The Next Einstein Forum (NEF) is an initiative launched by the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) in 2013, in partnership with Johnson & Johnson Innovation to showcase science in Africa and to give some of the most promising scientists from the African continent a voice. The 2018 meeting took place in Kigali, Rwanda. Attendees included leaders from the fields of science, policy and civil society, and also heads of states such as H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, and President Macky Sall of Senegal.
Johnson & Johnson Innovation had previously supported the Women in Innovation program (WiIN) in Kigali last year with the goal to increase the success of women in getting into and having long-term success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers in Africa. We – Annet, Coursel, Doriane, Sandra, Sonia and Rehema – are six former participants of the WiIN program and got the wonderful chance to attend this year’s NEF as WiIN Science Communication Fellows.
Annet: I have a Bachelor’s in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering and I am currently a Senior Mentor at Edify Rwanda. Edify provides schools with access to education technology for the classroom, specifically focusing on tools for literacy and critical thinking skills.
Coursel: I have a Bachelor’s in Water and Environmental Engineering. In the past I have worked as an engineer at projects on-site in Kigali as well as a data analyst for a Californian start-up.
Doriane: I have joined the fellowship group with a Bachelor’s degree in Information technology and so far, I have gained work experience as a software developer for multiple IT companies in Kigali.
Sandra: Having an Engineering Bachelor’s in Technology in Surveying and Geomatics, I presently work as a land surveyor and planner for the Rwandan Land Management and Use Authority in Kigali. Supporting young girls in Rwanda was always one of my passions and during my Bachelor’s, I was active as the cofounder of the Girls Leadership Forum at my university.
Sonia: Already during high school, I was interested in STEM-related fields - Physics and Chemistry were my favorite subjects. Today, I have a Bachelor’s degree in in Information Technology and have worked as data analyst as well as software developer for different companies in Kigali in the past.
Rehema: I have joined the fellows group with a Diploma in Information systems and management. In the past, I have gained work experience in IT-related areas, for instance, I worked for the Rwanda Education Board where I supported the One Laptop per Child project.
We were all very excited when we had found out that we were the six fellows who would participate in the three-days forum and thus be part of a highly unique event on the African continent where the world of science and technology meets to unveil breakthroughs in science.
Over 3 days we got a number of key takeaways from global leaders who had gathered at NEF 2018.
- H.E. President Paul Kagame emphasized that science is not about performing well in exams but rather about applying knowledge to find solution and fix challenges facing the African continent and the rest of the world. As Africa catches up, it cannot afford to leave out women and girls, he said, urging young Africans not to accept the global gender gap in science as inevitable. We couldn’t agree more, President Kagame!
- Dr Virginia Smith-Swintosky – Mental Health Global Program Leader and Johnson & Johnson Global Public Health made clear that scientific ideas can be translated into solutions for patients as well as business success. According to her, the only way this will be possible is through strong partnerships between the public and private sectors.
- From H.E. President Macky Sall we were reminded that Africa was late to the industrial age - therefore we should not be late in the digital age. This is only possible through investing in education and innovation, this time not only with a focus on boys but also on girls. Africa can not only focus on having a “healthy body” and leave out the “healthy mind”, he said and emphasized the importance of mental health.
- We attended the J&J Champions of Science Women Leadership Forum breakfast where we learned that women can build a career while having a family, and heard that policies do exist and should be extended to help mothers with infants to participate in STEM related fields and jobs. One of us, Annet Mbabazi, had even the amazing chance to participate in the talk as a panelist and to represent all strong and independent young Rwandan women who decided to work in the field of STEM.
- We further attended the J&J CoLaboratory panel on “Leading health as an economic driver”, where we learned that if we want to empower women for entrepreneurship we need to start looking at the influence of early education because with strong educational backgrounds, women have the capacity to achieve their goals, to be more self-confident and take responsible decisions for themselves as well as their families.
- In addition, we learned that mentoring support is as important as financial support for young women in Africa - sometimes mentors may see in girls what the girls can’t see in themselves. By using the approach of “each one teaches one” we not only allow to build a people-centered science innovation in future but our young girls will also get the right platform to be inspired, educated and empowered.
In sum, the Next Einstein Forum was an incredibly inspiring experience from beginning to the end where we had the privilege to meet so many different scientists, thinkers, entrepreneurs, students and creators from which we could learn so much.
The NEF made us aware of the fact that Africa is a science producing continent where many leaders are willing to invest in local scientific research and innovation. The majority of African countries have increased their investment in science and do their best to enhance scientific research and innovations that will help harness Africa’s scientific potential to contribute to the wellbeing of Africa’s people. We are convinced that Africa is moving faster is sciences than many people believe.
You may be the son of a driver, a farmer or even of a country’s president; the NEF illustrated perfectly for us that hard work still counts in order to make it in life. Seeing all these inspiring and brilliant young minds showed us that Africa is taking lead in the world.
Our special thanks go to Johnson & Johnson for this great opportunity. We hope in the future, we can inspire other young champions of science as we have been inspired by others during the NEF.