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Soft skills could help Kenyans win more funding

 Image: Crop Wild Relatives [CC BY-NC-SA 2.0], via Flickr

Help needed to end unequal relationship with Global North

Kenyan researchers face pressure because they have to take on the dual roles of research management and their own research work, a meeting has heard.

Griffins Manguro, the director of the International Center for Reproductive Health in Mombasa, Kenya, said that grant-writing takes up much of his time as there is no research management office at the institution and he has to “ensure that it survives”.

Manguro was speaking during a 27 April workshop organised by the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa, the African Academy of Sciences, and the United Kingdom’s Wellcome Trust and Association of Research Managers and Administrators. The meeting focused on research management in Kenya.

“There are many opportunities but you’ll never know about them if someone does not direct you to them. You need someone to point you in the right direction in the shortest time,” said Manguro. He added that there simply is no money for a grants management office at his organisation.

Funding difficulties in Kenya are related more to proposal issues than scientific capacity, said Manguro. He pointed out that it is often difficult to get supportive documents from government agencies within the required time.

Manguro said Kenyan researchers need help to develop the non-technical skills required to win funding, such as budgeting and ability to develop proposals. A further problem, he adds, is that funding is often tied to researchers from the Global North, demoting Kenyan researchers to “basically a local implementer”.

Vernon Mochache, a physician and sexual and reproductive health researcher, told the meeting that the inequality is not surprising given the dearth of domestic research funding in the country: “If partners provide almost everything [related to research] there is definitely going to be an unequal relationship there.”

He said that the National Research Fund, while helpful, does not have sufficient money and has had a very low uptake. Mochache said that the lack of domestic funding is partly due to researchers working outside policy and regulatory environments. “Most of us fall into a research career by chance,” he added.

Murugi Micheni, a clinical researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, also said that more attention should be paid to the non-technical expertise of researchers in Kenya, saying they are well trained but lack soft skills including communication, scientific writing and mentorship.

“A lot is lost if you are not able to share what you have done as a researcher with the world. We can do better, we should be able to represent ourselves,” she said.