By Mary Hearty

Science, Technology and Innovation(STI) is the foundation pillar of economic growth in both developing and developed countries, on the other hand, research and development is considered as a vital component of a country’s national innovation system.

Over the past years, research and development in sub-Saharan Africa has been inadequately supported as most governments have been allocating an expenditure below two percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to this sector.

However, this is now changing as most countries are now realizing the importance of research and development for the growth of a country’s economy. Though more support especially funding is yet to be met.

In Kenya, the government has come up with entities supporting researchers and innovators to help in the advancement of national innovation systems. They include, National Research Fund (NRF), Kenya National Innovation Agency (KENIA) and National Commission for Science Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI).

The NRF was formed to help mobilize and manage financial resources for the advancement of national innovation systems. The agency has been working together with Science Granting Councils Initiative (SGCI) to strengthen its capacity in order to support research and evidence-based policies that will contribute to economic and social development in the Country.

Speaking during an interview with ScienceAfrica, Dr Jemimah Onsare, chief executive officer at the NRF, acknowledged the support they have been receiving from the SGCI since its formation during the 2016/2017 financial year.

 

Dr. Jemimah Onsare, NRF chief executive officer

“NRF has managed to successfully support 45 innovators and 56 research projects. Out of the total innovators supported, six have won the Newton Prize Award that support economic development and social welfare,” said Dr. Onsare. “We have benefited a lot from SGCI.”

She acknowledged that they have been working closely with the SGCI and  noted: “we have benefited a lot from the Initiative through capacity building, funding, and trainings on research management.”

Among the key achievements that NRF has had since it got involved with the SGCI phase 1 project on building capacity include, preparation of calls and guidelines, coming up with research management tools, and interacting with other agencies.

“We are now able to prepare calls and guidelines on our own for researchers and innovators, we have also come up with research management tools to help them during their projects,” she explained.

“Additionally, through the SGCI we have gotten opportunity to interact with other agencies involved in this initiative like the South African NRF and acquired knowledge on how to manage and promote research and development.”

In the process of this project, the NRF has managed to successfully support 45 innovators and 56 research projects. Out of the total innovators supported, six have won the Newton Prize Award that support economic development and social welfare.

Dr. Onsare specified that currently, the government has prioritized research and innovation in the agricultural sector to promote food security and the health sector.

Moreover, NRF has considered the issue of gender empowerment in this project. For instance, the agency have been observing gender equity by encouraging women to apply for grants.

According to Dr. Onsare, women have been considered during the process of capacity building, funding, and employment.

“Many women are making tremendous breakthroughs in various research projects and innovations, the NRF employment capacity has also observed the two-third gender rule, factoring in the government policies in this sector,” she noted.

Additionally, she emphasized that women are encouraged to apply for post graduate scholarships supporting economic development and social welfare in Kenya.

Although the NRF has had much success, the agency has partly experienced various challenges during the process including reviewing of research applications manually, which have been quite lengthy.

“Since the funding of researchers is based on peer review, and done manually, this normally take some time. So, we do communicate with institutions to reach out to research grant applicants whenever delays occur. However, we are in the process of improving this concern,” Dr Onsare clarified.

Again, the agency has faced a financial challenge especially since COVID-19 started to cause havoc in the country. This is because the government has been putting more attention to the pandemic thus allocating more funds to help fight the disease in the country.

Furthermore, Dr Onsare said that seeking financial support from non- governmental organizations must follow the right channel including engaging authorities, which also takes a long time for the application to be approved through those channels.

At the moment, the NRF is yet to collaborate with private institutions to facilitate resource mobilization.

“We encourage private firms to partner with us to help promote this project for the advancement of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in the country,” Dr Onsare said.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa are therefore encouraged to seize the opportunity brought by the SGCI to help alleviate poverty in the continent.

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