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Pioneering research and innovation through the Nairobi Alliance

- Wits University

An innovative research partnership with the potential to transform lives and support communities across the world has launched today.

The Nairobi Alliance is a strategic partnership between the Universities of Leicester, Nairobi, Malawi, Rwanda and Witwatersrand. Developed from the friendship and co-operation of academics across the five universities, the partnership builds on the strengths of each university to address key global challenges.  

The alliance seeks to apply for grants to do collaborative research, to develop joint masters and PhD degrees between partners and to facilitate staff exchanges in which research expertise can be shared within the partnership.

Nairobi Alliance partners are committed to working together to design and implement cutting-edge research and innovation based on the principles of equity, respect and empowerment to address the most pressing issues faced by communities across the world.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester, said he is “delighted that the University of Leicester is one of the founding members of the Nairobi Alliance.”

“Our university is committed to creating equal opportunities for all, and through this partnership we can join together to make a real difference to communities around the world. I look forward to seeing the alliance develop and the opportunities it will present to our researchers and students.”

As part of the pioneering work undertaken by the alliance, Dr Joshua Vande (Leicester )is working with Professor Madara Ogot (Nairobi) to help combat air pollution in Nairobi, Kenya - a city whose average air quality has deteriorated by double since the 1970s. The team is monitoring air pollution to better understand its effect on human health, and assessing how effective methods to limit exposure are.  

Professor Sarah Gabbott and Dr Bernhard Forchtner (Leicester), in collaboration with Professor Sosten Chiotha (Malawi), have provided evidence to the government of Malawi on the impact of plastic bags on people and the environment, which ultimately led to the complete ban of single-use plastic bags across the country.

Dr’s Paul Lefley (Leicester) and Stanley Mlatho and colleagues (Malawi) have worked collaboratively to design a ventilator and CPAP machine that can be built from 3D-printed parts and be battery-operated, optimising its usefulness in low-resource contexts where electricity supplies may be interrupted. This research was initiated at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic as a way to address the shortage of ventilators in Malawi, and in order to improve vital health support for a population of over 18m people.

Professor Iain Gillespie, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, said:

“This partnership presents many exciting opportunities to develop our research expertise in ways that will have a direct benefit on communities around the world. As well as sharing our cutting-edge research, we will look to our partners to help us to re-imagine our approach to research and ensure impact that benefits all.”

About the Nairobi Alliance

The Alliance builds on the University of Leicester’s work within the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5 billion fund launched by the UK Government in 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

The Nairobi Alliance Partners have been successful in securing collaborative externally-funded grants and have also received pump-prime funding through the University of Leicester’s QR GCRF allocation (Research England) to hel­­p establish and develop partnerships.

The alliance is one of the main ways in which the University of Leicester conducts development research, helping to cement the University’s reputation for undertaking world-class research that addresses real-world challenges on a global scale, through sustainable and equitable partnerships. 

The partnership spans both research and education and will initially focus on research at the intersection of Global Challenge areas and the Alliance partners’ strengths: health; sustainable land use; migration and society; and resilient, inclusive, sustainable cities.

Following a 2017 workshop jointly hosted by the universities of Leicester and Nairobi in Nairobi, Kenya, the partners explored ways to enhance the contribution of science, technology and innovation to the delivery of the UN’s 2030 Global Goals. Arising from this event, the five attending universities signed a letter of intent to work more closely together, through a formal strategic partnership. Three of the four African partners are members of the prestigious African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), reinforcing the focus on delivering world-class research.