Embedding publishers in Tanzania through a new volunteer program

NGOs, publishers and research institutes join forces to help the nation boost its publishing and research ecosystem

Liesbeth Kanis in an outdoor market in Morogoro. In 2010, I left my job, home, friends and family to work for two years in Tanzania with VSO. I had little idea of the journey I was about to embark on, but I knew I was in good hands with VSO, a skills-based professional capacity-building organization with over 50 years of experience in developing countries.

Through VSO, I was able to use my publishing expertise to serve as an Academic Publishing and Research Advisor for St. John's University of Tanzania in Dodoma. It was challenging and rewarding at the same time. I worked with academics, publishers and research institutes to boost their publications' output and quality. I saw a great need but also many opportunities. Luckily, I was also able to secure a small research grant and recruited two MA students to help analyze the key needs faced by the Tanzanian research and publishing community. We engaged regularly with key stakeholders, such as researchers, librarians, publishers and directors of research and publication at universities.

Many Tanzanian academics are heavily involved in teaching and do consultancy activities on the side. This leaves them little time to conduct research, let alone publish.

If they do conduct research and wish to publish, often they lack the knowledge on how to write a good publication proposal that will ultimately enable them to get published, or simply their English language skills are not adequate enough.

To address some of these needs, I conducted several workshops for academics called "How to Get Your Research Published," focusing on each of their different areas of expertise (Humanities, Social Sciences, Business, Law and STM).

For publishers, the challenge is largely how to professionalize their publishing services and conduct quality control. Many are still very much book-oriented and most are struggling to move to digital, which is needed to increase their audience regionally and globally. Tanzania leapfrogged almost straight to good mobile phone coverage and Internet usage through mobile phones and USB dongles. This opens up exciting opportunities for digital content which we have promoted in trainings on digital publishing and e-resources. Maybe after Nilicon Valley (Nairobi), a Dilicon Valley (Dar es Salaam) can be created?

<strong>Library e-resources training.</strong> Martin Kusekwa, Librarian at St. John's University of Tanzania in Dodoma, is training library staff on the use of e-resources, demonstrating the library's newly acquired e-readers for students and staff. Liesbeth Kanis helped Kusekwa prepare the workshop and get funding to aquire the e-readers. (Copyright © Floris Janssens-Andrejew)Most publishers focus on the more lucrative educational market, which makes it challenging for Tanzanian academics to find a suitable outlet for their academic publications. There are university presses, but these often are lagging behind the commercial and independent publishers when it comes to publishing services.

Maaike DuineThese insights and experiences resulted is a unique two-year research capacity building project: Strengthening Indigenous Academic and Digital Publishing. Participating organizations are VSO, the Commission for Science & Technology in Tanzania (COSTECH); INASP, a nonprofit with over 20 years of experience building research in developing countries; and the Elsevier Foundation.

<strong>A digital publishing workshop in Dar es Salaam.</strong> Liesbeth Kanis  co-facilitated this workshop as part of a research project funded by the Netherlands Embassy in Dar es Salaam. Here, participants discuss the use of digital workflows in their publishing activities. (Copyright Liesbeth Kanis) The project started in 2014 when another VSO professional, Maaike Duine, moved to Dar es Salaam, where she is currently implementing the project with the key partners. Essential to the project is the embedding of volunteers for a month at a time. They will collaborate closely with the Tanzanian research community to give training and workshops in publishing, acquisitions, marketing, open access, production, and digitization as part of a newly established Consortium of Academic Publishers of Tanzania.

"I was uncertain what to expect of being away from my family and friends for two years, of living in Dar es Salaam and of academic publishing in Tanzania," said Duine, who serves as VSO Program coordinator. "Even though there have been challenges, personally and professionally, I do not regret making this decision."

In June, they launched the Consortium of Academic Publishers of Tanzania, which comprises the Publishing Association of Tanzania (PATA) and the Book Development Council of Tanzania (BAMVITA). "It's great to receive so many positive responses from local publishers and researchers," she said," adding that she was looking forward to working with the Elsevier volunteers.

As you can see, the program reflects deep commitment on the part of the participating organizations and the professional volunteers. With support from my own employer, Brill, I am able to remain closely involved as an advisor to strengthen Tanzanian indigenous academic and digital publishing, working together with academics, universities and publishers. It is very exciting to see that the project I conceived and marshaled engagement and funding for is finally taking off.

What are the goals?

  • Increase the quality of academic publishing, through training, skills development and capacity building.
  • Create a consortium of academic publishers under the umbrella of the Publishing Association of Tanzania (PATA) to share knowledge, expertise and provide a platform for common interests.
  • Equip staff at academic and university publishers to operate at consistent professional standards.
  • Strengthen umbrella organizations such as COSTECH, the Publishing Association of Tanzania (PATA), the Book Development Council of Tanzania (BAMVITA) and the Dar Teknohama Business Incubator (DTBi) to serve as national representatives of scientific research and the publishing industry.
  • Strengthen Tanzanian digital publishing and actively promote alternative business models such as open access.
  • Strengthen collaboration with government research institutions including the Ministry of Science, Communication and Technology, the Tanzanian Commission for Universities and other universities.
  • Increase overall research output and quality, dissemination, and innovation across Tanzania.

Flora Ismail Tibazarwa, PhDSue CorbettDr. Flora Ismail Tibazarwa, Director of Life Sciences for the Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology, said the access to digital platforms for research dissemination presents opportunities for developing countries like Tanzania to compete in the global economy.

"Tanzania has a growing intellectual potential, but there are few outlets for quality academic publication, with ineffective infrastructure (for IT and research) and weak promotion that limits visibility of Tanzanian scholarly contribution," she explained. "This exciting intervention is part of a national strategy to developing a knowledge economy."

"INASP has been working with librarians and the research community in Tanzania for a number of years," said Sue Corbett, Executive Director of INASP. "But when we were approached by Liesbeth Kanis to be a part of this wide-ranging project, … we felt that this would definitely complement the work we have already been doing."

SWim de Jonghe said this new collaboration will enable them to work in a more systematic way.

Ylann Schemm"The involvement of the Elsevier Foundation in the project is really what we were looking for," said Wim de Jong, VSO Partnerships Manager. "We are not only delighted to work with an organization that promotes knowledge sharing like we do, but the specific publishing and research expertise Elsevier can bring in will for sure give a boost to the project and its impact."

"After years of supporting infrastructure building in libraries in developing countries and working to promote usage of free and low cost access programs like Research4life, it's very exciting to embed our own Elsevier publishers in Tanzania," said Ylann Schemm, Program Director of the Elsevier Foundation, "We've dubbed the program, "Publishers without Borders," and it's been incredible to see just how committed our publishers are to collaborating with the Tanzanian publishing and research community.''

How to become a VSO volunteer

 A health seminar organized on World Aids Day 2010 in Stonetown Zanzibar for midwives, health workers and community birth attendants (Copyright © Liesbeth Kanis)VSO welcomes volunteers from most professional backgrounds, from healthcare to education, agriculture and engineering. To volunteer with VSO as a trained professional, you'll need professional experience and qualifications. In general, the more experience you have, the better.

Professional skills and experience

Requirements vary, but you will typically need:

  • Five years' professional experience
  • An official qualification, such as a degree, to help secure your work permit
  • To pass a medical check and a criminal record check
  • To be between 18 and 75 years old
  • To be ready to start within the next 18 months
  • To be available for a placement that will last from six to 24 months.

Interested? Learn more

Elsevier's Publishers Without Borders

From October to December, the first four volunteers from Elsevier will head to Tanzania to collaborate on the project. They will work with colleagues from the Tanzanian Commission for Science & Technology to provide in-depth training sessions to Tanzanian researchers, editors and publishers in Dar es Salaam and surrounding universities.

Steve Mao, Assistant Scientific Editor, Cell Press (Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Steve MaoI witnessed the remarkable economic transformation in China when I grew up in Beijing and deeply appreciate and understand how this could positively influences democracy, advance scientific developments, improve people's quality of life, and bring the stability and prosperity to the country and even the region. Tanzania today reminds me of China then in many aspects. The economy is growing rapidly; people are optimistic, work hard, and have great hopes; science and technology R&D are in their infancy but full of youthful spirits.

To share my professional skills, and to contribute to empowering and building research capacity of local communities would allow me to feel and even be a part of this big, exciting transformation happening in Tanzania. I am truly grateful to Elsevier, Cell Press, and my colleagues for this unique upcoming educational experience.

Mary Ann Zimmerman, Senior Acquisitions Editor (Camden, UK)

Mary Ann ZimmermanI'm really excited to be a part of the Publishers Without Borders program because it will give us the opportunity to help instruct, learn from, and hopefully strengthen Tanzania's research and publishing communities. A lot of thought and care has clearly gone into planning the program with VSO and INASP, and offering employees the chance to be involved in a hands-on way is fantastic. I really can't wait!

Shirley Decker Lucke, Books Publisher (Waltham Massachusetts)

Shirley Decker LuckePublishing is an integral part of a healthy and productive academic community. I'm so looking forward to being a training resource for the Tanzanian Commission for Science & Technology as they grow the publishing component of their consortium of university scholars and leaders. When I joined Elsevier, one of the first things I told my friends about was Elsevier's wonderful support of volunteering through the RE Cares days. I'm delighted to be participating in Elsevier's volunteering work as we collaboratively make the world a better place through research, science, and scholarship.

Lily Khidr, Senior Publisher (New York)

Lily Khidr, PhDWhen I first heard about the Publishers Without Borders program, I had an immediate instinctual response – the kind of feeling you get when you know it's just right but that it won't be easy. Any opportunity that serves to bridge socioeconomic, cultural or gender gaps through scientific research and education is incredibly empowering. To say that I'm ecstatic is an understatement.


Elsevier Connect Contributor

Liesbeth KanisLiesbeth Kanis, who continues to be involved in this project as an advisor, works as Development Manager Asia for Brill. As part of Brill's Corporate Social Responsibility program, she has developed Brill's Developing Countries Program and is the Brill liaison for Research4Life. She has worked in different roles in academic publishing, ranging from marketing and sales to publishing, and most recently in business development. She has an MA degree in Book and Publishing Studies from Leiden University in the Netherlands. She is based in Leiden and will travel to Tanzania in November, participating in the trainings with the Elsevier "Publishers Without Borders" volunteers.

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