In his keynote speech at the launch of the Africa Resource Centre (ARC) Academic Forum Professor Richard Chivaka focused on two areas. Firstly, the importance of research in Africa’s economic development. Secondly, on how academics need to take centre stage in supporting healthcare solutions.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RESEARCH IN AFRICA’S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
Chivaka encouraged academics across the continent to reframe their approach to research. He suggested placing a greater emphasis on practical application and problem-solving for real-world healthcare challenges. African academics are highly accomplished, but there is a gap where their research often speaks more to the internal research community than to a broader range of decision makers. “We end up with outputs that focus on abstract problems,” he said. Thus, he cited examples such as Japan and China. In these examples, academics have been encouraged to pursue research and apply it to in-country advancements. Thus, Chivaka advocated for cultivating practical African solutions from African researchers.
He added that African research needs to shift from being predominantly theoretical to increasing its practical application. “The practical and theoretical can coexist. But the starting point can’t be that we are driven by academic interest (pursuing journals publication, etc.) rather than addressing real-world problems. This requires us to change our mentality.”
PROFESSIONALLY CURIOUS CHANGE AGENTS
Part of this includes developing a fresh understanding of who a researcher is. Chivaka describes them as professionally curious change agents. “How can we be change agents? By providing insights to support evidence-based decisions by private and public sector players, as well as development partners. Are we doing this? Not fully yet,” he added. “We need to elevate what we are doing to better support quality decisions.”
A helpful starting point will be to cultivate intimate knowledge of what issues society is grappling with. Chivaka believes that once decision makers see practical applicability coming from the academic sphere, government will seek out researchers’ work to find alternative solutions, and private sector excitement and interest will increase. This starting point will also help development partners better understand the pain points particular to the context in Africa. An understanding that is vital when they seek to contribute to addressing challenges on the continent.
He said that adjusting the intention for research needs to filter right down to the framing of research questions, which are currently too academic. In the proposals he receives, one of the recurrent challenges is not seeing solution-orientated framing of objectives and questions. “Even the language of our research needs to be easily readable and the framing of issues needs to speak to pain points.” When approached by potential PhD students, one of the first questions Chivaka asks them is: “Would we miss your research in society if it wasn’t done?”
ESTABLISHING AN ACADEMIC FORUM
ARC believes there is a strong rationale for a knowledge-sharing forum that is based in Africa. A forum which is responsive to and challenging of policymakers on the continent. Additionally, focused specifically on research in Africa. In line with this, and to further enhance public health supply chain research discourse in Africa, it established the ARC Academic Forum. The forum focuses on public health supply chain challenges. It will serve as a link to academic institutions for international actors, African governments, and vice versa. To find out more about the forum, download our credential here.
Professor Chivaka is an Associate Professor of Business Strategy & Supply Chain Management at the University of Cape Town, and a visiting Professor at Stanford University (USA).