The ERAFRICA project most recently drew together its stakeholders at an event in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Here the project consortium and other potential funders set about clarifying and refining the administrative processes and related details to govern the call, the evaluation of received project proposals and the selection of viable submissions for funding.
From its pivotal meeting in Lisbon in November 2011, where the themes to be funded as part of an eventual ERAFRICA call for proposals were selected, and passing by another conference in Alexandria in January 2012, where initial funding interest and the financial scope of the call were defined, the ERAFRICA project most recently drew together its stakeholders at an event in Stellenbosch, South Africa. Here the project consortium and other potential funders set about clarifying and refining the administrative processes and related details to govern the call, the evaluation of received project proposals and the selection of viable submissions for funding. In short, it was a technical meeting.
Stretching over three days, from 28 to 30 March the event, for all its later complexity, nevertheless began, as most ERAFRICA meetings, with a general introduction to the project, specifically designed for the small number of invited newcomers, interested parties granted participation based on prospects of potential future interest or for bringing the insights of specific expertise to the discussions. Following this, the narrative shifted quickly to more specialised aspects related to the actual funding of research, the main objective of the ERAFRICA project and a process set to start in early 2013. Passing from debates around the nature and composition of the administrative organ designated to manage the funding to discussions on proposal submission systems, evaluation mechanisms and ultimate project selection, the entire spectrum of research grant-making was subjected to intense scrutiny and adaptation to the ERAFRICA context, with the sometimes difficult and often heated interactions paying off in the end with the definition of a clear format going forward.
Of course, for all the intensity of the work done, as always everyone enjoyed the counterweight of after-hours socialising during communal dinners organised by joint hosts the South African Department of Science and Technology and the French Institute for Research for Development. These outings allowed participants not only to see some of the sights in and around Stellenbosch and nearby Cape Town, but also to continue their discussions in a more informal way, with points raised over meals often allowing for deeper and more meaningful exchanges around the conference table the next day. Thus there was almost no time not devoted to some extent to ERAFRICA, testament to the devotion of all parties to the project and its success.
Looking back on the three days, this was not a meeting of spectacular announcements or critical decisions, yet one of those background encounters making the former possible, a setting of the stage and laying of the foundations for the next big steps in the project’s lifecycle. Having now put the administrative framework for project funding in place, the next phase is to submit to equal scrutiny the themes selected for funding (renewable energy, interfaces between global challenges, idea-driven research), both defining and refining these to the point where a proper call document and terms of reference for each can be assembled, ready for publication. This phase will be the work of the next few months, to be pursued virtually and then brought to culmination at the next project meeting to take place mid-June in Helsinki, Finland. At that meeting too it is expected that at least a few new partners will announce their participation in ERAFRICA, while existing partners will no doubt be able to give a much clearer idea of the scope of their own contributions. In this regard, obtaining a minimum of 10 million euros for project funding remains a target while, in terms of participation, a major mobilisation effort between now and then aims at drawing much more interest from both continents. Thus, in ERAFRICA the present is still prologue, with the best very much still to come.