By David Ekepu, Technical Specialist-Sentinel Project, RUFORUM
There have been declining funding levels for the agricultural sector and university education coupled with institutional reforms that are characterized by institutionalization of competitive grants. This implies that the survival of researchers and their respective institutions relies strongly on the ability to attract funding through formulation of winning proposals. However, writing winning proposals requires great experience and resilience in many aspects ranging from interpreting research calls to addressing reviewers’ comments as well as managing donor relations. Many researchers and scientists especially in Africa consider writing winning proposals a nightmare, attributable to a general lack of skills in this area, a gap that needs to be filled urgently. The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) with support from the Social and Environmental Trade-offs in African Agriculture (Sentinel) project has provided several online skills enhancement-training courses to postgraduate students and early career researchers across its network as part of its capacity building strategy. As a partner in the Sentinel Project, RUFORUM developed a focused training and mentoring plan to help postgraduate students and researchers across its network gain ‘new’ skills and knowledge to conduct better research within the agriculture/environment nexus.
It is against this backdrop that RUFORUM hosted an online skills enhancement training in grant proposal development for masters and doctoral students between 14th and 18th June 2021. The objective of the training was to strengthen competencies of postgraduate students and early career researchers in grant proposal writing. The training outcomes were: participants become familiar with different resource mobilization channels; participants able to interpret research calls; participants able to identify and analyse a research problem; participants are able to develop a project log frame, identify specific activities, develop a work plan & methodology for the activities, and budget.
The training covered the key topics: identifying funding sources for research and development; interpretation of research calls; logical steps in research for development proposal writing; methodology development in proposal writing; and budgeting principles and contemporary elements in project proposal development. The training was organised in five-day 2-hour sessions and the design of the training course was informed by the pre-training evaluation conducted among the prospective participants. The training attracted 235 applicants, 121 participants from 17 countries and 30 universities. That is why “RUFORUM is currently promoting virtual trainings to reach a broad spectrum of young people who could perhaps have not benefited from the ongoing skills enhancement trainings for Sentinel PhD fellows” noted Dr. Anthony Egeru, the Programme Manager for Training & Community Development who doubles as the Sentinel Project Lead at RUFORUM.
The training was highly interactive with practical learning elements such as group work, plenary, Q&A sessions, student presentations and individual daily assignments. All the training sessions were delivered in line with the requirements for the International Foundation for Science (IFS) call for proposals. The focus on IFS was taken on the understanding that IFS provides a starting opportunity for early career researchers to appreciate the tenets of competitive granting especially for research-based grants. According to Dr. Paul Nampala, the facilitator for the training, “IFS is one of those institutions dedicated to mentoring young scientists for professional and career growth” and this can be a stepping-stone for PhD and early career researchers in RUFORUM member universities to ground themselves in their fields of research.
The training largely provided an introductory perspective on grant proposal development and could not cover in detail some of the practical items of proposal writing. Based on the feedback from the training evaluation, the students recommended that RUFORUM organise a write-shop where they could apply the knowledge gained to respond to an active call for proposals and to build their confidence and experience in grant proposal writing.
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