10 May 2017

Commonwealth fellows study Lancaster University’s successful model of university-business partnerships to help find solutions to Africa’s environmental challenges

Four African academics are spending two months at Lancaster University learning from some of the University’s pioneering initiatives to bring businesses, academics and policy makers together to find solutions to environmental problems.

The four, from Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya, hope to replicate some of these success stories in their home countries to help address the major environmental and social issues they face.

They have been awarded Commonwealth Professional Fellowships to focus on Lancaster University’s track record in eco-innovation - working with businesses and policy makers to develop products, processes and services that reduce environmental impact, or improve the efficient and responsible use of resources.

They will be studying the award-winning Centre for Global Eco-innovation which links academic researchers with businesses to work on specific projects: it has collaborated with more than 300 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and created more than 260 jobs in the past four years.  They’ll also talk to some of the environmental SMEs based at the Lancaster Environment Centre, to researchers involved in eco-innovation projects and to the Enterprise and Business Partnerships team, which is responsible for building links between business and the Environment Centre.

The fellowships build on existing relationships between Lancaster University and research institutions in Africa. They follow on from a series of Africa Eco-innovation forums which have been held in Lancaster, Nigeria and Ghana in the past two years bringing together academics, business people and policy makers.

Mr. Efosa Osamudiamen, an engineering lecturer from the University of Benin in Nigeria, is hoping to gain inspiration and practical ideas to help him establish a Centre for Global Eco-Innovation Nigeria, due to open in the autumn.

“Lancaster has a model that works so we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I attended to the Lancaster-Africa Springboard Conference in Ghana and in three days the volume of information and ideas generated was fantastic. So I hope to glean a lot of ideas during my time here.”

Dr. Kwadwo Ansong Asante is a Senior Research Scientist at the Water Research Institute, part of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in Ghana.  

“In Ghana, researchers, government and business are all in separate corners doing their own thing, there is no linkage between the three sectors. My boss has asked me to understudy the Lancaster University model and, when I go back, to set up a unit within my Centre to benefit the country at large.”

Dr. Edu Inam is Director of the new Centre for Energy and Environmental Sustainability Research (ICEESR) at the University of Uyo in Nigeria, one of a series of new institutes being set up at her university.

“We want to model these institutes on the Lancaster Environment Centre, in particular having SMEs and government scientists on campus,” she explained.

Mr. Hilary Ragen is based in Kenya, working for the pan African think-tank, the African Technology Policy Studies Network. His focus is on influencing policy and he aims to develop a series of eco-innovation training manuals for policy makers and a framework for developing eco-innovation policies in Africa.

“I am hoping to be able to strengthen links between African policy makers, industry players and research institutions. So far the interactions I have had in Lancaster indicate it will be a good learning experience.”

All three countries face major environmental challenges including: water pollution from illegal mining; land contamination from oil exploration; and inadequate waste management, in particular the safe disposal of e-waste.

“The environment is a big issue in Africa, with more than half of African countries dependent on Agriculture,” said Mr. Ragen. “The question is how can we make African governments understand that the environment is a priority sector and how can we persuade businesses that it is worth investing in this area.”

Mr. Efosa agreed:  “It’s not just about having the technology. For instance we generate huge amounts of waste that are just dumped in open sites, which impact on the look and feel of the environment and are disease carriers. We are aware of the problem, we are aware of technological and management solutions, what we are not aware of is how to engage business and get them involved with these solutions.”

The fellows also believe that eco-innovation can help provide growth and opportunities in Africa.

“There is massive unemployment amongst young people so we are looking to create employment around green technology,” said Dr. Udo.

The fellowships were organised by Professor Kirk Semple, the Director for International Engagement at the Lancaster Environment Centre, and the Centre’s Africa Strategy Adviser, Dr Akanimo Odon.

The current fellows are the second group of African Professional Commonwealth fellows with an interest in eco-innovation to visit Lancaster.