Learned Societies Meet in London to Discuss Capacity Building

Representatives of UK Learned Societies, including the BES, came together in London today for a Discussion Meeting on ‘International Capacity Building’. Many Learned Societies began life as ‘dining clubs’, or informal networks of researchers, and have grown over the past century into strong networks. The experience which Learned Societies have in network formation and delivering activities for the benefit of members of the network mean that such organisations are fantastically placed to assist researchers in developing countries – those wishing to form their own network or to tap into the resources offered by the wider research community.

Participants heard a number of presentations from Learned Societies actively engaged in innovative projects, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. COSPAR, the Committee for Space Research, runs a workshop, taking place in a different developing country each year, bringing students of space science together with lecturers to build skills based around a project of national interest. Funding is provided by the host Government or partner organisations. The scheme has been expanded to offer competitive Fellowships to those who have taken part in the workshop, offering participants the opportunity to spend a month in a lecturer’s lab.

A different, and no less innovative, model was provided by the London Mathematical Society, which offers a mentoring scheme to members in developing countries: ‘Mentoring African Research in Mathematics’. UK mathematicians are offered the chance to provide advice and guidance to young mathematicians in African countries, embedding themselves in a lab for two weeks. Offering advice on everything from how to submit a research paper successfully, how and where to apply for funding or simply raising the profile of the lab group in the university, the mentor allows researchers in developing countries to feel part of the international mathematics community, removing a sense of isolation which can militate against remaining in a career in science and technology.

The Royal Society provided a fantastic model of how to engage directly with researchers in developing countries, making sure that the programme delivered really does meet national need. In developing the recently launched ‘Leverhulme Trust – Royal Society Africa Awards’ and grants to facilitate collaborations, a number of workshops were held in Ghana, Tanzania and the UK, bringing researchers together with policy-makers to scope funding priorities.

Overall, the day provided a fantastic opportunity to share experience across the Learned Societies. It is clear that Learned Societies are active in this area, in different ways, and that by co-ordinating our activities, we can strengthen the efforts which are already being made.

Find out more about how the BES supports researchers in developing countries by viewing our Grants and Awards.