The African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI), launched in 2004 by the U.S. National Academies and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a 10-year effort to strengthen the capability of African science academies to provide independent, evidence-supported advice to inform African government policy making and public discourse related to improving human health. The initiative also aims to foster a deeper appreciation on the part of African governments for the benefits of decision making based on evidence and analysis—with a view toward building the demand for Academy-led efforts.
The grant supports intense capacity-building efforts with the science academies of Uganda, South Africa, and Nigeria—competitively selected on the basis of their potential to develop an effective and sustained policy-advisory process, the receptivity of their governments to seek advice from the scientific community, and the existence of a critical mass of scientific talent willing to serve as participants in policy-advisory activities. Collaborative partnering with these academies is helping to develop infrastructure, personnel, relationships between the academy and its government, and rigorous procedures for providing policy advice. The grant also provides modest support to the academies of Ghana, Cameroon, Senegal, Kenya, and the regional African Academy of Sciences for strategic planning efforts.
Complementary to the efforts to build capacity at the national level, a regional conference—held annually over the 10-year life of the project—is intended to enhance cooperation among African science academies, strengthen relationships among representatives of the academies and the policy making community, and foster a greater understanding and appreciation of the value of evidence-based policy advice.
In addition to annual conferences, annual joint learning sessions have created a support network of African and US science academy staff involved in policy-advisory activities. These meetings have focused on collaborative problem solving, the exchange of best practices and strategies for project implementation, and practical training.
The program has been carried out using a phased approach. Early activities have included training for academy staff, establishing contacts with appropriate government agencies and other organizations, fundraising, and implementing a variety of convening and consensus-based activities on subjects selected by the African academy in consultation with its government, with staff members from the US National Academies serving as external consultants. Over the course of the initiative, partner academies will conduct activities increasingly independently and will be responsible for securing matched funds so that the academies’ programs will be sustained after the grant period has ended.
Partner African science academies also are assembling an international database of African scientists with technical support from the U.S. National Academies. The most recent version of the database includes the expertise, contact information, and current affiliation of over 750 leading African scientists on the continent and in the African Diaspora. When shared across countries, the database will help science academies easily identify and recruit experts for policy-advisory activities.
The ASADI vision is to develop African science academies so that they are regarded as trusted sources of credible scientific advice in each nation. Ultimately, it is hoped that many aspects of public policy may benefit from the experience and scientific rigor of the best minds in each country.
The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council—collectively the US National Academies—are private, non-profit institutions that provide science, technology, and health-policy advice under a US Congressional charter.