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Wits welcomes WESAF Doctoral Programme Fellows

- Wits University

The first cohort of Wits-Edinburgh Sustainable African Futures (WESAF) Fellows participate in a week-long orientation programme at Wits University.

Inside WESAF Doctoral event hosted at Wits

The inaugural Wits-Edinburgh Sustainable African Futures (WESAF) Doctoral Programme is propelling a select group of academic scholars from diverse African nations into the realm of cutting-edge interdisciplinary research and experiential learning attuned to the intersectoral needs of the continent. WESAF reached a significant milestone on 4 September 2023 as the first cohort of selected candidates convened for their comprehensive weeklong orientation, which represents the first step in the six-year path ahead.  

A cohort of 50 Fellows from 11 African countries will have the opportunity to complete a Master of Science degree by Research, the first part of a comprehensive programme aligned with the diverse sustainability needs of the continent. Thirty of these Fellows will then proceed to phase two - the doctoral pathway of the programme.

Forged from a long-standing collaborative partnership between the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Edinburgh, the WESAF Doctoral Programme, formalised in 2023, will equip a select group of students with academic experience and innovative research training.

The WESAF Doctoral Programme will employ a unique research training model, fostering a cohesive community of early-career African research experts deeply committed to addressing Africa’s climate crisis. It will focus on complex, continental challenges to sustainable development that spans civil engineering, food science and fine arts, with each candidate having a diverse spectrum of research interests.  The weeklong orientation programme will familiarise candidates with the philosophical underpinnings, pedagogical ethos, and overarching aspirations that underlie the WESAF Programme.

Professor Roksana Osman at WESAF Doctoral event

Professor Ruksana Osman, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Academic at Wits University, South Africa, says: "The WESAF Doctoral Programme stands as a catalytic force, ensuring that African researchers spearhead solutions to some of the most profound challenges that our continent faces. It is imperative for Africa to strengthen the high-level skills needed to realise an equitable, inclusive, and sustainable society, and to effectively address the contemporary issues of our time."

James Smith, Professor of African and Development Studies and Vice-Principal: International at the University of Edinburgh says: “Every young person should have access to education. This is especially so in Africa, given the transformational potential of its young population. This is why it is so important to us that we help break down the financial barriers that prevent so many bright and budding young students - who will ultimately be the world’s future leaders – from gaining a degree. Since its establishment, we have had the pleasure of witnessing hundreds of students with a desire to change the world for the better gain scholarships and flourish from the Mastercard Foundation, providing them with a head-start into working life. Given the critical climate crisis that is severely impacting Africa, it has been imperative for us to support the continent in any way we can.”

Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, Wits Vice-Chancellor and Principal, shares words of encouragement with the new Fellows: “This programme seeks to develop the next generation of African scholars who will develop the high-level skills required to address the key sustainability challenges facing the continent, both today and in the future. We look forward to realising the fruits of this Programme and its multiplier effect in the years to come. You are all ripples of hope in a pond and your efforts will undoubtedly create a wave of change in the future sustainability of Africa.” 

Wits Vice Chancellor, Zeblon Vilakazi at WESAF Event

In full support of the Programme, Phuong Hoang, Program Partner from the Mastercard Foundation says: “We believe in igniting the exceptional potential of young people to drive socioeconomic transformation. We believe in higher education institutions that enable young people to drive sustainable development though knowledge and innovation. We support the efforts of African universities to lead the response to the climate crisis and to shape the climate agenda through teaching, learning, research and innovation. We support young people to acquire degrees and to develop leadership skills and expertise that are critical for responding to the climate crisis, for setting the agenda for the future of work, and for building sustainable green economies.”

Hoang offered advice to the Fellows as they embarked on this new journey: “Be kind to yourself and others, have humility and self-awareness, be ethical and act with integrity, be courageous and build resilience, and listen deeply - for it is a source of empathy, insight and innovation. Work together to create impact because we cannot do this alone. Be part of this solution as part of this community of young Africans who are driving change to ensure a greener continent and world.”

Prof. Brett Bowman and Prof. Sumaya Laher from Wits University, and Dr Barabara Bompani and Charlie Bevan from the UoE serve as the Directors of the WESAF Programme. Bowman emphasised the importance of solving Africa’s challenges through expanding graduate education, postgraduate opportunities, faculty training, research networks, international partnerships, exchanges in teaching, research and public service. He added that a just transition can only be effective through developing interdisciplinary, intersectoral and innovative approaches in and across Africa and beyond.”

“Our Fellows are ready to challenge and be challenged. This programme creates opportunities to connect and to work together, to create new ways of teaching, learning and supervision within and beyond the walls of our disciplines, institutions and countries,” says Bompani as she outlined the WESAF training pathway which concludes in January 2028. “We want to ensure impact through this programme, both for the Fellows, for the institutions, and the continent.” 

She thanked the WESAF Fellows, Advisory Board, Megan Douglas and Sarika Munnie, academics and other members of the WESAF team for ensuring that the Programme grows from strength to strength.

To find out more about the Wits-Edinburgh Sustainable African Futures (WESAF) Doctoral Programme, please visit: Wits-Edinburgh Sustainable African Futures

About the WESAF Orientation Programme

During the orientation programme, the candidates will learn about how multidisciplinary approaches can enhance their understanding of complex social and environmental phenomena, understand the importance of North-South differences but also their intrinsic interconnectedness, and practice the all-important skill of scholarly communication. Further, it will promote academic and social integration into the programme, nurture a sense of belonging and community amongst students, which is underscored by a shared commitment to regional and international inclusiveness.

About the Wits-UoE partnership

The University of Edinburgh is a strategic Wits partner, with similar values and shared academic and research programmes. The universities enjoy equitable collaborative projects which have grown significantly over the last three years in priority research areas related to inequality studies, health informatics, digital innovation, rangeland management, enterprise and innovation, among other areas.

About The Mastercard Foundation 

The Mastercard Foundation is a registered Canadian charity and one of the largest foundations in the world. It works with visionary organisations to advance education and financial inclusion to enable young people in Africa and Indigenous youth in Canada to access dignified and fulfilling work. Established in 2006 through the generosity of Mastercard when it became a public company, the Foundation is an independent organization separate from the company, with offices in Toronto, Kigali, Accra, Nairobi, Kampala, Lagos, Dakar, and Addis Ababa. Its policies, operations, and programme decisions are determined by the Foundation's Board of Directors and leadership.

For more information on the Foundation, please visit