Building the future of science in Africa

Our world continues to challenge our limits, as “climate change” evolves from a vague threat to a very real existential crisis unfolding all around us. At year-end 2023, many countries in Africa suffered the devastating consequences of El Niño, a climate pattern in which surface waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean are unusually warmed. On the most recent occasion, it brought devastating floods, displacing two million people in East Africa while producing lower-than-normal rainfall in southern Africa, the latter exacerbating water challenges in cities like Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Zambia experienced an outbreak of cholera later declared a public health emergency by its government. As El Niño lingers into 2024, floods continue to pelt East Africa while southern Africa experiences drought, undermining crop growth, food quality and availability. This destabilisation threatens food security on a continent where already 278 million people – 20% of African people -- suffer from chronic hunger.

All this is, of course, on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted lives and economies for three years, and whose effects are still present and will continue to be far into the future. The economic impact of COVID-19 is estimated to have had a cumulative negative impact on the economies of Africa on the order of US$335 billion to US$617 billion by 2030 and will have added 38-70 million people to the numbers already classified as extremely poor, bringing the total number of those ranks to 35%-37% of Africa’s projected total population by then of about 1.4 billion people. The pandemic also significantly reduced government revenue, which has already impacted ordinary people, as countries, including Kenya, introduce new taxes to help address shortfalls.

Charting a new future for delivering science programmes

These compounded challenges for Africa require innovative and creative solutions to ensure that our continent successfully confronts the climate emergency and other challenges that impact the health and wellbeing of the people of Africa. Over the span of six years, multiple programmes were implemented in collaboration with various organisations, which have now transitioned to our new permanent home, the SFA Foundation.

The Foundation is adapting its approach to respond to the continent's needs driven by the sense of urgency that these unrelenting crises merit. Underpinned by the SFA Foundation’s five-year strategy, From Science to Impact, the SFA Foundation has unveiled a new approach to accelerate action for a healthier and more sustainable future for Africa.

R&D prioritisation — eating the elephant one bite at a time

Launched in 2023, the SFA Foundation strategy prioritises three interconnected thematic areas: agriculture, climate & environment, and health. The interdependencies of these areas are self-evident: climate change threatens agricultural productivity, in turn driving resurgence of disease. As the world emerges from pandemic and Africa experiences the wrath of El Niño, return on research and development investment in these areas is optimised if resources are aligned to accelerate Africa’s developmental progress. How are we doing this?

Our strategic thematic areas


Agriculture addresses biodiversity, food security and improved livelihoods.

Climate & Environment

Climate & Environment generates evidence to inform prioritisation and decision making in national, regional and global discussions, and research that drives adaptation, mitigation and resilience to climate change.


Health focuses on global public health security, driven by emerging priorities on the continent.

SFA Foundation programmes consist of four portfolios

Leadership and Excellence in Science:

It is urgent to build a critical mass of African scientists to generate data, knowledge and proposed solutions to inform decision making. To be successful, scientific career pathways must enable these highly trained individuals to grow into leaders who can, in turn, train future generations of scientists in and for Africa.

This precious human resource can only be nurtured if there are productive and satisfying careers available. We have the opportunity now to retain and build our Brain Trust of African skilled workers: to enable talented individuals to dedicate themselves to the future of their own homeland, growing the African economy and increasing the welfare of her people. Conversely, the 13% of skilled workers who choose to emigrate outside the continent are not lost to the science ecosystem of Africa: they serve as collaborators, models, connectors, advisors and supporters of their colleagues and family in Africa, enriching all involved.

As opportunities created by the SFA Foundation and others grow on the continent, some scientists are returning. Programmes in this portfolio build scientific leadership in physical and mental health, climate change and the social sciences, positioning the continent as an important contributor to and collaborator with the global research and development space.

Science-based Products:

The innovation ecosystem in Africa is stifled by weak coordination between research and industry, resulting in few R&D outputs being commercialised and or social public goods.

This portfolio seeks to create a robust science innovation ecosystem in Africa, with the potential to drive economic growth, create jobs and improve the lives of millions of people. Additionally, it seeks to improve the visibility and build the capacity of clinical trials in Africa to ensure that drugs developed are suitable for Africans. Research of course informs and stimulates not just vaccines, therapeutics, devises and other medical products, but also the creation of veterinary drugs and strategies, climate-smart food, distribution channels and other outputs that improve lives.

Science Solutions for Emerging Global Priorities:

The African continent sustains 100 or more ongoing disease outbreaks at any given time. This number will increase as population grows and the environment continues to degrade. Coordination of pandemic preparedness and environmental preservation is an urgent priority.

Our success is highly dependent upon our ability to integrate response to the big forces that impact our shared environment, including climate, health, agriculture and biodiversity, all of which impact each other and the world. Under this portfolio, programmes designed to support networks of scientists will benefit the people of Africa and around the globe.

Science Knowledge in Society:

Research must be informed by those it serves -- the communities in and for which it is conducted. This is both an ethical imperative and necessary to ensure a conducive environment for science and innovation, enabling it to thrive. Programmes in this portfolio communicate and demonstrate the impact of science to a broad community, providing trusted, quality accountability mechanisms to ensure effective delivery.

Additionally, they ensure the institutions they work in strengthen their research management and grant management capabilities and therefore provide conducive and supportive environments for researchers to thrive. We are particularly keen to ensure that the social sciences, humanities and arts inform our work. Africa-led research in these disciplines can offer unique insight into opportunities for Africa’s growth within a people-centred framework. Under these portfolios sit 10 programmes designed as long-term and advancing science and innovation, encompassing disparate disciplines from basic, applied and translational sciences to social sciences, humanities and arts.

Within these 10 programmes, initiatives are implemented to provide direct support to scientists, including provision of funding through calls for proposals and coupled with the undertaking of various activities, such as capacity strengthening in community and public engagement and research and grant management, among other activities. All SFA Foundation initiatives are built on a commitment of collaboration, transparency, accessibility, equity and inclusiveness. Research findings are shared through transparent peer review and without unnecessary delays while ensuring that authors retain ownership rights.

Our core business

SFA Foundation delivers these innovative science programmes through mechanisms that include:

Delivering science through partnerships

SFA Foundation funding partnerships have generated over $100 million in the less than three years since its founding. Importantly, funding sources are increasingly diversified, including from African governments. This broadens and strengthens inclusive, multi-stakeholder collaboration within Africa’s research and innovation ecosystem, increasing the confidence of SFA Foundation stakeholders, including institutions, governments, grantees and funders in and outside of Africa.

Funding partnerships with Wellcome and the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) enabled, in 2023, the second phase launch of the Developing Excellence in Leadership, Training, and Science in Africa (DELTAS Africa) programme, a long-term, multimillion dollar initiative to support collaborative consortia led by Africa-based scientists. Its guiding principle is for African scientists to drive the development of world-class research and scientific leadership on the continent, strengthening not only their own institution but also fellow African institutions.

DELTAS Africa serves as a model for other SFA Foundation initiatives that leverage the strength of established research hubs to the benefit of still-developing research efforts. This multiplying effect is applied to other successful Foundation initiatives, including the Human Heredity & Health (H3Africa). Grand Challenges Africa, a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and others, drives science innovation, translation and entrepreneurship on the continent, and serves as a vehicle for private and government support to reinforce Africa’s contributions to, and help ensure that she enjoys the benefits from, cutting-edge, research-based innovation. In collaboration with other partners, the SFA Foundation is enabling increased, sustainable, and coordinated clinical trials on the continent and developing clinical trial capacity and sustainably bringing more clinical trials to Africa through support from the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership and Janssen Pharmaceuticals. The Foundation is also ensuring communities inform the research process through a grant for community and public engagement enabled by support from Wellcome and implementing initiatives science journalism initiatives.

Building confidence in our science programming

All functions of the SFA Foundation are driven by its values: respect, excellence, accountability, diversity, equity and inclusion. Moreover, the SFA Foundation:

  • Funds science across Africa, mobilising and funding the best research and innovation in Africa by identifying promising areas of scientific focus, designing research programmes around them, and selecting outstanding research teams to deliver timely, quality results as envisioned jointly with African and global partners.
  • Is Multidisciplinary: SFA Foundation programmes touch over 30 African countries across many disciplines. We shape Africa’s future through investment in the execution of research and in science leadership to address R&D priorities for maximum impact and return.
  • Is Evolving: The data generated through SFA Foundation partnerships is analysed and shared through advocacy for evidence-based decision making. This extends investment in research to build momentum for long-term, sustainable growth.
  • Is Accountable: A robust SFA Foundation is creating a legacy for science and innovation. Our collective commitment to living by our organisational values promotes integrity for a strong and lasting future.
  • Invests in world-class governance and systems: The SFA Foundation Board of Directors consists of experts from across the world and with diverse expertise: individuals who are dedicating their experience and credibility to the future of Science in Africa. Foundation staff is a highly experienced team of professionals and scientists with decades of experience in implementing science programmes. Operational frameworks implemented across the organisation have created a robust infrastructure that has repeatedly and consistently satisfied and exceeded international audit standards.

SFA Foundation ambitions for 2024

The vision of the SFA Foundation is to be leader in strengthening African science for a better future globally. Already in 2024, the Foundation has funded cutting-edge work in climate and agriculture, and the development of safer, more accessible contraceptives. New grantees, notably in the social sciences and mental health, will be funded this year, while SFA Foundation continues its support of research in infectious and noncommunicable disease. Youth represents a delicate phase of life, marked by emotional, cognitive and social development. With a population consisting of 60 percent youth, funding for mental health will focus on mental health stressors for young people. This includes the vast interplay among diseases, touching on Malaria R&D, host-pathogen biology and epidemic vaccinology. Our work extends to drug discovery, sustainable diagnostic labs and clinical research in Africa. The SFA Foundation explores climate, health, agriculture and biodiversity. It prioritises One Health, which recognises the interconnectedness of climate adaptation, human and agricultural health, knowledge management and the maintenance of robust supply chains, while integrating social sciences and the drive for gender equity.

The SFA Foundation is committed to world-class science in Africa, in recognition that the future of Africa is hers to determine.

~ Tom Kariuki, Chief Executive Officer
Read more about our programmes