The FSNet-Africa Fellowship officially launched when the Orientation Workshop began on 12 July 2021. What was planned as a ten-day face-to-face Orientation workshop has been adapted to a 14-week part-time online engagement because of COVID-19 related travel restrictions.
Twenty early career research fellows, 40 mentors and 20 researchers from the University of Pretoria (the UP Hosts) joined a series of live engagements during the fellowship launch week.
The FSNet-Africa online Orientation will provide fellows with a bird’s eye view of what they can expect during the fellowship, including the different skills they can expect to develop over the two years. Topics covered during Orientation include proposal writing, gender-responsive research, data management and monitoring and evaluation. The Orientation is also an opportunity for fellows to meet their two mentors, other researchers who will be involved in their research and food systems stakeholders in their countries.
The two-year fellowship will offer researchers an opportunity to participate in structured activities to strengthen their capacity to conduct inter-, multi- and trans-disciplinary research. They will also be enabled to work with stakeholders to implement their research and communicate their research with end-users and policymakers to enhance the uptake of evidence-based research on the continent.
During Week One of Orientation, the FSNet-Africa team welcomed fellows, mentors and their UP Hosts during an informal “Get to know your team” live engagement session. In an interactive icebreaker, the teams learnt about each other’s hobbies, interests and non-academic talents. The FSNet-Africa network includes individuals with diverse expertise beyond their research focus – parents, grandparents, gardeners, farmers, adrenaline junkies, musicians, athletes, swimmers and even winemakers working together to transform Africa’s food system.
In breakout sessions, research teams discussed their research interests and how to work as a team. They were tasked with developing a poster and a team slogan – a challenging task to complete virtually with only 50 minutes. This task was a dry run for future collaboration of research teams expected to engage in impactful research and deliver several outputs during the two-year fellowship. The teams rose to this challenge by formulating creative slogans, such as “Sole crops soul food”, “Green technologies for the meat industry value chain – Green4MIC”, “Collaboration for impact”, and “Getting the business model right”.
During the second week of Orientation, fellows and mentors had the opportunity to get to know each other better and learn more about what to expect over the next two years. Fellows met with their mentors to discuss expectations and set up mentorship agreements to guide their work during the fellowship.
In Week 3, researchers were introduced to the FSNet-Africa research framework and provided guidance on preparing successful research proposals. In line with the FSNet-Africa focus on co-production, Week 4 offered fellows an opportunity to meet with the FANRPAN node representatives to complete a stakeholder mapping exercise. This exercise assisted fellows in identifying the stakeholders they could collaborate with. Researchers will meet these stakeholders in a series of country-specific online stakeholder engagement sessions during Week 7.
The remaining weeks of Orientation are packed with exciting themes and reflection activities on topics such as gender-responsive research, data management and research ethics. Orientation will conclude with a research symposium where fellows will present their research ideas. The symposium will take place on 14 and 15 October 2021, leading up to World Food Day (16 October).
The journey has just begun for the twenty fellows, their mentors and the UP Hosts. We invite you to join us on this journey of transforming Africa’s food system – follow us on social media to keep up to date with FSNet-Africa activities and events.