The Future Africa Hub of the University of Pretoria recently hosted the second Future Africa Research Leadership Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) Workshop. The 24 research fellows from across Africa who attended responded overwhelmingly positively to the event.

“It was always part of the fellowship program that we should spend time together in person. Having them here was partly to reinforce the network and give them new ideas about how we would handle the second half of the fellowship – we are now halfway through.” Programme Director Professor Stephanie Burton said most contact with the fellows during the program was online because they are based at home institutions.

“At this workshop, we decided to focus on looking forward, and we had discussions and interactions with the fellows about their careers after the fellowship, how they would ensure that they retained as much value as possible as they go into their second year and the time after. The workshop gave them many connections with each other and linkages through shared networks. They have been very constructive about how they would take forward their connections with each other and are looking for ways to collaborate. The fellows have had the chance to build strong relationships and networks.”

There was a very collegial atmosphere during the whole workshop. Fellows fed back that the workshop presented an excellent opportunity for learning from each other as much as from the formal training sessions. The fellows were allowed to present their research progress, highlights, and challenges to their peers. Various lectures and workshops were presented, and a meeting with mentors was arranged. Sessions on writing grant applications and policy briefs were exceptionally well received.

“A highlight for the fellows was the session about grant applications. One of the conditions for a successful academic career is supporting the research you want to do, which means you must be able to explain and articulate what it is and its value. You must do that in a way that makes others understand that it is useful and relevant, and you have to do it in a way that will persuade organisations to fund it. After the fellowship, they will have to support their research in one way or another. The session gave them a lot to think about. Finding research money is a critical part of an academic life.”

The FAR-LeaF research program is mainly self-driven. The fellows are highly motivated people. “In their feedback sessions, they were reporting on good progress. We see that from their reports as well. There have been delays and setbacks due to uncontrollable factors, but they are all motivated to complete their research in time. In general, I am impressed that they have taken in and taken on board the messages that we have been trying to get across about being a well-rounded academic, about how you can use this type of fellowship to develop yourself and to put yourself in a position for a good academic career.”

She said it was clear that the fellows were developing into good leaders. “They have developed from being apprehensive initially to being familiar with and invested in the programme. I saw a definite level of development in their approach to the program.”

“I am satisfied we had an excellent week – it was useful and prosperous. The fellows were sorry to leave, which says is all.”

FAR-LeaF Fellows visiting Future Africa during the second workshop.

The workshop is still part of the research leader development concept. The takeaway for FAR-LeaF and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which funds the program, is that all are well on track.

FAR-LeaF always intended that this fellowship and the workshop would be a fairly intense programme during which the fellows would be given opportunities to develop themselves, their research programmes, and their skills and to form networks. She is pleased that they have been successful in achieving this. “But we are not finished. We have another stage we must go through: the conclusion of it all, the consolidation of the lessons the fellows have learned and other networks they have formed. We have now developed a model of how a program of this kind can work. When we report on this, we can document everything we have done that has worked well, which can be taken forward into other programs.

“I am satisfied we had an excellent week – it was useful and prosperous. The fellows were sorry to leave, which says is all.”

Heidi Sonnekus | FAR-LeaF Program


The Future Africa Research Leader Fellowship (FAR-LeaF) is a fellowship programme, focussed on developing transdisciplinary research and leadership skills, to address the complex, inter-linked challenges of health, well-being, and environmental risks in Africa.