OUR ANNUAL REPORTS
Message from the Chair of the Board
Can Africa’s problems be solved through mathematical science?
On a continent where many people still lack basic necessities like food, clean water and medicine it may seem like an outlandish proposal that maths and science should be a priority. However, in the long view of history, these fields have served as the foundation of modern society because they underlie every technology – from plumbing to planes, smartphones to satellites. In the same vein, nurturing its own technical experts, pioneers and innovators is exactly the catalyst that Africa needs, to take advantage of today’s opportunities and overcome its greatest challenges.
This is the motivation behind AIMS, a network of training centres across the continent created to empower brilliant young Africans to become agents of change through advanced maths and science.
AIMS is a pan-African initiative. There are five centres so far, in Sénégal, Cameroon, Ghana, Tanzania and South Africa, with plans to open another in Rwanda in 2016. We are so very proud of the AIMS team, under the leadership of Thierry Zomahoun and his colleagues at Secretariat, and of all the centre and international staff who have made AIMS’ rapid growth possible. The opportunities ahead are growing daily, as more and more people realise the tremendous benefits of building a network of AIMS centres, bringing the continent’s youth together and enabling them to become leading-edge scientists able to work together and solve relevant problems.
At every centre there is a highly motivated, pan-African student body. Their common interest in maths, science and the future of Africa, allows the students to transcend the cultural and other differences that have historically divided their peoples. Visiting an AIMS centre is always an amazing experience, to feel the enthusiasm, the hope and the commitment of the students, and to see how Africa’s diversity is a continual source of strength, ideas and energy.
As of July 2015, AIMS has 960 graduates, at Master’s level and above, 31% women from 42 African countries. We eagerly anticipate graduating our 1000th student in the coming year.
We are aiming high – as our slogan says: the next Einstein should be African. Our challenge is to ensure that the quality of our training, research and educational outreach programs, and all of our efforts to support those at every AIMS centre, are excellent and constantly improving. Only the best should be acceptable for AIMS, and for the future of Africa.
Our centres don’t just train brilliant young Africans in Africa. They also serve as a magnet attracting those who have studied abroad back to Africa, to work as scientific researchers. Our Research Chair Program is gaining momentum, with a number of Junior and Senior Chairs already in place and more planned.
Plans are also well underway for the hosting of the Next Einstein Forum in Sénégal in March 2016. Over 500 bright scientific minds and international leaders will gather for the inaugural event organised by AIMS. The three-day summit will highlight emerging scientific and technical talent, and fuel collaboration which puts this talent to work in the cause of human development.
The problems facing Africa are complex and there are no easy answers. But if AIMS continues to grow from strength to strength, and generates thousands of talented young scientists, its impact on Africa’s development will be huge. As we’ve learned many times in science, the hardest and most intractable problems are often the ones that eventually yield the most important – and the most wonderful – solutions.
Sincerely, Neil Turok
Message from the Chair of the Board
In 2003, the doors opened on a dream. Twenty-eight students, from ten African countries, walked across the threshold of a renovated old hotel in a suburb of Cape Town. The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, AIMS, was born.
There was nothing fancy about the institute, but its aspirations were sky high. To bring the brightest students from across Africa together with the best lecturers in the world, and let the sparks fly. Those first AIMS students, and the 700 who have followed, have entered a pact with the future: to use their minds and their hearts to build a better future for Africa.
AIMS provides a top quality training in mathematical science at Master’s level, preparing students for careers in research, teaching, industry, or public service.
Why mathematical science?
Because in every modern technical field, from health research to information and communications, from finance and banking to climate forecasting and natural resource management, mathematical skills have become the backbone of modern societies.
With the early success of AIMS’ first centre in South Africa, we knew we had more than a dream. We had proven a concept which could catalyze a transformation in Africa. The creation of a pan-African network of highly skilled people, committed to Africa’s advancement, would dramatically improve the continent’s prospects.
In 2008, we widened the dream and launched the Next Einstein Initiative. Again, it was a simple idea, which captured in a few words a passionate belief that a vast pool of talent – enough talent to allow Africa to assume its rightful place as a scientific and technological powerhouse – lies waiting to be discovered.
Others joined the dream. In 2010, the government of Canada provided visionary support of $20 million, allowing the AIMS Next Einstein Initiative to open new AIMS centres in Sénégal, Ghana and Cameroon. AIMS has become a pan-African network, spanning and drawing together a too-often divided continent.
The AIMS network has welcomed 741 students, from 42 of Africa’s 54 countries. More than a third of them have been women.
Talent has begun to blossom outward from AIMS: in this report you will find profiles of AIMS alumni who are professors and computer scientists, bankers and epidemiologists, business efficiency experts and energy developers. In them, you can glimpse the many ways AIMS is creating a new generation of African experts tackling Africa’s problems.
It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as AIMS’ founder. I am proud to see what AIMS is doing for the continent of my birth. But from my distant current perch, in Canada, I can also see that AIMS is about much more than Africa. It is about helping Africa become a beacon to the world. Africa has already given the world so much in music, art, and humanity. As a physicist, my dream is that the next Einstein will be African.
And why not? Science doesn’t have borders. Its language is mathematics – a shared language that reaches across cultures, genders, beliefs, and indeed across time. Science is the best means we have of creating a better future. Science is about the questions and hopes that humanity holds in common. Science is the best of us.
And AIMS lets the best of us shine.
Sincerely, Neil Turok
Message from the Chairman
Inspired by Our Students
In 2008, when we launched AIMS Next Einstein Initiative, it seemed a distant dream. It captured our core belief: that a vast untapped pool of scientiﬁc and technical talent lies waiting to be discovered in Africa.
With the early success of the ﬁrst AIMS centre in South Africa, we believed we had a proven a model for how to unlock this talent: by gathering together the brightest African graduates and bringing the best lecturers in the world to teach them, we could create a transformation in Africa’s prospects for science, technology, and development.
Creating a pan-African network of scientiﬁc centres of excellence is more easily said than done. In 2008, we were a long way from realizing this vision. What we did know was that it would require exceptional leadership, committed staﬀ, and an unequalled pioneering spirit.
One of our highest priorities was to recruit an Executive Director. That person needed to understand the African landscape well – both its positive and negative features. They needed formidable intelligence, foresight, energy, and managerial ability. They had to be able to interact with academics and scientists from all over the world, and above all, to inspire everybody they met to contribute to our common cause.
Thierry Zomahoun brought all these qualities to AIMS, and much more. He has been a dynamo driving the pan-African AIMS network ever since. Thierry and his team's achievements have been little short of remarkable. New centres have opened in short order: AIMS-Sénégal (2011), followed by AIMS-Ghana (2012) and AIMS-Cameroon which should open later in the year.
Thierry assembled a professional staﬀ, establishing eﬀective ﬁnancial systems, building relationships across the network, and laying the ground for this unique continent-wide institution. He and his team have raised AIMS’ proﬁle among African leaders and consolidated major funding commitments with the Canadian government, the UK government, and the Humboldt Foundation in Germany, among others. Just as signiﬁcant, they have secured funding agreements with every host country, making them true partners in carrying AIMS’ vision forward.
AIMS has many unique features, summarized in our motto, which is that we want Africa to be: RICH – relevant, innovative, cost-eﬀective, and high quality. Those have been the guiding principles of the original AIMS centre in Cape Town, as well as in the growth of the network.
Everything we do is inspired by our marvellous students. Most have overcome huge obstacles to pursue their education and their passion for science. They give everything to their studies and they go on to become examples of what young Africans can do. They are ambassadors; they are role models; they are the future.
We hope and believe that by creating the conditions in which large numbers of young African people can become scientists, technologists and, more generally, highly skilled people, the spinoﬀ from our search for the next Einstein may be just as signiﬁcant as the goal itself.
Sincerely, Professor Neil Turok