Inspire in Africa

Julia Bello-Bravo, Assistant Director, Center for African Studies; Co-Director, SAWBO


A workshop titled, “Inspire in Africa,” was organized by International Program and Studies and the Center for African Studies and took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign on September 9, 2014. The workshop was held in collaboration with the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Sweden and brought together researchers from different departments at KTH: Biotechnology, Urban Planning, Chemical Engineering, Life Sciences, and Electrical Engineering, with their U of I counterparts. The welcome remarks were given by Dr. Merle Bowen, (Director, Center for African Studies), UI, who highlighted the importance of these collaborations for higher institutions. Dr. Stefan Ostlund, Dean of Electrical Engineering, KTH, emphasized how “Inspire in Africa” could bring about multi-institutional collaboration creating new opportunities in core areas for universities: research, teaching, and outreach.

Five main themes of the workshop were Agriculture, Global Health, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Power/Energy, and Water. This first “Inspire in Africa” workshop initiated preliminary discussions among participants so that they could start to collaborate on new common research in key African countries, not limited to but including those places where UI and KTH already have strong presence, like Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Uganda .
Participants shared with their counterparts a significant diversity of research experiences. For instance, Dr. Gunaratna Kuttuva Rajarao, KTH, explained in her presentation titled, “Application of Water and Wastewater Treatment,” her research on how to use local plants to clean and filter water. Her bottom-up approach to treat water values local resources and is appropriate and sustainable for users in less developed countries. Other innovative research solutions were discussed in the aforementioned workshop: the director of Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO), Dr. Pittendrigh (UI), proposed the use of animated videos that could be loaded onto mobile phones and train people in local languages about different agricultural and health techniques which would improve people’s daily lives. Global Health, another theme area in the workshop, presented a unique opportunity to ensure the wellbeing of people with little access to health care by supporting UI programs that implement sustainable technologies. These programs address the major global health challenges in less developed countries.

Overall, the “Inspire in Africa” workshop created the framework that in the future will foster multiple layers of interdisciplinary collaboration among institutions of higher education in Europe, the U.S, and Africa. This collaborative effort will enhance institutional research profiles and increase funding opportunities to promote innovations in Africa. Furthermore, it provided the opportunity to UI and KTH faculty to expand their mutual networks so that they can strengthen engagement in African countries