Planet Earth Institute Academic Board Announced

In order to effectively manage its scholarship programmes the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) has announced the creation of an academic board. Described by the Institute as a “high-level body”, the board will manage the administration of scholarships granted by the PEI.

The main scholarship programme of the PEI is the HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim PhD Scholarship Programme, which handed out its first tranche of scholarships to Mauritian academics last year. The fund was brought about by the work of Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, who was Chairman of the organisation at the time. By teaming up with international organisations, including the World Bank, and a team of like-minded businessmen, Dr Sobrinho was able to raise a significant amount of funding for the scholarships.

The Chairman of the Academic Board was announced in February as Professor Sir Christopher Edwards. Sir Christopher has been with the PEI for many years as a trustee, as Chairman of the Academic Board he will oversee its smooth running and advise of issues relating to medical sciences.

Alongside Sir Christopher, sever others have been appointed to the board. The distinguished board includes Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, PEI trustee and world-leadings surgeon, Professor Madeleine Atkins, the Chief Executive of the Higher Education Funding Council in England, and Professor Lynn Frewer who will provide advise relating to food and agribusiness.

When asked about the board appointments Sir Christopher Edwards responded, “We have been very fortunate in attracting some outstanding people to help us take forward the mission of PEI in enabling the scientific independence of Africa.” He went on to say, “we are focusing on five main areas – energy, water, agri-business, blue sky science and medical science. The Academic Board has key individuals in each of these areas, and the PEI is very grateful to them for agreeing to be part of this very important project”.

Alvaro Sobrinho Steps Down After 7 Successful Years at PEI

During the African Breakfast Club meeting, held in London on February 9th, the Planet Earth Institute announced a restructuring of the board. After 7 years at the helm, investor and philanthropist, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho will step down as the Chairman of the Planet Earth Institute. In his place, Planet Earth Institute Trustee, Right Honourable Lord Paul Boateng will assume the position of Chairman.

Dr Sobrinho oversaw the growth of the Planet Earth Institute from a fledgling NGO into a pan-African organisation with links to the most prestigious international organisations and some of the largest international corporations. In particular, the Planet Earth Institute has built a relationship with the World Bank and become accredited by the United Nations Environment Programme. Partnerships with IBM, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the British Council and many more have been formed.

Today, the Institute operations programmes across the African continent, contributing the advancement of science and scientific research in numerous ways. STEP (Science Technology Enrolment Programme) has brought science to young African students and the Planet Earth Institute PhD programme is funding some of the brightest scientific minds on the continent.

As the founding Chairman, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho’s has steered the Institute from its inception to its present day success. Through his careful guidance and leadership, the Institute has become a real force for scientific progress in Africa. Incoming Chairman, Lord Paul Boateng, lavished praise on his predecessor; “Dr Sobrinho has demonstrated a remarkable and continuing commitment to science in Africa, and his pioneering leadership has brought the PEI from its early stages to become a strong and stable organisation, able now to play our part in Africa’s scientific revolution.”

Dr Sobrinho descirbed leading the Institute for the last 7 years as “one of the greatest privileges” of his career. Though no longer Chairman, Dr Sobrinho will continue to work with the Planet Earth Institute as a valued member of the board.

President of Mauritius Speaks to the Governing Council of IFAD

In a keynote speech to the 40th Governing Council of the International Fund of Agricultural Development (IFAD), President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, friend and colleague of Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, addressed the issue of women in development. Women, she argued, “underpin all of the continent’s development efforts”. She went on to suggest that if women were given scientific knowledge and appropriate tools they could make an even greater contribution.

The IFAD is part of the United Nations, set up in 1977 to fund rural development in deprived areas. The organisation has done a great deal to build and rebuild communities, particularly in the aftermath of conflict. The IFAD has focused on poverty reduction, the abolition of hunger and malnutrition and improving incomes for the rural poor. President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim used her speech to praise the organisation, especially for its work on ‘inclusive rural transformation’.

During the speech, President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim went into detail regarding the power of science and technology to drive development on the continent. Using the example of agriculture, President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim explained how science and technology can be used to make agriculture more productive, thus raising the incomes and improving the livelihoods of those who practise it.

She highlighted several good examples, including Kilimo Salama (meaning ‘Safe Agriculture’), a new insurance product available to Kenyan farmers. Kilimo Salama is an innovative financial mechanism that allows small-scale farmers to avoid terrible losses in the face of crop loss due to severe or unexpected weather conditions. Equally, online platform mFarm, created by Kenyan Jamilla Abass, allows farmers to get a fair price for their crops and the inputs they need by facilitating collective purchasing and selling.

HE President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim concluded her address by asking participants to include local people in conversations about African development. These people are very often women with extensive traditional knowledge who can provide experiences and practises that will help overcome major development challenges, including climate change.

Charity of Alvaro Sobrinho to Place Spotlight on African Innovation

The Planet Earth Institute, charity of banker and philanthropist Dr. Alvaro Sobrinho, has announced a new event series to highlight the groups and individuals making a difference in Africa through innovation, science and technology. The Spotlight Seminars will promote the impressive achievements and contributions of African science, in an attempt to counter the often negative perception of the continent.

The Institute believes African countries are often viewed as “passive recipients of scientific
and technological advancement, gifted to them by a benevolent global community”. This framing, suggest the Planet Earth Institute, belies the very real contributions Africa is making to the global advancement of science and technology.

That said, the Institute recognises that Africa faces many challenges including a “debilitating lack of scientific capacity and seriously underfunded educational institutions”. Yet these challenges obscure the potential of Africa to become a significant contributor to global science. Already there are “pockets of excellence and scientific hubs dotted around the continent doing great work” claims the Institute.

The Spotlight Seminars will highlight those pockets of excellence and bring the scientific hubs to the attention of the international community, starting in March with a seminar on agriculture in Africa. The seminar will explore the many challenges facing small-holder farmers on the continent and draw on the experience and knowledge of experts from academia, business and NGO’s to demonstrate the opportunities these challenges present.

On top of this, the seminar will bring attention to the technological innovations already being implemented in Africa and examine the many innovations that are under development on the continent.

The event will be hosted by Planet Earth Institute trustee, Lord Paul Boateng. The seminar will take place on March 15th at Burlington House in London, UK.

Visual Essay Demonstrates STEM Education in Action

A visual essay supported by the African NGO, the Planet Earth Institute, displays a series of photographs that capture STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in action. The series features a Kenyan-based education initiative, the E-Lab (Engineering Lab Africa). The group has been working with students between the ages of 6 and 18, giving them the opportunity to learn about STEM subjects and gain hand-on experience.

The Planet Earth Institute has placed the promotion of STEM education at the forefront of its education agenda. The Institute is funding high-level, PhD research into priority STEM topics including energy, water, agriculture and healthcare. Last the organisation handed out the first round of PhD scholarships and there will be many more to follow in the coming years.

Alongside its higher education programmes, the Planet Earth Institute has been running a programme aimed at promoting science to young African students. Called STEP (Science and Technology Enrolment Programme), the Institute hopes to inspire young African students to pursue further and higher education in the sciences. Currently enrolment rates for science subjects in Africa is far below the global average, the Institute hopes STEP will contribute to improving Africa’s average.

Like the Planet Earth Institute, the E-Lab has been providing STEM education for sometime. The organisation has discovered that hands-on learning produces the best results. As the visual essay shows, the E-Lab provides students with tools and computers to allow them to actively engage with the subject matter. Students can be seen using power drills, programming on state-of-the-art computers and working together in groups.

Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, the guiding force behind the Planet Earth Institute, has placed STEM education high on the development agenda. He has argued persuasively in favour of an increased focus on STEM education in Africa in order to prepare young Africans for the high-tech, innovative economy they will find themselves working in. The E-Lab demonstrates the best way STEM can be taught to African students.

Responsible and Responsive Business Needed in Africa

To solve Africa’s economic and social issues and maintain sustainable development, Africa needs businesses that are ready and willing to provide leadership that is both responsible and responsive, claims Dr. Alvaro Sobrinho. After attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, and hearing the Forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, call on world leaders to “acknowledge that frustration and discontent are only increasing among people who haven’t experienced economic development and social progress” and that the only option to is explain the situation to them and “proactively generate solutions”, Dr. Alvaro Sobrinho has stated that no where is this more true than in Africa.

Decisive action must be taken on Africa’s most pressing issues, claims the Angolan born Chairman of the Planet Earth Institute, a science focused African NGO. These include the lack of electricity experienced by 600 million Africans, the inability of entrepreneurs to get their ventures off the ground and the lack of high-quality science education to bridge the ‘skills-gap’. In all these areas, claims Dr. Alvaro Sobrinho, business has a leadership role to play.

Firstly, argues Dr. Sobrinho, businesses can provide innovative tech solutions to some of the more practical problems facing Africa, such as electricity generation. African start-up company M-Kopa is already providing a hopeful solution, installing clean energy systems in the homes of nearly half a million African’s, using the lastest mobile technology to register payments and produce returns on investment.

Alongside providing practical solutions, businesses can partner with universities to deliver industry relevant education to aspiring African scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. IT training, in particular, could be brought into African universities by businesses that already have the expertise to offer. Examples are already being set by international businesses from Europe and the United States.

While progress is being made, Dr. Sobrinho is calling on all businesses active on the continent to ramp up their efforts to assist Africa. It is up to them, claims Dr. Sobrinho, to provide the responsible and responsive leadership that Africa desperately needs.

Overcoming the Brain Drain and Using Science to Develop Africa

In the wake of this year’s World Economic Forum, President Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius has called for an end to the African brain drain and an increase in funding for science, technology and innovation across the African continent. As deputy chair of the Planet Earth Institute, President Gurib-Fakim used her speech at the World Economic Forum to announce a new Planet Earth initiative aimed at increasing R&D spending in Africa. The Institute believes science and technology innovation will be the key drivers of development in the coming years.

Dr Alvaro Sobrinho founded the Planet Earth Institute with the intention of furthering the scientific advancement of Africa. That mission has be realised through several high-profile projects, including the building of a research centre and the funding of 10,000 PhD over the next decade. Yet despite the successes, funding for science in Africa remains well below the global average.

Poor funding and lack of opportunities have driven the few scientists that continent has produced to seek employment in more lucrative countries outside of Africa, a process known as brain drain. To reverse this trend, President Gurib-Fakim and Dr Alvaro Sobrinho argue, Africa must provide adequate opportunities for domestic scientists to pursue interesting and meaningful research. Together they are calling for the creation of an STI (Science, Technology and Innovation) fund to invest in research projects, the education of scientists and African tech.

While such funding does already exist, the pair argue that is must be dramatically increased and more effectively focused. If the brain drain is to be halted, or even reversed, more scientists must be trained and educated and given real reasons to remain in Africa. With less than 100 scientists per million inhabitants, compared to global average of 800, Africa still has a long way to go. But with the help of initiatives like the Planet Earth Institute’s the tide may be turning.

President of Mauritius to Attend World Economic Forum, Davos

Her Excellency President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, head-of-state of the African island nation Mauritius, will next week attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will take her place alongside numerous other heads-of-state, business leaders, economists and academics, to contribute to the Forum.

Her Excellency’s particular contribution will be to take part in an expert panel titled Global Science Outlook, which will explore the global potential of science in the coming years. She will be joined by notable figures from from the scientific community who will participate in the discussion, including CERN Director-General, Italian particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti and CEO Marc Casper.

Her second contribution to the Forum will be a speech that will focus on the launch of a new Planet Earth Institute campaign. As a trustee and deputy Chair of the Planet Earth Institute, President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim has worked closely with the organisations Chair, Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, to acquire funding for a new research and development (R&D) focused initiative.

In 2016, the Planet Earth Institute was awarded a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to raise money for science based R&D projects. In particular, the Planet Earth Institute will focus on persuading national governments, international donors and business to spend more on scientific research. The Institute believes that increasing funding for science will speed up Africa’s development, taking the continent into the 21st Century.

President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will announce the new project to the assembled dignitaries, laying out the case for increased investment in scientific research. The campaign will continue throughout 2017.

Planet Earth Institute 2016 Summary


2016 was a big year for the Planet Earth Institute, full of new and exciting projects, grants, new partnerships and more. In a yearly review published by the organisation, The Planet Earth Institute has identified four achievements it is particularly proud of. Firstly, the launch of the HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim PhD Scholarship Programme, followed by a substantial endowment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to further their work in Africa, the launch of the Science, Technology Enrolment Programme (STEP) in Mauritius and the #ScienceAfrica UnConference the Planet Earth Institute hosted in London.

The Institute hopes to expand these programmes and building upon the successes of 2016. The HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim PhD Scholarship Programme awarded 10 pilot grants this year and hopes to fund a total of 10,000 PhD’s over the course of the next decade. The programme is built on a partnership between the Planet Earth Institute, the African Academy of Science and a network of international business leaders, including Dr Alvaro Sobrinho, and international institutions.

The generous donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be used to run an advocacy campaign in the coming year. The campaign will focus on generating resources for research and development projects in Africa. Targeting governments, international businesses, and international institutions, the Planet Earth Institute hopes to persuade organisations to spend more on science education and research, which it believes will boost development in Africa.

Alongside a focus on higher education and high-level R&D investment, the Planet Earth Institute has attended to the future of young Africa students by creating STEP. The programme ran several interactive, hands-on study days in Mauritius, giving students the chance to learn about science and meet professionals. The Institute hopes this will encourage students to pursue a science centred education.

The #ScienceAfrica UnConference in London brought together experts, academics, business representatives and international organisations including the World Bank and the United Nations. Dr Alvaro Sobrinho and HE Ameenah Gurib-Fakim gave speeches to the audience, along with contributions from many other high-profile guests. The conference focused on how to inspire a new generation of scientific leaders in Africa.

After a year of growth and new challenges the Planet Earth Institute will be looking towards a bright and productive 2017, a year in which the scientific advancement of Africa will surely take a big step forward.

Angola Hosts First STEP Study Event

In late November the Planet Earth Institute announced that it would be expanding its Science Technology Enrolment Programme (STEP) to Angola. This expansion took place this week with the launch on STEP Angola on the island of Mussulo, Angola. The launch was marked by a 5 day event, attended by 150 Angolan school children.

Over the course of the 5 day STEP study week, children were taught about important elements of science including air resistance, static and paper chromatography. Practical scientific information was delivered through the means of hands on activities, including the use of a parachute to demonstrate air resistance.

Music, dance and performance were combined with science during the event. On the last day, children created a short play to demonstrate what they had learnt about science over the last few days. The entire event was hosted in English with translation, in an effort to improve the students understanding and confidence with the language.
STEP in Angola hopes to reach 1500 Angolan students during the coming year. The programme aims to inspire students to study the sciences, in the hope that this will improve the low enrolment rates for science prevalent across the continent. Dr Alvaro Sobrinho has emphasised the importance of science education in Africa, explaining the need for well-educated graduates in the kind of high-tech economy that is developing in Africa.

In Mauritius, STEP has already reached 500 students, exposing them to the intriguing world of science through demonstrations, science days and giving them the opportunity to meet professionals in the field. The Planet Earth Institute hopes to continue the programme in Mauritius in 2017 while simultaneously expanding to Angola. In the long run the organisation hopes to run the programme across Africa, giving all African students the chance to learn more about science and the opportunities it offers.