Dr Bonita de Swardt, responsible for Human Capital Development (HCD) Strategic Interventions, including the Young Professionals Development Programme at SARAO, delivered a keynote address on the SKA and the HCD programme at the global Grand Challenges partners meeting.
The meeting is an initiative by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and was held in Naivasha, Kenya on 22 and 23 May 2018, the first on the African continent.
Grand Challenges is a family of global initiatives fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Launched in 2003 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the model has developed to include several funding partners around the globe. Current key partners include the Wellcome Trust, Grand Challenges Canada, Grand Challenges India, Grand Challenges Africa, USAID, Grand Challenges Brazil, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency. The South African Medical Research Council hosts the Grand Challenges South Africa programme.
Annually, the funding partners host a Learning Evaluation meeting, which is meant to be a platform to share knowledge about developing and managing “challenges”. This year’s meeting was co-hosted by the BMGF, Grand Challenges Africa and Grand Challenges South Africa.
De Swardt presented a case study of her work and perspective on the value of international partnerships in scientific discovery.
Her talk was held during a joint plenary session with the International Development Innovation Alliance, an informal platform for knowledge exchange and collaboration to promote and advance innovation to help achieve sustainable development. Titled New Frontiers in International Partnership, it was the first of the plenary session and provided participants with a case study on the potential of international collaboration to advance science for African and global progress.
De Swardt’s presentation focused on her work with SARAO and the scientific potential of building the world’s largest radio telescope over the next decade. Providing a brief overview of the project’s history, she discussed the international partnership network that is central to its success and highlighted lessons learned to date. She also elaborated on the observational capacity gained through the SKA project that may impact research and development potential on the African continent.
“I would like to express my gratitude to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Medical Research Council of South Africa (MRC SA) for inviting me to this truly global meeting, which brought together various international funding bodies involved with researching the world’s most pressing questions in health,” says De Swardt.
“The audience was amazed to learn of the answers such a project was seeking to uncover, and the implications it holds for all areas of science, not to mention that a mega-science project in astronomy will be built on the African continent. Big data infrastructure and the necessary skills development to support the growing data deluge in health, genetics and bioinformatics fields was another topic of interest at this meeting. There are definitely areas for possible collaboration between SARAO and these organisations in the future.”