From ChuChu sanitary pads in Ghana to on-demand digital mental health care in Kenya, more than a dozen young entrepreneurs from across Africa recently participated in a virtual “pitch day” to champion a wide range of health innovations.
The 16 teams (80 percent of which have female founders) that participated in the Health Innovation Challenge event – organized by the African Impact Initiative, which counts the University of Toronto as a key partner – will spend three months in Toronto to expand their networks. of entrepreneurship.
“Our aim is to help African students develop their countries,” says recent U of T graduate Scarborough Three Ways, who was born in Nigeria and helped organize the pitch day in early December. “We provide various types of training, guidance and technical support that they can use long after we are out of the picture, and we customize this for each African country.
“But it doesn’t just work one way. I learned a lot from that experience. It helped me learn how to generate practical ideas – ideas that will make a real difference at home and here in Canada.
“Being able to see the result of these ideas has been amazing.”
It is just one of many examples of how the U of T is deepening its enduring and mutually beneficial relationship with the countries of Africa – part of a carefully coordinated program that is informed by consultations with groups such as the President’s International Council on Engagement with Africa. .
“The council is made up of people who understand the continent”, says chairman of the council Tettey Wisdom, U of T Vice President and Director of U of T Scarborough. “Africa is a continent of 54 countries, so for the U of T to make a meaningful contribution, we need to have a detailed understanding of its diversity, nuances and how best to engage effectively.”
In June 2022, the university hosted a two-day summit that brought together representatives from organizations involved in initiatives in Africa to discuss partnership ideas that address some of the most important issues facing Africa and Canada. Participants included scholars from the U of T, Academics Without Borders, Mitacs and the Mastercard Foundation, as well as representatives from the African Development Bank Group, Association of African Universities, African Research Universities Alliance, several African universities, African diplomats from Canada and the United States. and representatives of Global Affairs Canada.
Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and the U of T share a long-standing partnership (Photo by Giorgio Cosulich/Getty Images)
The U of T’s connections to the world’s second largest continent go back decades.
In 2013, the U of T became one of the first universities in the world to partner with the Mastercard Foundation Academic Program, which funded students from across Africa to study at the U of T. A decade before that, the U of T and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia forged a relationship to address a serious health crisis: Ethiopia’s population was about 72 million, but there were only eight psychiatrists in the entire country.
doctor Dawit Wondimagegn, then a young psychiatry resident at the University of Addis Ababa, says the U of T department of psychiatry responded to a call the AAU put out around the world to help create the first psychiatry residency training program from Ethiopia. From there, the U of T and Addis Ababa University formed the Toronto Addis Ababa Academic Collaboration (TAAAC).
Since then, TAAAC has expanded far beyond psychiatry. There are now 29 U of T departments and divisions contributing from six faculties – Faculty of Dentistry, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering, Faculty of Information, Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.
The collaboration sends faculty members from the U of T and partner hospitals to the University of Addis Ababa for a month as part of teaching teams that co-develop postgraduate programs under the leadership and guidance of the faculty. Once trained, graduates of the collaboration are hired to expand faculty at universities across Ethiopia.
The results of the partnership, says Wondimagegn, were remarkable.
“Where we had nothing, we now have thriving programs in areas like family and emergency medicine,” says Wondimagegn, co-director of TAAAC. “We have reduced the brain drain. We sent people to train abroad and they didn’t come back. Now our people can get their education and training in Ethiopia and then find work here. There is no need to leave.”
Professor Ernest Aryeetey, Secretary General of the Africa Research Universities Alliance, looks on as Professor Joseph Wong, International Vice President of the U of T, addresses participants at a summit held at the U of T in 2022 (photo by Ruilin Yuan)
As TAAAC has grown, so has the range of partnerships between the U of T and African institutions, including a recently launched collaborative network with eight of Africa’s leading universities called the African Higher Education Health Collaborative. The initiative has a similar objective to TAAAC – to create programs to prepare young professionals to work and contribute to the development of the continent’s health sector – and is part of a substantive partnership between the U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and the School of Public Health at Moi University, Kenya.
U of T President Meric Gertler, left, shares a table with Wisdom Tettey, Vice President and Director of U of T Scarborough, at the 2022 summit (photo by Ruilin Yuan)
The U of T’s ongoing efforts to partner with African institutions are part of a larger partnership program the university plans to pursue through its recently published International Strategic Plan 2022-2027, which encompasses 10 goals under three broad themes: Global Learning , Global Reach and Global Impact .
“There are many benefits to these international partnerships, but it all comes down to U of T engaging with the world,” says Joseph WongU of T Vice President, International and Professor of Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences and Roz and Ralph Halbert Professor of Innovation in the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
“The key is to build reciprocal relationships. Each partner contributes to the partnership and each learns from the other.”
That’s certainly how Faromika sees him.
Faromika and her family immigrated to Prince Edward Island from Nigeria in 2011. She began her undergraduate studies at the U of T in psychology in 2018 and is now a research assistant and Mitacs Accelerate Fellow in the laboratory of Brian Levine, professor of psychology at the U of T and senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute. She was involved with the African Impact Initiative for most of her U of T journey – and says it contributed immensely to her education.
“I used to only read articles about the problems facing Nigeria, but my work through the African Impact Initiative is more tangible,” she says. “I’m interacting with people who have their feet on the ground. It really allowed me to learn a lot about planning and coordinating these activities in African countries.”
Erica DiRuggiero saw this same mutual benefit in the partnership between the U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Moi University in Kenya.
An associate professor and director of the school’s Center for Global Health, Di Ruggiero says the U of T’s partnership with Moi began in late Paula Braitsteinprofessor of epidemiology who moved to Kenya to live and work in 2007.
“Paula really managed to establish a reciprocal relationship with Moi University, where we would learn from each other’s experiences,” she says, adding that the goal is “to decolonize what we mean by research and practice in global health.”
As an example, Di Ruggiero points to the work of the two institutions in advancing knowledge of universal health care, a desire shared by Canada and Kenya, through a framework that dispels the notion that equitable solutions come only from high-income countries. .
“This speech promotes a misconception – that Canada cannot learn from a country like Kenya because we are high-income and they are more middle-income,” she says, noting that the two sides engage in discussions and exchange of ideas. experiences and co-production of knowledge that allow them to learn from each other.
Tettey, who is from Ghana, also emphasizes the two-way nature of the U of T partnerships.
“It’s about being able to work together to create a worldwide community,” he says. “It is important for people to understand that Canada has been a happy beneficiary of many African talents. We created a brain drain on the continent. These partnerships allow us to create brain circulation – Africa can learn from Canada and we can learn from Africa.
“There’s a reason why the world’s gravity is on Africa right now,” he adds. “There is a lot of potential that has yet to be tapped. Young people in Africa will be great players. If we can collaborate in a way that allows our students here to connect with potential leaders in Africa, it will enrich us all.”