Max Planck Humboldt Programme in Africa

Support for research locations in African countries

The Max Planck Society and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation have outlined their plans to establish three Max Planck-Humboldt Research Units in Africa. There will be a call for three research group leader positions at African research institutions, which will be funded by the Max Planck Society with an annual budget of 150,000 euros per year for a period of five years. The research groups will engage in scientific collaboration with a Max Planck Institute of their choice and jointly contribute to the training of young researchers. Additionally, as part of the sponsorship, a postdoctoral researcher will be granted a Humboldt Research Fellowship of up to two years at the collaborating Max Planck Institute.

While the Max Planck Society has already been actively involved in research projects in Africa for a considerable period, often in collaboration with African partners, the key focus of these endeavours has primarily been the unique conditions and circumstances prevalent in Africa. Remote deserts, for example, offer optimal settings for astronomical observatories, special animal populations can provide unique data for studies in evolutionary and behavioural biology, and different cultural communities have been the focus of ethnological or psycholinguistic studies. However, during the program's opening in Berlin, Martin Stratmann acknowledged:

"So far, we have not yet nurtured the scientific talents within Africa itself enough in order to create opportunities for their development, and enable them to play leading roles in the world of science." The Max Planck Society currently has only one African-born Max Planck Director among its ranks.

Young scientists in Africa often lack the necessary framework to fully realize their potential and gain recognition within the scientific community. In collaboration with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH), the Max Planck Society is dedicated to ensuring that more institutes and research sites in Africa have the necessary resources to enhance their scientific capabilities and become attractive locations for exceptional researchers from around the globe.  Stratmann emphasizes, "This will only succeed through active engagement, by providing extensive support to research groups on the ground, fostering their development, and granting them access to the facilities and networks of the Max Planck Society and AvH."

"Our objective is to foster collaboration as a balanced partnership of equals, merging the understanding of conditions in African countries and the innovative ideas of African researchers with the concepts and technical expertise of Max Planck Institutes. This synergy will enable the development of African solutions to address the distinct challenges faced by the continent," states Robert Schlögl, President of the AvH. "The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has already had very positive experiences through this type of equitable collaboration. There is substantial untapped potential in African research. What attracts us to science are the people behind it. In other words, we don't just fund a research topic, but we support young talents who bring their unique approaches and ideas to the table," explains Stratmann, outlining the core principles of the model employed by the Max Planck Society across various international settings. The ultimate objective is to generate a sustainable impact: exceptional researchers who gain visibility, in turn attract other exceptional young talents. This creates positive feedback loops, resulting in the establishment of centres for scientific excellence in Africa.

Thumbi Ndung'u's experience serves as a testament to this approach. In 2012, Ndung'u, serving as the Director of Basic and Translational Science at the Africa Health Research Institute, led one of the two research groups established by the Max Planck Society in Africa. He says, "The Max Planck Society's worldwide renown helped me establish an international profile. It provided me with a platform to secure additional funding and attract talented students."

"Currently, we can only finance a few research groups in Africa using our own resources. However, we are hopeful that the success of the program will attract additional financial support from the federal government, enabling us to expand our funding to a greater number of groups. Such support would be immensely valued," explain the two Presidents. "By prioritizing capacity building and providing training to the next generation of African researchers, our aim is to contribute to the establishment of stable research landscapes in African countries. This, in turn, will foster long-term development and prosperity on the continent."

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