I was absolutely delighted to welcome over 160 people from business, academia, higher education, and the broader civil society to our public launch in Mauritius. Below is my speech from the day.
“Honourable Minister(s) and our special guests, it is a pleasure to be here. I thank those of you, such as the African Academy of Sciences and UNESCO, who have travelled to be with us today. The launch of the Planet Earth Institute in Mauritius is, I hope, another positive step for Africa’s scientific agenda.
I will just say a few words before handing over to our CEO, Mauricio Fernandes, who will lead the operations in Mauritius as he has done so successfully in the UK for the last five years, before we hear from Her Excellency Madame President.
As you may know, the Planet Earth Institute is an international NGO committed to the vision of Africa’s scientific independence.
Scientific independence does not mean working alone. But it means Africa being scientifically strong enough to set its own agenda, and to develop its own solutions to the challenges we face.
Africa’s political independence has come. Our economic independence is coming. But scientifically, Africa produces just 1% of all global research, and is struggling to keep up with other regions in the Global South.
The statistics are stark. Fewer scientists than anywhere in the world and even those we have often seek employment elsewhere. We want to play our part in changing this – and fast. For its sustainable growth, Africa must become a place where our young people are supported to become world-leading scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs.
We must offer great education. We must surround them with the environment they need. And we must inspire them.
I was in South Korea just last month and anyone who has been there knows that the rest of the world is not waiting for Africa. In my view, this century can become Africa’s century. But we must act now and be ambitious with our plans.
Investing in higher education. Investing in PhD research. Investing in apprenticeships. Investing in schools and science education. Investing in laboratories and facilities. The tide is changing but we must move fast. The PEI may still be a young charity but I believe, with the Board you see in front of you today, that we can be influential and we can work with you all to support African science.
Finally, I must say one thing.
I began when I was younger as a mathematician. Numbers came naturally to me and I was lucky to have a great education. But now I am a businessman, and I have spent decades working across sectors from the top to the bottom of the continent.
And sadly, even in my businesses, we have often operated in completely apart from universities and scientific agendas. When businesses need skills, they need them today and they hire them – wherever they are and however much they cost.
But business as usual in Africa cannot continue. Our businesses need to be better linked to the development of our greatest asset – our young people. That is really where I want the PEI to add its voice. To build links and support partnerships between business and scientific education, in schools and in universities.
We all want to inspire a new generation of African scientists. But better still, let’s make them relevant and critical to our local economies too. Their research focused on our challenges. Their innovations solving our problems.
Then we can be scientifically independent. In my opinion, this is the only way we can become high income countries and a knowledge producing continent.
I will leave you with this thought before I hand over to my fellow Trustees.
The PEI is here to work with you all. Scientists, businesses, students, civil society. But let’s move fast, because Africa can not wait.