AIMS Highlights Mathematics’ Contributions to Delivering Social Justice, Transformation and Sustainable Development in Africa
In a continent characterised by widespread complex challenges such as poverty, inequality, energy, health and environmental crises, science, technology and innovation (STI) is emerging as an essential tool in the improvement of the living standards of Africans. Thus, it is important that we ponder on how African governments and scientific institutions could deliver effective social justice, transformation and sustainable development. Furthermore, it is imperative for African academic researchers to deliver transformative societal impact through mathematical sciences research and public engagement.
On the 2 December 2022, AIMS South Africa joined other scientific institutes based in Cape Town to participate in the events leading to the first-ever World Science Forum (WSF) to be hosted on the African continent. WSF was hosted by the South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) in partnership with leading global science organisations and took place from 6 to 9 December 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. It brought together civil society, policy-makers, industry leaders, government, scientists and academics from across the world to discuss science’s most pressing global challenges in the 21st century. Its theme for 2022 was Science for social justice.
The AIMS event was a dialogue discussion on Advancing mathematical sciences and research for societal, human capital & skills development in Africa. The event provided delegates with an opportunity to learn about AIMS, its activities and footprint, network and engaged in dynamic two-panel discussions. Prof. Barry Green, AIMS South Africa Director, welcomed the delegation. In his opening remarks, Prof. Green shared AIMS’s vision and underscored the importance of strategic partnerships for AIMS’s continued success, and acknowledged the speakers’ support.
The first panel discussion, which was moderated by Dr Rejoyce Gavhi-Molefe (AIMS House of Science Manager) focussed on Science for Africa – delivering social justice, transformation and sustainable development. It highlighted and reflected on how AIMS is harnessing pan-African leadership and partnerships for academic, research and public engagement to deliver social justice, transformation and sustainable development. The Panellists included Dr Simo Mthethwa, a Mathematician at the University of KwaZulu-Natal; Mr Lusani Mulaudzi, a Healthcare Actuary, Independent Non-Executive Director and Lecturer at the University of Cape Town; and Dr Elizabeth Rasekoala, the President of African Gong – The Pan African Network for the Popularization of Science and Technology and Science Communication. Dr Mthethwa shared how the academic and higher education sectors could drive and lead the delivery of social justice, transformation and sustainable development in South Africa. On the other hand, Mr Mulaudzi focussed on the critical leverage that the private sector and industry in Africa can bring to the continent’s delivery of social justice, transformation and sustainable development. Dr Rasekoala drew from her long-standing experience straddling the scientific industry-public innovation-academia realms to elaborate on the complex interlinkages between the stakeholder entities thereof in addressing the challenges of delivering social justice, transformation and sustainable development in Africa.
The second panel discussion was moderated by Ms Ashleigh Basel (AIMS South Africa Researcher). The focus was on Strengthening research, excellence and impact at AIMS, which highlighted mathematical sciences research conducted at AIMS and its impact on the continent. The Panellists comprised AIMS affiliated researchers, namely Mr Mmatlou Kubyana, a PhD Candidate in BioMathematics at Stellenbosch University; Dr Emmanuel Dufourq, a Lecturer and AIMS-Canada Junior Research Chair in Data Science for Climate Resilience at Stellenbosch University; Dr Inès Mbonda, a Postdoctoral Researcher at AIMS South Africa; and Dr Bubacarr Bah, a German Research Chair of Mathematics with specialization in Data Science at AIMS South Africa. They shared their experiences and showcased their research and its relevance in addressing sustainable development in South Africa and on the continent. Furthermore, they shared their views on how to advance and leverage science communication skills and ways to deliver transformative societal and environmental impact through mathematical sciences research and public engagement.
Speaking on behalf of the DSI, Ms Mmampei Chaba, Chief Director responsible for Multilateral Cooperation and Africa, commended AIMS’s contribution to the 2022 WSF. Furthermore, she commended AIMS’s collaboration with DSI, and for its outstanding work in training postgraduates, world-class research and commitment to women’s advancement in mathematics. She also used the platform to acknowledge Prof Green’s contribution to AIMS as he retired in December 2022.
The event was beneficial to AIMS students and researchers. It presented an opportunity for skill development needed by aspiring well-rounded mathematical scientists and leaders. In addition, it exposed them to different engagement platforms, mentors and networking opportunities. They in turn added much value to the dialogue.
It was clear from the discussions that it is critical for African governments and scientific institutions academic researchers to work together in order to deliver effective social justice, transformation and sustainable development on the continent, portraying AIMS as an exemplar. Dr Gavhi-Molefe concluded the event by sharing AIMS’s commitment statement to the advancement and promotion of mathematical sciences and research for societal, human capital and skills development in Africa.
“At AIMS we recognise the need for African governments and scientific institutions to harness the younger generation’s ability and skills at all levels, pan-African leadership and partnerships between governments, universities, the private sector, civil society and others, for research and public engagement to deliver social justice, transformation and sustainable development.”
“We note with concern that, despite progressive developments in the global north and many parts of the global south, mathematical sciences and science in general and its communication continue to lag behind despite the international recognition of the fundamental role that it plays in addressing poverty, inequality, energy, health and environmental crises and the wellbeing of citizens.”
“We are committed as African academics, researchers and scientific institutions to mobilise action concerning further policy developments, programmes, and capacity building for the delivery of a transformative, multi-disciplinary, inclusive and empowering African-focused mathematical sciences research agenda; and the impactful dissemination and communication of scientific research to non-scientific audiences and science policymakers across different formats, tools and platforms for the transformation of the quality of life and well-being of the continent’s citizens.”
As part of the AIMS contribution to the WSF, Dr Gavhi-Molefe also attended its launch. The launch was organised by DSI. It took place at Iziko South African Museum on 10 November 2022. She also participated in the WSF pre-events – German and South African Public Engagement exchange training workshop and Senior roundtable – from 1 to 2 and 5 December. The events were organised by DSI and Berlin, and the Senior round table on Public Engagement on the last day (5 December) focused on the following questions:
- What opportunities and benefits would embedding Public Engagement practice bring to our research structures and cultures?
- What are the opportunities in adopting an international approach to engagement?
- What are the current barriers for an international approach on Public Engagement?
- What potential actions could be taken to overcome these barriers?