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Towards Leadership Programme

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Information for researchers

The aim of the AREF Towards Leadership programme is to empower talented, emerging scientists in Africa to compete successfully for major funding opportunities in global health research.  

This programme is directed at winning grant funding by empowering effective teams, collaborating internationally, influencing key stakeholders and building rewarding researcher careers.  

We host research leaders at two residential workshops and at a virtual workshop that take place over the course of 12 months.  

We launched the first cohort in 2019, commissioned through the UK Global Challenges Research Fund. Our latest completed cohort, which comprised 20 researchers, was supported by the Medical Research Council.  

Applications open in February/March with a programme start date in October/November. 

Programme outline 

The Programme comprises the following elements: 

  • Three inspiring and practical blended workshops at six-monthly intervals 
  • Supplementary webinars, tutorials and on-line resources 
  • Baseline and end-of-programme assessments and evaluation 
  • Collaboration between participating individuals 

Key events 

The timetable for Towards Leadership is usually as follows: 

  • The opening workshop take place in the last quarter of the year, usually in November held in-person.  
  • Workshop 2 is held virtually and is usually in the first quarter of the year between February – March. 
  • The closing workshop usually takes place in October and held in person. 


Programme themes  

The Researcher as Leader 

Focusing on learning and leading in a complex world; raising self-awareness and mindfulness while building coaching, influencing and leadership capabilities. 

The Effective Researcher 

Developing the ability to envision, plan and action career goals and a development trajectory through personal development planning, time management and mentorship. 

The Researcher as Communicator 

Augmenting leadership, authorship and authority skills through the use of effective presentations, storytelling and messaging, while refining engagement with research users. 

The Compelling Applicant 

Understanding funders; proposal development and writing skills (including formulating a research question, justifying the proposal design and strategy, developing concept notes and full proposals); data sharing; understanding peer review; Fellowship interviews. 

The Researcher as Manager 

Building a great team; effective collaboration; implementation planning; working with Research Support and Finance departments; managing a budget; managing intellectual property. 


  • You are a citizen of a country in  Africa. 
  • You are currently employed in Africa by a recognised university and/or specialist research institution. 
  • You are an early career researcher, having completed your research education and are now at the early stages of leading your own research group. 
  • You will hold a research doctorate (PhD/DPhil/MD) from a recognised academic institution OR you have a medical/clinical qualification plus a research-relevant Master’s degree, both usually within the last 10 years. If it has been longer than 10 years since your last degree, please explain in your application why you should still be considered an early career researcher (ie caring responsibilities or career break/change impacting your research career). 
  • You are currently responsible for managing or supervising one or more research students and/or research staff members and are involved in building research collaborations. 
  • You demonstrate evidence of being at the early stages of leading a research team or being an active member of a research team conducting Global Health research. 
  • A significant part of your current employee role is to develop and conduct health research. 
  • You already have experience in obtaining research funding (combined value of £500,000 or less). 


To be accepted to the Programme, you will need to demonstrate the potential to benefit yourself and your home institution. Therefore, in the application form you will need to provide a persuasive personal statement demonstrating: 

  • Your current/most recent research programme and the potential for it to make an impact on health 
  • A compelling career vision and how you plan to achieve it 
  • Your potential as an emerging research leader to build a successful research group, influence your discipline and engage with impact or innovation outside of academia. 
  • How you and your institution will benefit from participating in the AREF Towards Leadership 

Nominations must be accompanied by a supporting letter from an authorised senior representative of your employing institution, such as the director. They should 

  • confirm your eligibility. 
  • confirm they authorise you to participate in all three workshops – that you will not be withdrawn to fulfil teaching, administration or other obligations 
  • Describe how they personally and the institution will recognise the benefits that participating in the programme brings – and how those benefits will be integrated into and sustained within the organisation. 

Nominees must be fully committed to participating in all three workshops of the Programme; partial attendance is NOT an option. 


AREF aims to ensure the selection of a balanced cohort of participants across cultural, ethnic, sub-regional, national, religious and language demographic to ensure representation. 


Meet our first cohort of Towards Leadership fellows and learn about their achievements.