Mathematics activities in Africa – supported by AYA
By Diletta Martinelli
I have the long-term ambition to create a structural framework aimed at supporting academic collaborations between Amsterdam universities and institutions in the Global South, in Africa in particular.
I see two interconnected strategies to achieve this challenging goal.
- Organise activities in the Global South. On top of locally providing high-quality training, these initiatives are essential to engage with the local community of students and researchers, gain an extensive network of contacts and identify talented students and future partners.
- Give students and colleagues from the Global South the opportunity to visit and train in our universities in Amsterdam. This strategy fits within the efforts of internationalisation of our institutions as well as improving their diversity.
I am not alone in this effort, there are many colleagues (and several other AYA members) who are working on different projects in collaboration with African universities. It was really nice to receive support and enthusiasm for these initiatives within AYA and I was honoured to receive the AYA Award for Recognition and Rewards last year.
In 2023, I planned several events that embody the two strategies explained above. Part of the funding to organise these activities came from my AYA personal grant and from the AYA Recognition and Rewards Award.
Symposium on Europe-Africa collaborations
On June 1st, together with Tiago Matos (also an AYA member), we organised a Symposium on how to establish long-lasting collaborations with African Institutions. The event was successful and had a very good turn-out of people. We had invited two African scholars: Dr David Ssevviiri, Associate professor in Mathematics at Makerere University in Uganda, and Dr Freihwot Daba, Dermatologist and Head of the Dermatovenereology Department, Saint Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College, Ethiopia. They both shared their experiences and reflections on what are the main challenges and opportunities of doing research in Africa. We also invited experts of African development and international collaborations, such as Annelies Verdoolaege from the Africa Platform of Ghent University Association: she presented the amazing work they have been doing in terms of mapping all Africa expertise at Ghent University, making that expertise available to academic and non-academic stakeholders, facilitating and enhancing academic collaborations with partners in Africa. This indeed resulted in increased numbers of research projects and joint PhD’s, more student mobility and bilateral agreements and visibility for the UGhent expertise on Africa. We were very impressed with the structured work of Annelies at Ghent and we hope to learn some good practices and try to implement such a broad-base approach also in Amsterdam.
Algebra and Topology Workshop at Ibadan University, Nigeria
I co-organised a mathematics workshop on algebra, topology and applications at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, in July 2023. We were a very diverse team of organisers (from Italy, Nigeria, Benin and Hungary) and we kept an interdisciplinary approach bridging between pure and applied mathematics topics.
On top of the members of the local mathematical community at the University of Ibadan, we supported the participation of 14 Nigerian colleagues coming from outside Ibadan and 4 international participants (two from Ghana and two from Cameroon). The engagement and the participation during the lectures was always really good, with many questions and interesting exchanges, and requests of references to further explore the topics covered. To this end, we collected slides, references, and resources related to the courses and lectures. We also organized a poster session and short talks during the last day of the workshop, to give the opportunity also to younger participants to present their work.
Algebra and Geometry Workshop at Makerere University, Uganda
I also co-organized a workshop more focused on my research topic (algebraic geometry) at the University of Makerere in Kampala, Uganda. I taught a mini-course with two colleagues of mine: we had the ambitious plan to start basically from scratch assuming very little prerequisites and arrive at the end presenting the students with, at least a glimpse, of some active research areas. We complemented each lecture with long exercise sessions that allowed us to get to know the students a bit better and interact with many of them on a personal basis. The main local organiser was David Ssevviiri, the colleague who attended the Symposium in Amsterdam in June. The event was incredibly successful and, in terms of scientific exchanges, I think it was one of the most fruitful experience of this kind I had so far. One of the key ingredients, I believe, is the trustworthy relation we have with David and some other colleagues in his group. We knew what was the background of the students and what they were hoping to gain from this experience. Logistically everything run very smoothly and we could really enjoy our time in Kampala.
Both in Uganda and in Nigeria we organised a session for the women participants only, to have a safe space to share experiences and challenges being a woman doing mathematics. I found both sessions particularly moving and I was impressed by the eagerness and the enthusiasm of the girls and women I met there, despite the many difficulties they had to face to arrive to complete a PhD in maths. Right after the workshop in Uganda a new women network of African Women in Algebra was launched and I am confident many opportunities of collaborations will arise in the future.
We also organized two professional development sessions, dedicated to career advice, aimed mainly at discussing opportunities for international exchanges and scholarships. We shared a list with links and websites to all the participants at the end of the two workshops, hoping it could provide a useful resource, especially for the younger participants.
I came back to Europe fully energised and with many ideas for the coming academic year. I believe there is a good momentum in Amsterdam to keep gaining support for these kind of initiatives and pushing for positive change.
Diletta Martinelli joined the Amsterdam Young Academy last year. She’s assistant professor at the Korteweg-de Vries Institute for Mathematics at the UvA.