Research in the Developing World

Elsevier Foundation awards $600K to innovative libraries and women in science

Annual grants support projects to build research capacity in Africa and level the academic playing field for women scientists

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In November, Elsevier Chairman Youngsuk "YS" Chi, President of the Elsevier Foundation (3rd from right), and Ylann Schemm, Program Director of the Elsevier Foundation (4th from left), visited Dr. Nchinda Godwin, Deputy Director of the Chantal Biya International Reference Center (4th from right), an Elsevier Foundation Library grant recipient from 2009-11 with a delegation from Reed Elsevier, Book Aid International, and EISERVI, a Cameroon nonprofit specializing in literacy and book donations.

As the year draws to a close, the Elsevier Foundation announces its newly funded projects from the Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries and New Scholars programs.

The grants are part of an annual award program that is nearing a decade. This year, we have committed about $600,000 to 10 institutions around the world, along with 11 ongoing multi-year grants. In addition, we earmark another $200,000 to match Elsevier colleagues' donations to nonprofit organizations and charities of their choice.

David Ruth, Executive Director of the Elsevier Foundation, said the grants will go toward initiatives that will build evidence-based public health information, measure the impact of information on health outcomes, leverage indigenous scientific knowledge to foster economic development, and expand career opportunities for women scientists in regions and fields that need them the most.   

"The programs selected continue to break new ground in the areas where the Foundation can make a difference," he said

Innovative Libraries grant recipients

The Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries program awards grants to libraries for innovation in improving access and use of scientific, technical and medical information. The 2014 library grant recipients address developing world issues through the use of STM information resources.

Consumer Health Literacy in African Public Libraries (Network of African Medical Librarians)

In the wake of recent African health scares and widespread misinformation, this grant will address public health literacy. Its aim is to improve access to and use of freely available, relevant, up-to-date and evidence-based consumer health information in public libraries across seven sub-Saharan African countries. The project targets the consumer health information gaps in personal health concerns, medical treatment and infectious diseases across seven sub-Saharan African countries: Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. 

Grace AjuwonCoordinated by the NIH-founded Network of African Health Librarians (NAML), each of the seven in-country health librarians will target three public libraries. They will undertake an assessment of librarians' training needs, develop training content, deliver workshops to public librarians, develop project plans together with the public librarians, and finally provide monitoring, evaluation, and dissemination of lessons learned. One of the project's key goals will be to establish and sustain linkages between academic health sciences libraries and public libraries to improve the overall health literacy of patrons and prevent non-communicable diseases.

[pullquote align="right"]"This grant will help to create awareness and improve access to high-quality health information to promote health literacy." — Grace Ajuwon, Medical Librarian, University of Ibadan[/pullquote]

"It is a dream come true and the beginning of a great partnership and collaboration between public and health sciences librarians in Africa," said Grace Ajuwon, Medical Librarian at the University of Ibadan, on behalf of the Network of African Medical Librarians. "This grant will help to create awareness and improve access to high-quality health information to promote health literacy of the public in the continent."


Forig Library: Digitization of Indigenous Knowledge in the Forestry Sector in Ghana (CSIR Forestry Research Institute of Ghana)

Indigenous knowledge (IK) refers to the large body of expertise and skills that have been developed outside the formal educational system. IK is firmly embedded in communities, forming the basis for local-level decision-making in agriculture, human and animal health, food security, education and natural resource management. In developed countries, IK is often used as a resource to fuel industries ranging from energy, food, pharmaceuticals and chemical products.

Like most African countries, Ghana has historically disregarded these resources as a foundation for business development. In this grant, the CSIR Forestry Research Institute of Ghana will establish a library system for recording, documenting and preserving indigenous knowledge on forest foods and medicinal plants. The project will use digitization for sharing, exchanging, educating, and preserving IK through a clear design of metadata standards and procedures, multimedia technologies, and appropriate structures for access and use. While training researchers, librarians and information managers, the project team will explore the importance of indigenous knowledge systems in livelihood and socio-economic development in Ghana.

Margaret Sraku-Lartey, Principal Librarian of the CSIR-Forestry Research Institute of Ghana, summed up the importance of their project:

Indigenous Knowledge thrives on the skills and expertise of individuals, especially the elderly who are the custodians of such knowledge. It is therefore essential to capture this knowledge for use by a community before it disappears. This goes to confirm an old African proverb which says that 'when an elder dies, a whole library disappears.'


Librarians Without Borders E-Library Training Initiative (Librarians Without Borders/Medical Library Association)

Since 2007, the Medical Library Association (MLA)/Librarians Without Borders (LWB) E-Library Training Initiative has worked to improve access to high-quality STM information through Research4Life by increasing the quantity and quality of usage in low use areas. With support from the Elsevier Foundation, LWB has delivered on this goal, providing 55 workshops in 32 countries and six distance learning courses to more than 1,800 participants, while developing a systematic and robust training infrastructure across the Research4Life programs. 

Carla J. Funk, Executive Director of the Medical Library Association, said: "We want to continue to create excitement, interest, and the desire to become involved in this outstanding program with a new generation of health information professionals, and we are very happy to be able to continue our important and productive relationship with the Elsevier Foundation and Research4Life."

In 2015-16, LWB will continue offering "Train the Trainers" workshops, cross-program modules, distance learning courses and facilitating the formation of Research4Life country users' groups.

Watch a video about the initiative:


Transforming Scholarly Communication and Academic Production in Eastern DRC (Université Chretienne Bilingue du Congo)

The eastern Congo is described by the UN Development Programme as "the least developed on Earth." With absent infrastructure and poor organization, universities in this region are isolated from each other and the international scientific community and deeply limited in their ability to inform policy and funding decisions with local expertise and research. Key data, ideas, and perspectives from within Congo are rarely integrated in research informing national and regional policy decisions.

This project aims to strengthen eastern Congo's research and publishing ecosystem by working closely with UCBC's librarians. Key activities will include library science and research capacity building, faculty training, the establishment of a thesis repository and harvester to improve the discoverability of local research; and finally, engagement in community research. By equipping faculty and students with up-to-date technology and providing access to qualified librarians, this grant aims to empower researchers to better address local problems in a systematic, scientific way. The ultimate goal is to promote a rigorous, relevant research culture in eastern Congo and provide a model for institutions facing similar challenges.

"We are grateful and very excited to begin implementing this project with the tremendous support your organization is providing," said Jonathan Shaw, Director of the Integrated Research Institute at the Université Chretienne Bilingue du Congo.


Eye Health Information Impact Grant (SEVA Foundation)

Building on a 2012-14 grant to improve learning resource centers across eight leading eye care institutions in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, SEVA will work with these partners to establish critical indicators and methodology for mapping utilization of health information and its impact on improved health outcomes. SEVA, the Association of Vision Science Librarians (AVSL) and resource center partners will tackle questions such as: What constitutes robust measurement parameters? How can we measure our activities vis-a-vis external data available for eye institution partners?

Dr. Suzanne S Gilbert, Senior Director of Innovation & Sight Programs for the SEVA Foundation, explained: "SEVA Foundation and our partners are keenly interested in understanding the link between information and health outcomes. This timely research project supported by the Elsevier Foundation enables us to work with the Association of Vision Science Librarians (AVSL) and other evaluation experts to identify key metrics and apply them to our work. The Elsevier Foundation is breaking new ground by providing special research funding specifically for the purpose of gauging the impact of their previous three-year grant."

Read about SEVA in Elsevier Connect: "Vision librarians tackle avoidable blindness"

Watch a video:


Health Information Research in Uganda (Maria Musoke, Professor of Information Science and University Librarian, Makerere University)

Professor Maria Musoke is researching the accessibility, use, needs and sources of health information and its effect on health outcomes in Uganda. A recipient of funding for the 2010-14 Elsevier Foundation project "Enhancing access to current literature by health workers in rural Uganda and community health problem solving," Professor Musoke has been awarded one of the Foundation's new health evaluation impact grants to support her research. She will aim to track health information in Uganda and Sub-Saharan Africa, examining trends in behavior and the value of information and its effect on health information activities and outcomes over the past 15 years. Her analysis will be facilitated by the advances in information technology, the involvement of the HINARI team, and a sizeable amount of research on information user studies, health information, behavior and interventions since 2000.

Watch a video about her work:

New Scholars grant recipients

The New Scholars program supports projects to help early- to mid-career women scientists balance family responsibilities with demanding academic careers and addresses the attrition rate of talented women scientists. These are the 2014 grant recipients. 


Career Building Workshops for STEM Women Scientists (Engineering School of Communications of Tunis)

The advancement of women in science presents a significant opportunity to develop science in countries around the world. Based in Tunisia, this program is designed to provide early-career women scientists with training in neglected career-building topics which are critical for career advancement. Partnering with the US COACh program, the Engineering school of communications in Tunis will provide 240 women scientists across Tunisia with six-day workshops offering training in grantsmanship, publication in quality journals, leadership skills, persuasive negotiation, communication techniques, scientific presentation design and delivery, career launch and advancement, self-promotion and mentoring for success and network building.

The goal of the project is to enable Tunisian women scientists to acquire the skills, knowledge, techniques, and attitudes they need to successfully navigate their careers. It also provides a relevant bridge between COACh, a multifaceted and tested US career-training model, and the North African context.

Dr. Rim Cherif of the Engineering School of Communications of Tunis University said: "We will do our best to ensure that our project serves as a model for the future, much like the democratic transition of Tunisia has for other emerging countries in the region."


Title: Sustainability and Water Resource Management in the Tropics (University of Florida, University of Hawaii-Manoa, American Society for Microbiology)

This grant will craft a blueprint for developing outstanding female scientific leaders in the fields of sustainable agriculture and water management. The current lack of senior female scientists and decision makers in sustainability projects often provides an implementation risk as key project stakeholders, especially in the tropics, tend to be women. "Tropical Connections" addresses the urgent need to develop a framework for fostering the careers of women scientists with a solid foundation in agricultural sustainability and water resource management. 

The University of Hawaii - Manoa, the University of Florida and the Southeastern Branch of the American Society for Microbiology will establish a career development path for 20 post-doctoral international and minority female scientists who will undergo a rigorous preparation for tenure track and leadership roles.

Dr Max Teplitski, Project Director andUniversity of Florida Research Foundation Professor and Graduate Coordinator of the Soil and Water Science Department clarified the need for the grant:  

While numbers of female students in the undergraduate and graduate classrooms typically equal or exceed those of their male classmates, women are noticeably under-represented in tenure-track faculty and leadership positions in academic, private research institutions and NGO's.   This problem is especially apparent in sustainable agriculture and water management.   This lack of female scientists and decision makers exacerbates implementation of the sustainability projects, as the end-users and stakeholders of these technologies, especially in the tropics around the globe, tend to be disproportionately women.   Therefore, this multi-partner collaborative project involving scientists at the University of Florida, University of Hawaii-Manoa and the Southeastern Branch of American Society for Microbiology, aims to address an urgent need to develop a framework for fostering careers of women scientists, who have a solid foundation in agricultural sustainability and water resource management and are exceptionally well prepared for tenure-track positions, and leadership roles.


West Virginia STEM+ Family Travel Initiative (West Virginia University Foundation on Behalf of West Virginia University)

The primary goal of the West Virginia STEM+ Family Travel Initiative is to reduce caregiving barriers to research-related travel by establishing sustainable, state wide solutions for female faculty with family responsibilities. The program is unique in its centralized, state-sponsored approach and targets over 700 female postdoctoral scholars in STEM and the social sciences across 22 West Virginia colleges and universities. The program will be administered by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the project team will research institutional policy to develop a travel grant program which can serve as a national model covering childcare, dependent care, elder care and special needs.

The program builds on the strengths of past New Scholars grants from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Massachusetts, the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) and the American Physical Society to provide a solid caregiving infrastructure serving as a one stop shop for women faculty. The West Virginia STEM+ Family Travel Initiative's focus on researching policy change is unique and with proper dissemination, there is the opportunity for a strong multiplier effect across the US.


American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) Women's Initiative

Women physical anthropologists, like most other STEM women scholars and researchers, experience a significant early career bottleneck in the transition from graduate programs to tenure. This professional association-led program aims to create a self-sustaining career-development infrastructure through workshops and associated travel and childcare grants. The program will reach out to national members through workshops held at the annual AAPA conference and at Duke University and the University of Colorado Boulder, and to international members at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and Durham University in the UK.

The project will also build transferable online tools and webinars in partnership with the Association for Women in Science, a longstanding Elsevier Foundation partner. The AAPA's Committee on Diversity Women's Initiative, co-Chaired by Robin Bernstein of the University of Colorado and Andrea Taylor of Duke University, piloted a workshop in 2014 that demonstrated a successful proof-of-concept ready for scaling.

Karen Rosenberg, Professor of Anthropology at University of Delaware and President of the AAPA, remarked:  

Our professional association has piloted several programs that aim to provide much-needed mentoring and career support to women and underrepresented minorities. We are committed to increasing the representation of women physical anthropologists across our global community by building the infrastructure necessary to sustain and expand these programs to ensure that women remain engaged and productive in all stages of their careers.


Elsevier Connect Contributor

 Ylann SchemmYlann Schemm (@ylannschemm) heads Elsevier's corporate responsibility program, which focuses on advancing women in science and developing research access in the developing world. She serves as the Program Director of the Elsevier Foundation's New Scholars program, which supports projects to expand the participation of women in STEM, and the Innovative Libraries in Developing Countries program, which supports capacity-building projects in science, technology and medicine. Ylann works closely with the Research4Life partnership, chairing the communications and marketing team, which seeks to raise awareness and usage of the programs.

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