Pathways to research leadership for early career researchers in Africa: A potential role for African and Global Funders

Keywords: early career researchers, research leadership, funders, Africa, professional development and career pathways


Early career researchers at African universities face numerous challenges and demands within a context of minimum resources; yet on the other hand, there is significant expectation for doing excellent science that is of high quality with integrity, while aligning science with societal goals. Furthermore, there is also expectation to increase outputs, make the system more inclusive, attract international partners and contribute to the University’s global rankings. The need therefore to build research capacity, expand the number of active researchers and advance the careers of African researchers has never been more critical, particularly if continental and other global priorities are to be achieved. There is consensus that research leadership is essential to building research capacity in African universities. As a result, there have been increasing investments in building research capacity and research leadership, with initiatives ranging from the creation of north-south research partnerships across disciplines and empirical subjects, to training research leaders and university administrators in top ranking universities in Europe and North America, as well as building the capacity of funders and science systems in Africa. This article will examine the competencies required to be a research leader and the programs that are currently available that support capacity building in research leadership. In addition, it will provide perspectives on the role that global and African funders should play to advance the careers of early career researchers to transition into research leaders, foster innovation, build linkages with policy makers and promote scientific leadership in Africa.

Author Biographies

J. Jackson, Michigan State University

Dr. José Jackson is the Co-Director of the Alliance for African Partnerships (AAP) at Michigan State University, a consortium of African institutions and Michigan State University established to co-create innovative solutions to global challenges that will transform lives in Africa. She has responsibilities for establishing a robust network of innovative partnerships among MSU, African universities, and other international partners; ensuring that the AAP has a governance structure that reflects and promotes the model of co-creation; strengthening capacity at partner institutions, particularly in the area of research and innovation management; promoting programs for women in science as well as attracting a diversity of resources necessary to achieve its vision of impact.

A. Neba, African Academy of Science, Nairobi

Dr. Alphonsus Neba is the Deputy Director Programs Science Support and Systems, African Academy of Science, Nairobi, Kenya

C. Viney, Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) / Vitae, Cambridge

Clare Viney is the Chief Executive Officer, Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC) / Vitae, Cambridge, United Kingdom 

L. Mtwisha, University of Cape Town

Linda Mtwisha is the Executive Director Research, University of Cape Town, South Africa

A. de-Graft Aikins, University College London

Professor Ama de-Graft Aikins is the British Academy Global Professor, Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London, London, United Kingdom 

A. Mitchell, University of Lincoln

Alison Mitchel is the Director of Inclusive Development, University of Lincoln, Brayford Way, Brayford Pool, Lincoln LN6 7TS, United Kingdom 

H. Kebirungi, Kyambogo University, Kampala

Dr. Harriet Kebirungi is the Coordinator, Gender Mainstreaming Unit, Kyambogo University, Kampala, Uganda 

K. Outtara, Félix Houphouët-Boigny Abidjan University

Dr. Karim Outtara, Head, Biodiversity, Ethology and Conservation (BEC), Swiss Center for Scientific Research, Félix Houphouët-Boigny Abidjan University, Côte d'Ivoire 


AAP see Alliance for African Partnership

Alliance for African Partnership. 2019. “African Futures Research Leadership Program.” Alliance for African Partnership: AAP African Futures Research Leadership Program ( (Accessed 20 May 2021).

AUDA-NEPAD. 2019. African Innovation Outlook 2019. AUDA-NEPAD, Johannesburg. ISBN: 978-1-928527-21-3.

Bolden, Richard and Philip Kirk. 2009. “African Leadership: Surfacing New Understandings through Leadership Development.” International Journal of Cross Cultural Management 9(1) (April): 69–86.

Bolden, Richard, Antonio Marturano, and Jonathan Gosling. 2003. “A Review of Leadership Theory and Competency Frameworks.” Centre for Leadership …. A_review_of_leadership_theory_and_competency_frameworks. (Accessed 7 June 2021).

Butler, Jane. 2020. “Learning to Lead: A Discussion of Development Programs for Academic Leadership Capability in Australian Universities.” Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 42(4) (July): 424–37.

Campion, L. L. and C. X. Wang. 2019. “Collectivism and Individualism: The Differentiation of Leadership.” TechTrends 63: 353–356.

Clarivate InCites. 2021. “Bibliomentric Analysis of Funding Agencies in Africa Using InCites Dataset.”

Curry, Leslie, Lauren Taylor, Peggy Guey-Chi Chen, and Elizabeth Bradley. 2012. “Experiences of Leadership in Health Care in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Human Resources for Health 10(1) (December): 33.

Daniels, Joseph, Ruth Nduati, James Kiarie, and Carey Farquhar. 2015. “Supporting Early Career Health Investigators in Kenya: A Qualitative Study of Complexity Leadership for HIV/AIDS Research Capacity Building.” Pan African Medical Journal 20. pamj.2015.20.192.5964.

Demirkan, Haluk and Jim Spohrer. 2015. “T-Shaped Innovators: Identifying the Right Talent to Support Service Innovation.” Research-Technology Management 58(5) (September): 12–15.

Duermeijer, C., M. Amir, and L. Schoombee. 2018. “Africa generates less than 1% of the world’s research; data analytics can change that.” Elsevier Connect, Mar. (Accessed 20 May 2021).

Else, Holly. 2021. “Key COVID Research Hit by Cut to UK Foreign-Aid Budget.” Nature 593(7857) (April): 20–21.

Elsevier. 2020. “The Researcher Journey Through a Gender Lens: An examination of research participation, career progression and perceptions across the globe.” Elsevier, NY. (Accessed 20 May 2021).

Ezeh, Alex C., Chimaraoke O. Izugbara, Caroline W. Kabiru, Sharon Fonn, Kathleen Kahn, Lenore Manderson, Ashiwel S. Undieh, Akinyinka Omigbodun, and Margaret Thorogood. 2010. “Building Capacity for Public and Population Health Research in Africa: The Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) Model.” Global Health Action 3(1) (December): 5693.

Fowler, A., N. Njuguna, and J. Owiti. 2002. “Determinants of Civic Leadership in Africa: An Exploratory Study of NGDOs in Kenya.” Paper presented at the Fifth Conference of the International Society for Third Sector R.

Gebru, Demewoz Admasu. 2016. “Effectiveness of Higher Diploma Program for Early Career Academics in Ethiopia.” Studies in Higher Education 41(10) (October): 1741–53.

Haruna, Peter Fuseini. 2009. “Revising the Leadership Paradigm in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Study of Community-Based Leadership.” Public Administration Review 69(5) (September): 941–950.

Haruna, Peter. 2000. “An Empirical Evaluation of Motivation and Leadership among Career Public Administrators: The Case of Ghana ‒ ProQuest.” b5774b0a4970ed7c4f399f606069142a/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y.

Izugbara, Chimaraoke O., Caroline W. Kabiru, Djesika Amendah, Zacharie Tsala Dimbuene, Hermann Pythagore Pierre Donfouet, Esso-Hanam Atake, Marie-Gloriose Ingabire, et al. 2017. “‘It Takes More than a Fellowship Program’: Reflections on Capacity Strengthening for Health Systems Research in Sub-Saharan Africa.” BMC Health Services Research 17(S2) (November): 696, s12913-017-2638–39.

Lembani, Martina, Gina Teddy, Dintle Molosiwa, and Boroto Hwabamungu. 2016. “Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship as a Health Policy and Systems Research Capacity Development Intervention: A Case of the CHESAI Initiative.” Health Research Policy and Systems 14(1) (December): 89.

Masango, Maake. 2003. “Leadership in the African Context.” The Ecumenical Review 55(4) (October): 313–321.

McIntosh, Brian S. and André Taylor. 2013. “Developing T-Shaped Water Professionals: Building Capacity in Collaboration, Learning, and Leadership to Drive Innovation.” Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 150(1) (March): 6–17. j.1936-704X.2013.03143.x.

McNutt, Marcia. 2019. “Maintaining U.S. Leadership in Science and Technology.” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 6 March. news/2019/03/maintaining-u-s-leadership-in-science-and-technology.

Moseti, Irene. 2015. “Knowledge Production through Mentorship of Next Generation Scholars.” African Journal of Library, Archives & Information Science 25(2) (October): 91–109.

Mouton, J. and J. Blanckenberg. 2018. “African science: A bibliometric analysis.” In The Next Generation of Scientists in Africa, ed. Catherine Beaudry, Johann Mouton, Heidi Prozesky, 13‒25. African Minds, Cape Town, South Africa.

Mouton, J., J. Gaillard, and M. Van Lill. 2015. “Functions of Science Granting Councils in Sub Sahara Africa.” In Knowledge Production & Contradictory Functions in African Higher Education, African Minds, ed. N. Cloete, P. Maasen, and T. Bailey: 148‒170.

Niemczyk, E. K. 2018. “Developing Globally Competent Researchers: An International Perspective.” South African Journal of Higher Education 32(4) (August).

Niemczyk, Ewelina K. 2018. “Rethinking Research Education in Globalised Times: Perspectives of European Post-Doctoral Fellows.” North-West University, June 2018. https://www.researchgate. net/publication/327335598_Rethinking_research_education_in_globalised_times_Perspectives_of_European_post-doctoral_fellows.

Ofir, Z., T. Schwandt, C. Duggan, and R. McLean. 2016. RQ+. Research Quality Plus. A Holistic Approach to Evaluating Research. Ottawa: IDRC. https://idl-bnc-idrc.dspacedirect. org/bitstream/handle/10625/56528/IDL-56528.pdf. (Accessed 10 January 2021).

Omungo, Rosalia. 2018. “Africa’s Science ‘Millionaires’: Survey Spotlights Top-Funded Researchers.” Nature November 14, d41586-018-07418–6.

Osman, Ruksana and David J. Hornsby. 2016. “Communities and Scholarship in Supporting Early-Career Academics at the University of the Witwatersrand.” Studies in Higher Education 41(10) (October): 1835–1853.

Owusu, Francis, Ezekiel Kalipeni, Nicholas Awortwi, and Joy Mueni Maina Kiiru. 2017. “Building Research Capacity for African Institutions: Confronting the Research Leadership Gap and Lessons from African Research Leaders.” International Journal of Leadership in Education 20(2) (March): 220–245.

“The Path to Research Leadership in Africa.” 2019. (Accessed 7 June 2021).

UNESCO. 2015. UNESCO science report: Towards 2030. Paris, France: UNESCO Publishing. (Accessed 20 November 2020).

Van Veenendaal, Erik. 2020. “Next-Generation Software Testers: Broaden or Specialize!” The Future of Software Quality Assurance January: 229‒243.

“Vitae Researcher Development Framework and Researcher Development Statement: Methodology and Validation Report.” 2012. (Accessed 7 June 2021).

World Bank. 2014. “Development Projects: Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence Project ‒ P126974.” (Accessed 7 June 2021).

How to Cite
Jackson, J., A. Neba, C. Viney, L. Mtwisha, A. de-Graft Aikins, A. Mitchell, H. Kebirungi, and K. Outtara. 2022. “Pathways to Research Leadership for Early Career Researchers in Africa: A Potential Role for African and Global Funders”. South African Journal of Higher Education 36 (2), 151-72.
General Articles