the situation in Africa is dire. With low-levels of investments, poor financing options for farmers and a lack of access to modern technologies, it is no surprise that 80% of African farmers are of the small-scale, subsistence variety, despite there being numerous innovative agricultural entrepreneurs on the continent, points out Dr Sobrinho.

On top of this, over 60% of the world’s uncultivated farm land is located in Africa. This means there is huge productive potential waiting to be unlocked. “If we want to ensure the full potential of the continent’s agricultural sector, we must take decisive action on this issue”, concedes Sobrinho.

To do so, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho suggests looking to successful examples of modern agricultural transformations. For this, Dr Sobrinho sets his sights on Brazil, a country, he says, which has turned its agricultural sector into a bombing industry in just a few short decades.

The key to Brazilian success claims Dr Sobrinho, has been the countries willingness to invest in its agricultural sector. In particular, Dr Sobrinho highlights the case of a new variety of soybean, developed by a government funded research institution, which doubled the countries soy production capacity.

Dr Sobrinho believes Africa could achieve the same successes as Brazil if countries are willing to “financially empowering their research agencies”. Innovative financial tools will be essential for turning Africa’s anachronistic agricultural sector into an efficient and effective, profit producing industry.

For Africa to develop in the 21st century, the continent must “use sustained investment and focus in agriculture and agri-business to underpin economic success” concludes Dr Sobrinho.

Planet Earth Institute Announces Science Africa UnConference 2017

The Planet Earth Institute’s annual Science Africa UnConference was announced this week. The event will take place in London on the 20th July.

After a highly successful conference in 2016, the Planet Earth Institute has decided to host the Science Africa UnConference again this year. The conference will provide a platform for some of Africa’s most cutting edge scientists to talk about their work to assembly of high-profile guests drawn from academia, government, international organisations and business.

The Planet Earth Institute describes the conference as a celebration of “all those individuals, research groups, commercial organisations and academic institutions driving scientific and technological advancement in and for the continent.”
The conference programme will feature several presentations from individuals prominent in their respective fields. Last year guests were honoured by speeches from Kedest Tesfagiorgis, from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Charlotte Watts, from the Department of International Development in the UK and Dr. Geoffrey Siwo, a research scientists with IBM Africa.

Álvaro Sobrinho described the UnConference as “part of our [the Planet Earth Institute’s] ongoing work to put the spotlight firmly on the importance of science, technology and innovation as drivers of development.” More than 250 guests will be invited to join in with the celebrations this year. The participants will take part in working groups and participant-led workshops, alongside presentations and panel discussions.

Board members from the Planet Earth Institute will facilitate the day with newly elected Chairman, Lord Paul Boateng, expected to offer a speech of his own. His Lordship will likely be joined by Her Excellency Madame President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius. It is unclear whether Álvaro Sobrinho will have time to attend this year, due to numerous other commitments and responsibilities.

A full programme will be published by the Institute in the coming months. Those who will to participate are encouraged to contact the Institute to arrange tickets, entrance is free but spaces are limited.