Funding story: Leverhulme Royal Society Africa Awards

The Leverhulme Trust and the Royal Society are funding crucial research that can have positive effects in Africa.

A lot of development work is done on a small scale at village level, which means that a lot of highly sophisticated academic work carried out in Africa is being overlooked. The Leverhulme Trust and the Royal Society - both research bodies with charitable status - are funding collaborations between scientists in Ghana, Tanzania and the UK.

The Leverhulme Royal Society Africa Awards - which will provide up to £150,000 over three years for 18 research projects - grew out of the Gleneagles G8 conference in 2005, when governments and leading scientific academies pledged to extend capacity building in Africa.

When Government funding finished, the Leverhulme Trust stepped in. Set up in 1930 by Viscount Leverhulme of Sunlight Soap, the trust has always had connections with Africa - palm oil is used in making soap. "Trustees are conscious that the resources the trust calls upon have this historical link with Africa, and were concerned that benefit should be passed back into the full range of communities with which the trust had a connection," explains Professor Sir Richard Brook, director of the trust.

The scheme itself has been driven by African scientists. "The five research priority subjects - agriculture, water, sanitation, basic human health, and biodiversity and energy - have been selected by African colleagues as areas where science can have the most impact on the lives of Africans," says Professor Lorna Casselton, foreign secretary of the society. "We can support only that science that is appropriate to Africa. This also means working in a way that is appropriate to the African context and offering ways to circumvent logistical problems.

"So many biologists are used to very high-powered computers and molecular biology equipment that needs good maintenance. That equipment and the biochemicals aren't made in Africa, so we need to find ways around that."

Brook says: "This programme must support and strengthen indigenous research strength." It is perhaps a different angle on development, but it is equally rooted in strengthening the capacity of people from poorer countries to find and implement their own solutions to that poverty.

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