Lisbon was the setting for the second ERAFRICA project technical committee meeting in November 2011, this one of vital importance as it constituted the decided-upon occasion for the elaboration of a joint framework within which to set the research and development activities eventually to be funded under the ERAFRICA umbrella
Lisbon was the setting for the second ERAFRICA project technical committee meeting in November 2011, this one of vital importance as it constituted the decided-upon occasion for the elaboration of a joint framework within which to set the research and development activities eventually to be funded under the ERAFRICA umbrella, as well as a common consortium strategy for presenting this framework to potential funders at an all-important meeting of programme owners to be held in Alexandria in January 2012. To this end, all consortium members were represented in one way or another, the Portuguese capital inviting in its beauty and pleasant warmth even on the cusp of the European winter, and the conference room of the luxurious Plaza Hotel offering the most comfortable of venues for the intense discussions required in order to reach a consensus on the way forward.
And there can be no doubt as to the intensity of those discussions. Early on the group departed from the meeting agenda to confront their differences in a frank and sometimes vivacious exchange of ideas and opinions, each participant representing not only him- and herself but also institutional and national interests to be taken into account in every decision made. As a result, serious consideration of all points of view was required, as well as flexibility and a good dose of goodwill. Fortunately the latter has always been a staple of ERAFRICA and its consortium partners, and as a result even the most considerable of differences could be discussed and settled in an atmosphere of friendship and good humour, easily maintained for the two days of the event’s duration. At the end of this period, the group emerged from its extended conversation with three themes for funding activities identified, as well as three funding instruments to be applied to all the themes equally. Armed with this matrix, the consortium is now ready to face programme owners and potential investors alike in Egypt, providing a concrete game plan for the funding of collaborative research activities to follow.
As far as the themes are concerned, the three ultimately decided upon are renewable energy, the interface between agriculture, energy, health, water and ICT, as well as an open field allowing for the submission of new ideas in all disciplines. The first was selected for being an African priority, and confirmed as such at the ERAFRICA African consultation session held earlier in the year in Mombasa, while the second is based on a recommendation made by the ERAFRICA Scientific Advisory Council, its eminent international experts extolling the virtue of a multidisciplinary approach to joint research. The third theme derives from a desire to allow entry by project ideas unable to find a place within traditional, theme-driven funding schemes, and to draw on the creativity and innovative capacity of both Africa and Europe. This concern for innovation is also reflected in the choice of funding instruments, which boasts a category that focuses exclusively on projects in the patent-to-production stage of their development, alongside a more traditional collaborative research category for basic science and an institutional capacity building scheme. Together the three themes and three instruments cast a wide enough net to allow participation by entities from all sectors and all disciplines, yet create a playing field that is sufficiently well-defined to distinguish ERAFRICA activities from those promoted by other projects in its field. Practical enough to be relevant, yet unusual enough to be unique – this is ERAFRICA.
Of course, the Lisbon meeting was not all work and no play, and at night the consortium members also had the opportunity to enjoy the local sites and cuisine, the itinerary expertly planned and managed by the Portuguese partner, FCT. And what would a visit to Portugal be without the opportunity to enjoy some fado music, especially on the eve of the art’s possible recognition as a UNESCO world heritage? Rest assured that this obligation was not neglected, to the enjoyment of the whole consortium, a worthy compensation for their good work done and an important outcome achieved.