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Our Team


We have a small but growing dedicated team, who are determined to make a difference

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What we do

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Our team is headed by a Chief Executive Officer, who coordinates our work and relationships between our Board of Trustees, Committees, Faculty and Partners.  

We have people spread across the UK and Africa, who are working with our researchers and other stakeholders to achieve our mission. 

AREF’s staff team comprises professionals with well-defined roles and responsibilities who deliver the mission under the leadership of the Chief Executive Officer.

We also have other people supporting our work in various ways to ensure that we implement our mission in the most transparent and ethical way, including a Board led by Solomon Soquar and coPresidents Sir Professor Tumani Corrah and Professor Baron Peter Piot. Find out more in this page.    

Our Team

Board of Trustees

Programme Strategy Committee

President & Co-President

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Professor Sir Tumani Corrah

President & Interim CEO

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Professor Corrah is the Founder of AREF and the first Emeritus Director of the UK Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. For over 30 years Professor Corrah, who is Gambian, has pursued three passions: improving outcomes of inpatient care in challenging environments, research into diseases that impact the developing world disproportionately, and building human capacity in health research in West, Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. Professor Corrah is an Honorary Fellow of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and is a member of over twenty scientific board and committee groups worldwide.

Professor Baron Peter Piot


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Professor Peter Piot is Co-President of AREF. He is a microbiologist known for his crucial research into Ebola and AIDS. He is former Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and has held key positions at the World Health Organisation and United Nations. Pro Piot was the 2023 winner of the WHO Director-General’s Global Health Leaders Award, presented to him at the 76 World Health Assembly opening ceremony in Geneva in May 2023. His work in Africa includes co-discovering the Ebola virus in Zaire in 1976 while working at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp (Belgium), and leading research on HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and women’s health in Africa. 


Dr Dawn Duke

Head of Researcher Development

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Dr Dawn Duke is Head of Programmes for African Research Excellence Fund (AREF). She oversees AREF’s professional development programmes for postdoctoral researchers in Africa, supporting researchers’ transition to independence. Before joining AREF, she was Head of Researcher Development and Engagement at the University of Surrey, supporting doctoral and early career researchers throughout their career journeys and providing supervisor training. Dawn received her Neuroscience PhD from Imperial College. In 2008, she moved from researching and teaching neuroscience to concentrate fully on supporting the professional development of researchers.  She has a wide range of experience in designing, delivering and strategically leading professional/career development programmes for early career researchers, as well as research supervisors in the UK, Europe and Africa. Dawn is dedicated to supporting the next generation of researcher leaders to take on the challenge of utilising their amazing talent to address the complex problems facing our world today and in the future. She’s on LinkedIn as @Dawn Duke.

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Dr Catherine Kansime

Research Development Manager

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Dr. Catherine Kansiime joined AREF in April 2023 as a Researcher Development Manager. She is responsible for the delivery of the portfolio of Academy programmes that includes providing training, developing and delivering professional development for African post-doctoral researchers and early career researchers (ECRs). Catherine holds a BA Social Sciences, MSc Epidemiology and Biostatics and a PhD in Public Health from Makerere University in Uganda. She has 10 years of experience leading research teams and projects. Before joining AREF, she was a Trial Manager leading 60 researchers on Menstrual health interventions, schooling and mental health symptoms among Ugandan students (MENISCUS). A school-based cluster-randomised trial in 60 schools at the MRC -Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit. Catherine is passionate about professional development, leadership and capacity strengthening of researchers. Her other interests are in adolescent health especially Sexual Reproductive Health and women empowerment.

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Alberta Davis

Programme Officer

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As programme officer, Alberta is responsible for managing the day-to-day administration of AREF Fellowships.

She has a degree in biomedical science from the University of Westminster and is a final year PhD candidate at The Open University. Her project is researching genetic signatures of disease progression in HIV.

Alberta has worked at the Medical Research Council Unit The Gambia over the last 15 years in the areas of STDs, meningitis, TB, and HIV.

Development, Finance & Operations

Carla Rivero

Head of Fundraising

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Carla started working for AREF in January 2023 as Head of Fundraising and is responsible for leading and managing AREF’s fundraising strategy and activities. If you want to add value to our work through institutional donor or individual giving, Carla can help you on how you can make this impact. Carla is an experienced international development professional with an MA in International Relations from the University of Warwick. She has extensive experience in trusts and foundations, institutional fundraising, corporate fundraising and major donor fundraising and has worked with budgets of £3 million+. In addition, she has a strong background in forging impactful and meaningful strategic multi-stakeholder relationships and consortiums with other NGO’s, academics and further tactical collaborations to enhance impact. Prior to joining AREF, Carla worked at AfriKids as Head of Grants and Programme Funding and prior to this she worked on projects specifically focused on Africa in INGOs such as Transform Trade (previously known as Traidcraft Exchange), Youth Business International and Room to Read, where she worked closely with in country teams to devise and write large funding proposals. As part of her roles, she has travelled to both East and West Africa to work with colleagues and key local stakeholders to brainstorm and devise all aspects of funding bids and proposals.

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Dr Lamin O Ceesay

Head of Governance & Operations

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Dr Ceesay is responsible for the operations and governance of AREF UK and Africa. He manages and delivers programs, cross-functional operations, and governance policies, systems, and processes for AREF and the CEO including providing governance support to both charities’ Boards of Trustees and committees. He works closely with the CEO to ensure proactive, effective, and efficient management of information, networks, and other resources. Lamin previously worked for the Government of the Gambia, SOS Children’s Villages International, The Gambia, West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP The Gambia), and ChildFund International, The Gambia. Lamin is an educator and a researcher with expertise in institutional development and sustainability. He is a specialist in development and humanitarian policy research and a consultant with an excellent understanding and experience conducting baseline studies and the diverse types of program evaluation including process, impact, outcome, and summative evaluation. Lamin’s hobby is community mobilization for development and humanitarian work, partnership building, and business development.

Maria Bellocci

Chief Operating Officer (interim)

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Maria Bellocci is responsible for managing all major organisational changes and driving effectiveness. She also ensures efficiency of all operational functions, ongoing procedures and processes, and makes improvements as appropriate. Maria is supported by our team in Gambia to manage the overall responsibility for operations, governance and finance, including cost modelling of programmes, budget setting and oversight  strategy implementation. Her passion and focus is on operational efficiency and effectiveness. Maria commenced her career within the private sector by setting up and leading a 24/7 multi lingual call-centre, then running various healthcare projects for the NHS and various private healthcare providers and in the not for profit sector for the past 17 years.

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Irene Coker

Data & Governance Manager

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Irene previously served as AREF’s Training Events Manager, Programmes and Office Manager before assuming her current role. She plays a crucial role in managing and providing governance support to the Africa Research Excellence Fund UK and Africa registered charities’, Board of Trustees and our committees and works with colleagues to ensure good data and governance practices are embedded across the organisation. 

Irene holds an MSc in Marketing and previously worked at QCell, one of The Gambia’s largest telecommunications companies. She now focuses her skills on building AREF’s alumni community and supporting researchers to foster collaborations, to ultimately advance their careers and increase their individual and collective contributions to African health research. 

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Edrisa Peter Sambou

Senior Fianance Manager

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Edrisa recently joined AREF in December 2022 to help us provide financial management and day-to-day operational control of our finances. He is a qualified chartered accountant and has experience working with Trust Bank Gambia Limited, then moved on to the public sector to work with parastatals in various capacities before joining us.

In his spare time he learns new skills and enjoys watching tv. 

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Lamin Sanneh

Academy Events Training Officer

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Lamin has been a key member of the AREF team since 2016. His role as Academy Training Events Officer helps to manage and administer AREF Programmes and events, including Excell Researcher and Leadership Development, Towards Leadership and Mentoring.

He is a graduate from the University of The Gambia with a BSc in Management. His previous employment roles include human resources management and administration in the public sector, being skilled in event and project management, research governance, grant management, and monitoring and evaluation.