The Minister Science and Technology Minister, Naledi Pandor was honoured by theAmerican Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) yesterday, with the prestigious 2016 award for Science Diplomacy. With over 120 000 members, the AAAS is the world's largest scientific society.

The AAAS award was bestowed on the Minister during a ceremony at the 183rd AAAS Annual Meeting currently underway in Massachusetts. Minister Pandor was recognised for her work in integrating science in policymaking within South Africa, and also for advocacy for young scientists, particularly females by supporting initiatives that encourage international collaboration for both groups locally, in Africa and internationally.

In accepting the award, Minister Pandor told the audience that the award was being keenly followed in South Africa with President Jacob Zuma mentioning it during a speech on Friday.

“We are deeply honoured in our country to have one of us recognised in this way, because we regard this as recognition of the entire people our country and the efforts that we had begun to make since 1994 when we began to build our very new and young democracy.”

The Minister added, “the Department of Science and Technology is dedicated to enhancing science and technology in South Africa, to building human capital, particularly young women and black people, but to also promoting the establishment of sustainable science initiatives and institutions throughout South Africa and the African continent.”

“We believe the position you occupy is not predetermined in anyway and that everybody has talent that we should allowed to bloom. And that’s the only reason that I believe everybody should say that all countries can do well in science, technology and innovation,” the Minister said.

The Minister also addressed an earlier panel discussion titled, AAAS Networks of Diasporas in Engineering and Science Forum (NODES). The discussion focused on the role of Diasporas in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

During her address Minster Pandor asserted that, Africans must close the research gap with the rest of the world. African research lags behind the rest of the world in most science disciplines. The overall stats are well known. With 13.4 per cent of the world’s population, the continent is home to only 1.1 per cent of the world’s scientific researchers. It has about one scientist or engineer per 10,000 people, compared with 20–50 in industrial nations.

“We know where the problems lie. There's too little regional collaboration among African countries. There's too little public support for sustainable development. There's too little focus on programmes to mobilise science and technology for sustainable development,” said the Minister.

The Minister added, “in South Africa we have tried to put in place the right policies. We have a separate department to prioritise research.We have made scienceand technology a national priority.”

Minister Pandor also asserted that, “African governments must take the lead in pushing for science-led development: STEM should be a strategic priority.”

Science is at the heart of the AU’s Agenda 2063.Minister Pandor said that little will come of this plan unless each African country adopts a policy of science-led development and puts an efficient government department in place to pursue it. “Only then will our grand plans be able to leverage private and philanthropic participation - like the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), an initiative of the African Academy of Sciences and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.”

 The AESA platform was established with initial funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the United Kingdom Department for International Development. It will run two new research initiatives - a US$70 million grant to support seven African scientists; and Grand Challenges Africa, which supports 400 researchers to find solutions to health and development problems.

“Africans must keep their scientists at home,” said Minister Pandor as she raised her final point.

“I am often struck by the number of AfricansI meet working in laboratories and science institutes outside Africa, contributing to the innovation strengths of countries in the North. Iknow that research is international and collaborative, but I want the international to mean from Africa by Africa-based scientists too,” said the Minister.

The Minister added further, “our friends in the world do not have the same interest we do in addressing our health services, food insecurity, climate change, inadequate infrastructure, low skills development and technology hunger.”

According to Minister Pandor, these problems should be addressed by African and Africa based researchers. “We must create partnerships that have a clear purpose, a well-crafted agenda of science-based initiatives, and public funding that adequately resources researchers and their institutions. The mandate for our research, development and innovation must be unequivocal - find solutions to our problems, create and respond.”

The Minister emphasized that, “Africa must do science in Africa, for Africa and finally free itself from the belief that someone out their cares more about our problems that we do.”