18 February 2009
While the hot summer rain was pouring outside, a loud and lively marimba band welcomed delegates from about 16 countries at the African Science Communication Conference near Johannesburg tonight. Delegates were reminded of the special significance of rain as a “good sign” in many African cultures, while drumming is synonymous with communication!
I was proud to be associated with SciDev.Net tonight as many delegates came to our display table and told me how much they valued (and used!) SciDev.Net’s resources, while many others wanted to find out more.
One of the special guest speakers, Dr Mohamed Hassan of The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS), told me that he would be talking about SciDev.Net and its huge contribution to science and development in his lecture tomorrow (19 February 2009). “I am really proud that the SciDev.Net initiative started off at a TWAS workshop in Trieste back in 2001,” he said and credited David Dickson for “running with the idea” and securing sponsorship to turn the idea into a reality.
In her welcome message, Beverley Damonse, executive director of the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), the organisers behind the event, highlighted raising awareness of science communication on the continent, sharing best practice and providing a networking platform for African science communicators as key objectives of the conference.
“International science communication events lack an African voice, and that is the void we hope to fill,” Damonse added. “Communication is culture and context specific, and that is why we have to create an African forum for science communicators with experience of Africa’s challenges.” Adding a special word of welcome to delegates from outside Africa, Damonse explained that the intention is not to exclude delegates from other parts of the world, but to learn from them and adapt these lessons to Africa’s needs.
Damonse also sees the conference as a vehicle to build science communication capacity in Africa and pointed out that SAASTA had to make a significant investment in bringing speakers and delegates to the event. “It remains a huge challenge for science communicators in Africa to access funding to be able to attend a conference like this,” she explained.
SAASTA plans to keep the biennial conference on their calendar for the foreseeable future, but Damonse added that she hoped that, some time in the future, another African country will take on the responsibility to organise and host the event.
We were all excited to hear that a panel of expert science communicators, selected from the line-up of speakers at the event, will have the opportunity to reach a much bigger African television audience. They will participate in a one-hour panel discussion on science communication, to be broadcast on SABC Africa on 19 February 2009.
Marina Joubert, SciDev.Net