Dakar in Senegal was awash with high IQs in March as world-leading scientists, heads of state, policy makers and business leaders gathered for the first Next Einstein Forum (NEF). Bringing together delegates from 80 countries, the forum was geared towards nurturing research on the continent and showcasing innovation in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Currently, African research and development is underrepresented in the wider world. According to the World Bank, the whole continent accounts for less than one per cent of all R&D expenditure. Meanwhile, North America, Asia, Europe and Latin America (including the Caribbean) account for 37, 31, 27 and three per cent, respectively.
The gathered leaders committed to investing more in science and technology with an emphasis on encouraging women in the field. By 2025, the Forum is aiming to see the community of STEM graduates across Africa double, for 40 per cent of them to be women, and for them to be internationally competitive. Such efforts hope to deter African talent from dispersing to other countries in search of better resources and funding. There are currently more African engineers in the US than in the entirety of Africa.
According to UNESCO figures, 2.5 million new engineers and technicians are needed in Africa to meet the water and sanitation needs of the population. NEF is hoping it can draw the attention of leading scientists of the African diaspora to address this, however reversing the exodus might require more than mere networking. ‘Organising a platform for scientific exchange is one thing, but it will not stop the brain drain from Africa,’ says Joachim Rogall, executive director of Robert Bosch Stiftung, a German-based funder of the Forum. ‘Instead, improving working conditions at universities and scientific institutions, and fighting corruption and mismanagement will be a way to bring the brightest people back from working abroad, and produce the next Einstein.
This was published in the May 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.