Dr Álvaro Sobrinho and African-Led Development
Dr Álvaro Sobrinho is an interesting man, with an involvement in a number of interesting projects. But it is his work as Chairman and co-founder of the Planet Earth Institute (PEI) that currently attracts the most attention.
His work should be seen in the wider context of Pan-African development economics and the efforts of various organisations to ensure the Africa has the infrastructure, labour skill-set, investment and educational training necessary to generate the high economic growth enjoyed in recent decades by the likes of Asia and South America. Crucially, this growth needs to happen in an equitable manner, so that the proceeds can used to give all Africans a higher quality of life.
Alvaro Sobrinho argues that one of the keys to achieving this is to achieve what he calls ‘scientific independence for Africa’. This does not mean that African scientists, Government officials and NGOs should not collaborate with organisations outside of Africa, simply that with the right knowledge in place, African nations can take control of their own development and management of resources. For Sobrinho, this is “the only road that leads to… a prosperous future” for Africa.
Alvaro Sobrinho wants to create the conditions so that Africans do not need to depend on outside forces for scientific knowledge: “we are too often consumers, not producers of scientific innovation”, pointing out that 14% of the world’s population live in Africa, but only 1% of the world’s scientists. This is of course partly a problem of limited tertiary education (Sobrinho also works with the Africa Business Champions for Science group, which aims to set up 10,000 PhD scholarships over the next ten years), but is also to do with African scientists training domestically but then moving abroad to continue their work and research projects.
Such ‘brain drains’ are familiar problems in development economics, but Sobrinho believes the challenge can be met. Primarily, the answer lies in making Africa attractive for academics financially – and Sobrinho sees a big role for private business in providing this funding. This should be seen as an investment in the future of African labour and infrastructure, rather than an act of charity. It is a partnership that will benefit all parties.
Finally, Alvaro Sobrinho points out that academics need to have confidence in their position in society and argues that, culturally, Africa does sufficiently celebrate scientific achievements: “neglect of science separates our continent from the rest of the world”. This requires a cultural shift, but as part of it, Sobrinho’s PEI runs projects like the#scienceafrica campaign, which aims to promote Africa’s science heroes.