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NCST secures Grand Challenge Initiative funding to boost science, technology growth

Researchers and innovators are poised to benefit from grants the government-funded National Commission for Science and Technology (NCST) has sourced from the Grand Challenge Initiative.

NCST Director General Gift Kadzamira announced the news at a press briefing held in Lilongwe on Thursday morning.

Kadzamira said apart from receiving annual allocations from the government, the Commission also sources financing elsewhere in line with its mission to promote, support, coordinate and regulate the development and application of science, technology and innovation in order to create wealth and improve the quality of life.

“Apart from government efforts to fund research and innovation, NCST strives to source funds, for the same purpose and the latest win, in terms of funding for research, technology and innovation has been the Grand Challenge Initiative,” she said.

Kadzamira the Grand Challenge Initiative financing complements efforts by the Malawi Government to promote and enhance research and technology in the country.

She said the government has shown its commitment to promote the sector by, among others, increasing funding to the Science and Technology (S & T) Fund.

Kadzamira: Many researchers and innovators will benefit from this grant–Photo by Watipaso Mzungu

“As you may all know, we have the Science and Technology Fund, which was resourced for the first time in the 2022-2023 financial year with K291 million and in the current financial year the amount has been increased to K450 million. The Science and Technology Fund is a deliberate government tool for advancing Research, Science, and Technology and Innovation in Malawi through direct investment. The S&T Fund is meant to endow – through loans or grants – any research or study, training, application, awards as well as transfer and commercialization of research results, products or services in the field of science, technology and innovation in the country. This far, it has assisted innovators and researchers and continues to do so,” she explained.

According to the NCST Director General, Grand Challenges is a family of grant initiatives designed to foster innovation to solve key global health and development problems.

It was launched in 2003 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Grand Challenges in Global Health to engage the most creative minds worldwide – including those who have not traditionally taken part in health research – to work toward solutions that could lead to breakthrough advances for those in the developing world.

On the African continent, NEPAD fostered the establishment of the Grand Challenges Africa as one of the financing instruments being explored to accelerate investment in Research and Development at continental level.

It seeks to promote African-led scientific innovations by focusing on Africa’s scientific priority setting, impactful robust solutions and products from scientific research to support Member States attain Sustainable Development Goals. The GCA is now responsible for helping Innovation leading institutions in member states to establish their national grand challenge programmes at country level.

Kadzamira stated that the Grand Challenges model has proven to be highly adaptable to a range of contexts and partners. Over the past decade, the Gates Foundation, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Grand Challenges Canada, the Indian Department of Biotechnology, the Brazilian Ministry of Health, and others have used Grand Challenges to fund, foster and support innovation to overcome key global health and development problems.

“External funders commit matched funding 50:50 or more, to funds mobilized internally. This is usually at the inception of the programme to enable kick-off. By virtue of being a member of the Grand challenges family, a GC is introduced and has access to international funders like The Bill& Melinda Gates foundation, SIDA, German Ministry of Science (BMBF). It’s normal to have agreed call for proposals fully funded by these funders in the consecutive years,” she said.

Kadzamira also announced that NCST will host the Grand Challenges at the local level Members of the GC family worldwide collaborate to make joint calls. Lessons learned are continuously shared and consolidated in the annual learning and evaluation meeting whereas the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting helps to connect the family and is instrumental in fund raising and other partnerships.

She said Malawi has selected “Humanitarian Crises” as its first priority area to solve Cyclone FREDDY challenge, which falls under the priority areas for research under the initiative.

It also aligns with the National Research Agenda as it is organised according to MW2063 Pillars and Enablers and its focus is on Agricultural Productivity and Commercialisation; Industrialisation that includes Mining; Urbanisation that includes creation of secondary cities and tourism hubs; Mindset Change; Effective Governance Systems and Institutions; Enhanced Public Sector Performance; Economic Infrastructure; Human Capital Development; Private Sector Dynamism; and Environmental Sustainability.

“The Grand Challenge Initiative will foster this approach to ensure that Malawi’s research, science, technology and innovation interventions are locally driven to solve socio-economic development challenges,” stressed Kadzamira.

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