Africa Science Week

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Author: Naliaka Odera

Every day and in every way, Kenyan scientists, researchers and thought leaders, are influencing the communities around them and contributing significantly to the world of science. Unfortunately, these successes are not celebrated frequently enough. This is why as Mawazo Institute we are committed to increasing public engagement in the sciences. In December 2018, we were able to further our public engagement goal by participating in hosting Africa Science Week - Kenya.

Africa Science Week (ASW) is an initiative by the Next Einstein Forum (NEF) comprised of concurrent week-long science engagement events across the continent that seek to “ignite the power of science.” In 2018, ASW was hosted in 33 countries by NEF country ambassadors who are appointed for a two year period through a competitive process. Dr. Rose M. Mutiso, Mawazo CEO, currently serves as the 2018-2019 NEF Kenya Ambassador which gave Mawazo the opportunity to co-host ASW-K alongside her. Infused with Dr. Mutiso’s passion for public engagement with the sciences and research, 2018 ASW-Kenya was held under the theme, “Science at Work in Kenya.”

This theme was chosen to explore the many hidden ways that members of our society engage in science and the deep influence it has over our daily lives. Through ASW-Kenya, we wanted to challenge misconceptions regarding the who, what, and why of science, and demonstrate the many ways that science is accessible, interesting and important. ASW-Kenya 2018 also hoped to encourage uptake of science education, careers and entrepreneurship by Kenyans of all ages.

Co-sponsored by the L'Oréal Foundation and Johnson & Johnson Innovation, events ran from December 3rd-7th with an official opening ceremony that celebrated the 20 Kenyan scientists selected for the Faces of Science in Kenya campaign. Opening remarks at the event were delivered by Dr Mutiso, Alexandra Palt, Executive Vice President of L'Oréal Foundation and Dr. Rugutt, Director General of the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI). Their comments emphasized the dearth of African women scientists across the continent and in global discourse as well as the general need for science on the continent to be supported.

Building on the popularity of Mawazo’s recurring Nairobi Ideas Night (NIN), ASW-K hosted two NIN events. On Tuesday 4th December, we hosted Tech Talks Back, a lively and informed debate on the state of Kenya’s technology sector featuring leading players in the tech scene: Jessica Colaço (Chief Revenue Officer, Brave Venture Labs),  Andreata Muforo (Partner at TLcom Capital Partners), Wanja Getambu-Kiragu (Director of Transport Operations, East African Online Transport Agency Ltd) and Kago Kagichiri (Co-Founder and former CEO of Eneza Education). The following day, NIN invited five women from the Faces of Science in Kenya campaign to share the stories of their science journeys in, Stories Behind the Science. Having been trained in the art of telling compelling stories by Kendi Nderitu, The Moth (a group dedicated to the art and craft of telling stories with impact) storytelling trainer, this event was our most popular of the week. A wide range of Kenyans and guests to Nairobi attended, emphasizing the need for people to see the human side of the sciences—and normalize the experiences of female scientists.

With the goal of promoting women in science, ASW-K also hosted a Women in Science leadership breakfast. This women-only breakfast provided a rare opportunity for African women in science to network and discuss topics of mutual interest toward the advancement of their careers. Targeting early and mid career women scientists, our attendees heard from senior women professionals sharing their advice and experiences in achieving success in their fields. Our panelists for the day were: Dr. Kwezikazi Molamodi (Clinical and Instrumental Evaluation Scientist, L'Oréal South Africa), Dr. Linda Davis (CEO, Giraffe Bioenergy), Dr. Shikoh Gitau (Head of Products, Alpha at Safaricom Limited and 2018 Face of Kenyan Science), Dr. Joy Kiiru, (Senior Lecturer at the School of Economics, University of Nairobi). The conversation was moderated by Dr. Evelyn Gitau (Director of Research Capacity Strengthening, African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) and featured the role of mentorship as a central theme of the discussion.

As events of the week went on, ASW-K organized and participated in two different camps for high schoolers. The first, a Maths Camp for Secondary School Girls was hosted in Kitale by ASW-K partner, Africa Maths Initiative (AMI). The camp brought together 40 secondary school girls from around the country for a week-long residential maths camp led by experts and local volunteers. The second, the Global Minimum Innovation Challenge Camp, held in Nairobi, was a Global Minimum (GMIN) initiative that equips secondary school age Africans with critical thinking skills and hands-on learning programs that can help them find solutions to issues in their communities. At this camp, ASW-K presented a research module to 32 students. The module taught introductory research skills that would help students think through how to conduct research as they developed their innovation projects.

Rounding out ASW-K activities, were multimedia outputs that could be accessed by individuals anywhere across the globe, increasing the reach of our public engagement. This included the Faces of Kenyan Science e-book, Science Kibao: Volume 1 e-book and the launch of the Nairobi Ideas Podcast; a new science podcast featuring interviews with Kenyans who are changing the world with their big ideas. The first five episodes featured interviews with some of the exceptional scientists from our Faces of Kenyan Science campaign including: Dr. Stella Bosire (Founder and Executive Director of the Stellah Bosire Fund and a medical physician looking beyond the stethoscope to use science for good and who advocates for health as a human right) and Susan Murabana (an astronomer bringing the stars closer to children, by taking a portable telescope and mobile planetarium to schools and sites around the country, and who dreams of creating the region’s first public Observatory and Planetarium).

As we look back, 2018 ASW-K marked an important step forward for science in Kenya. Encouraging and supporting scientists who have come before us and creating room to nurture aspiring scientists who will one day impact Kenya and the world in significant and powerful ways.

To see more of our work from 2018 Africa Science Week visit the press page on our dedicated website by following the link here: https://www.africascienceweek-kenya.org/press-kit