Welcoming our African partners to London
At the end of 2015, a little bit of Kenya came to the Wellcome Trust in the form of eight members of staff from the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) who are based in Nairobi. They have established the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), the research funding unit and think tank that seeks to shift the centre of gravity for African science to Africa. In this post, Programme Manager Alphonse Neba describes the grants management and finance training he and colleagues received, and his reflections on returning home…
When I was asked to write a blog about our visit to London and grants management training at the Wellcome Trust, I had no clue where and how to start, as blogging is a new experience for me. But as I reflected on the trip and the training, I realised there were some key lessons I could share.
We are all very grateful to the Wellcome Trust and the African Academy of Sciences for making this trip and training a reality. The African Academy of Sciences takes its partnerships and responsibilities with the Wellcome Trust and its other funding partners very seriously.
Our arrival at Heathrow airport in London was not uneventful:
“What brings you to London?” the immigration officer at Heathrow asked one of my colleagues.
“I am attending a training course in grants management at the Wellcome Trust,” my colleague responded.
“Is Wellcome spelled with a single ‘l’ or a double ‘l’?” the immigration officer continued.
The response “with a double ‘l’” was sufficient to let my colleague through the immigration formalities.
His grilling, and subsequent “pass mark”, appeared to us like the proverbial elephant passing through the eye of a needle for those of us still in the queue. Needless to say, none of us was sent back.
When we arrived at the Wellcome Trust offices and began the carefully thought-out and comprehensive training, it soon became evident how attention to detail was important not only as far as security checks at Heathrow airport was concerned, but as an indispensable skill, cutting deeply across the broad spectrum of grants management processes, procedures and activities of the Wellcome Trust.
Kudos to Wellcome Trust staff Emma Ralph, Nidhee Jadeja, Sophie Mathewson, Amy Luck, Rob Coutts, Harriet Hall and all the facilitators for anticipating our needs as a new and lean grants management outfit.
Getting to grips with grants management
The practical and hands-on components of the course were fantastic. Designing scheme sheets, playing with Grant Tracker (the Wellcome Trust’s system for managing grant applications), identifying reviewers, drafting and giving feedback to applicants were all simply empowering.
Other highlights were the training on organising and managing funding committees, attending and observing live funding committees at work, and visiting other relevant s events around London which almost made some of us begin to think and feel we were bonafide employees of the Trust.
And finally, being able to return with a bounty of relevant materials and other tools back to Kenya for future reference was the cherry on the pie and simply sublime.
Returning home and looking ahead
All in all, our trip provided a unique learning experience and perspective on grants management. The deep insights provided by facilitators during discussions on some intractable grants management issues and experiences were also invaluable.
We felt like members of a surgical operation team, watching, learning and assisting the lead surgeons successfully undertake a delicate brain operation. Coincidentally, from the room we were working in we observed surgeons and medical teams performing operations in the hospital which is across the road from the Wellcome Trust.
For me, the history of the Wellcome Trust provides a strong strategic lesson on possible fund-raising initiatives for science and health research on the African continent.
I am certain my colleagues would agree that we left the Trust feeling fully equipped, emboldened and having a deeper understanding of grants management.
I am also certain that we left the Trust with no illusions about the challenges that lay ahead in our determination to be the new centre of gravity on the African continent for science funding and developing health strategies for the continent.
More information about the DELTAS Africa funding scheme which will be handed over to AESA colleagues later this year is available on the Wellcome Trust website.