What we do
Our impact is truly Africa-wide. For eight years now, we have impacted the career paths of over 500 researchers in over 40 African countries, overcoming language barriers and crossing West-East and North-South divides. We have supported researchers across a range of disciplines – from discovery scientists to clinicians, in the African bush, at the lab bench and in clinics and hospitals.
Our researchers develop timely and relevant solutions that impact lives such as supporting the mental health of older adults in Nigeria, exploring genetic differences in how people respond to treatment for tuberculosis, leveraging on technology to identify new antibiotic resistant compounds in plants, to strengthening research on women’s health and developing cell markers for cancer therapies effective in African populations and tackling vector borne diseases by using microbial ecology to reduce resistance to insecticides on malaria vector populations.
Through our targeted programmes, we have nurtured African scientists at the most important stages in their career, helping them to win international funding for their own research.
By ensuring their talent is retained within health research and within the continent, we are helping to develop the people, projects, environment and infrastructure that will maximise the impact of all future research investment in Africa.
We are proud of the impact our funded researchers are having on African health and society. To find out more about their achievements, see our Impact Report.
Our Impact in numbers
In our first five years of operation, we provided potentially life-changing opportunities to over 300 researchers from 34 countries across Africa, setting them on the path to leading their own research teams within the continent. Since then, we have made tremendous progress:
83 African researchers benefited from AREF Research Development Fellowships, with placements at 17 research centres of excellence in Africa and Europe
Of the first 20 researchers to complete Fellowships, almost half went on to secure research funding amounting to £2 million
141 researchers from across sub-Saharan Africa benefited from AREF’s grant-writing workshops
20 Fellows benefitted from the 18-month AREF Excell Researcher and Leadership Development Programme
6 African research institutions strengthened their own research capacity through the Excell programme
10 researchers benefited from AREF’s Towards Leadership Programme, commissioned by three Global Challenge Research Fund networks
5 AREF Fellows
5 AREF Fellows were awarded scholarships to undertake professional training, organised by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
21 AREF Award and Academy alumni have gone on to win funding, amounting to £5 million, from prestigious research funders across the world
Our impact on African Researchers
AREF Research Development Fellowships
Our flagship programme, the AREF Research Development Fellowships, has supported 83 health researchers. Our fellowships deepen the skills and accelerate the careers of our African researchers by giving them access to international standards of research, providing state-of-the-art techniques to drive their studies forward, and offering a large network of collaborators seeking to address similar questions with their research.
My placement in Madrid gave me access to vast statistical resources, including databases relevant to my research, as well as a wealth of research literature to draw from. I had no access to these things in Nigeria. AREF set me on the path to impact by helping me develop the skills and networks required to deliver my research ambitions
The whole experience has given me a very good look into this complex research landscape. Most importantly, I’ve established strong research links which will help me improve the quality of nutrition science in Ethiopia and back home in Kenya in the years to come.
All of the research ideas I’m pursuing now emerged from the work I originally did during the AREF Fellowship, so I’m incredibly grateful for the charity’s support. AREF set me on the path to independence as a funded researcher by providing the time and space needed to cultivate my research ideas in the first place and allowing me to develop these ideas alongside leading scientists at the University of Cape Town.
AREF Grant Writing Workshops
For every research scientist, winning competitive grants, fellowships and awards is vital, yet many African health researchers lack the confidence, skills, knowledge and support required to win funding from international funders. AREF’s Grant Writing Workshops are designed to meet this need.
Since 2015, health researchers from across Africa have benefited from our grant-writing workshops, facilitated by world-class research experts with the experience and expertise necessary to cultivate these research leaders.
AREF’s workshops are unique as they bring together the expertise of facilitators who have a history of winning grants with people involved in peer review of research proposals. The facilitators not only show what it takes to write a winning grant, but they also provide a glimpse into the peer-reviewers’ room, revealing what it is specifically that they are looking for.
It is not easy to secure research funding, especially as it’s not always clear what funders are looking for, or how to interpret their criteria. AREF’s workshop helped me to decipher exactly what funders want from an application. Using my research proposal at the time, I was able to get direct feedback from the facilitators, which I used to improve my application.
The most valuable thing I took away was the importance of defining a gap in the knowledge base, thinking carefully about what research questions I wanted to answer, coming up with the design and methods that answered those questions, and then articulating the public health impact of addressing that gap in knowledge.
AREF Excell Research and Leadership Development
With generous support from the Robert Bosch Foundation, we launched the AREF Excell Research and Leadership Development programme. This two-year programme delivered five workshops, transforming the research leadership capabilities of six partner institutions in Africa.
The University of Benin’s Centre in Reproductive Health Innovation in Nigeria was one of the institutions that took part in the Excell programme. The centre was initially built on masters and PhD programmes, and with AREF’s support it has been able to develop a postdoctoral offering. There is now a stronger culture of research excellence, and this is built into the Centre’s programmes.
We now see a better mentor-mentee relationship, meaning people come and ask how they can advance their career. Most of the nominated researchers have been able to attract more grants, and if you get more grants, you can do better research and better serve your communities
“AREF has definitely had a very big impact on me and my colleagues. You can see the results from how many grants we’ve been awarded in the past year alone.”
The AREF Excell programme provides vital opportunities for early career academics to learn, develop and step up towards new leadership approaches in research.
AREF Towards Leadership Programme
In 2019, AREF launched the Towards Leadership programme in partnership with three research networks funded through the UK Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). Towards Leadership is directed at winning grant funding, empowering effective teams, collaborating internationally, influencing key stakeholders and building rewarding research careers. The programme has delivered three residential workshops and complementary online learning for post-doctoral researchers from seven institutions across Africa.
The Towards Leadership programme challenged me to crystalise technical research proposals into a focused, well-balanced message that appeals to a range of audiences. I regularly apply the skills I learned and this significantly improved my ability to make impactful presentations.
The Towards Leadership workshop was timely as it gave me an opportunity to bridge the gap between my clinical background and my research interest, equipping me with tools that have set me on the path to research leadership.
Like AREF, we think that good science should and must be carried out in Africa by Africans. Scientists based in Africa know their contexts and challenges and are best placed to help solve them.