I travelled to the UK on 2nd March, 2013, at the invitation of the Royal Society, UK on secondment for two-weeks, as part of the Royal Society Pfizer African Academies Programme. The Royal Society runs a programme of mentoring, training and institutional support for national academies of science in Ghana, Tanzania and Ethiopia. This capacity building programme is administered jointly by the Royal society and the Network of African Science Academies (NASAC).
A look at the draft programme emailed to us the secondees hinted at what we were in for, a power-packed programme, but nothing could have surprised me more than the seriousness and meticulousness, with which the Royal Society Staff conduct their work when we arrived in the United Kingdom.
Once the pleasantries of meeting with Tony McBride, Director, Science Policy Centre and other officials was done with on the first day of the programme, I together with two other secondees from Ethiopia and Tanzania were taken on a fire tour of the entire Secretariat building, where the various exit points could be found and what to do in case the Fire Alarm went off. To say that I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement, seeing that a few days after this encounter, I had to put the instructions I had received from the Fire Safety Officer at the Royal Society in practice, when in the middle of the night, the fire alarms at the Strand Palace Hotel where we were accommodated, continued to toll persistently. Disorientated and bare-footed in pajamas, with no other protective clothing against the very cold British weather even in March, I instinctively grabbed my laptop and sped off in the direction of the Hotel fire exit points to the front of the Hotel. Of course, for about 20minutes I was ostensibly the subject of ridicule of other hotel occupants downstairs who kept stealing glances at me with my laptop safely ensconced in my armpit. If only those sneering observers knew what I stood by way of information without my laptop.
Anyway, as I was saying the schedule of programs for the secondment proved to be expansive, yet very useful.
We got insights into how the Royal Society keeps itself busy and relevant by scanning the horizon proactively taking on issues, fundraising, new ways of making money by digitizing some of its archived materials, how the press team maximizes coverage and also helps scientists to become better communicators; science communication, education programming and general administration at the Secretariat.
One could not help but be impressed with the confidence and zeal with which staff went about their business during our stay; the respect, understanding and cordiality among staff and Fellows of the Royal Society including the suave Prof Martynn Poliakoff, Foreign Secretary.
Our hosts also showed to us the importance they place on networking and collaborations for better results. Indeed it so turns out that all the external institutions we visited at the Institute of Physics, the Wellcome Trust, the British Council and the UK Collaborative Network and the officials we encountered had all had Links, one way or the other, with organizers of our trip, who had deployed the relationship established to our advantage.
The Brown Bag Presentation session in which the secondees shared their experiences with the Royal Society staff on the last day of our stay in the UK proved to be a very interesting event as the very hard-working, staff members metamorphosed into “humans” with a great display of humour and camaraderie and an admirable capacity for sitting and listening to others, no matter how boring. Although I did not catch the anecdote in all its detail as told by a Fellow of the Royal Society at one of their exhibitions whilst we were there, to the effect that one can tell the seriousness of an organization by how well it keeps its washrooms, the statement has stayed in my mind. I daresay that even if for nothing at all, on that score alone, the Royal society scores full marks for ‘seriousness’ in the way it maintains the sanity of its washrooms. I feel proud and privileged to be associated with such a body which is punching its full weight in putting and maintaining the science agenda on the world’s radar.
All-in-all, with the exception of the “unfriendly” weather, I can confidently say that this was time well spent in the UK.
I am back to Ghana now, brimming with ideas to advocate the publishing of a GAAS Fellows Year Book; Online Publishing of our numerous publications and investment in Networking and collaboration with people of like minds for the advancement of science and humanity. And just so you know how serious I am about championing change in the way we do things henceforth, I have for starters engaged the services of the Network Forum to stream live on the cell phones of MTN’s 11 million subscribers in Ghana proceedings of the Royal Society Pfizer African Academies-funded 2-day workshop on Counterfeit Medicines in Ghana being held under the auspices of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences on 26-27 March 2013.