Raissa Malu

Never without them!

This Thursday, 21st November 2019, I participated in Dakar in the 10th edition of the Young Talent Awards for Sub-Saharan Africa of the L'Oréal Foundation's For Women In Science programme, with UNESCO.

I was there as ambassador of the Next Einstein Forum for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and because the L'Oréal Foundation (as well as UNESCO) is one of the sponsors of the Science and Technology Week. But also (or especially 😉), I was there because one of the laureates is Congolese.

The Congolese laureate

She is Carine Kunsevi-Kilola, a PhD candidate in the Department of Immunology at the Faculty of Medicine of Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Her research can be summarized as follows: "Determination of the association between tuberculosis and diabetes in the lungs of diabetic patients." What a programme!

You don't understand what it means? Well, neither do I! I always tell my students that studying physics and mathematics is much easier than medicine 😉

A personal story

I met Carine on Thursday morning at the hotel where we were all staying and where the celebration was to take place. My friend Jonathan Mboyo Esole, the Next Einstein Forum Fellow of the DRC, introduced us. We sat at a table and while enjoying our breakfast, she told me her story.

What immediately struck me was the similarity of her story with those of my two friends, Sandrine Mubenga Ngalula and Clarisse Falanga, two other brilliant Congolese women scientists. Like the two of them, it was a personal drama that motivated the choice of her specialty. One of Carine's sisters had tuberculosis, so she chose to focus on the disease.

Learning how o stand out from the crowd

The other highlight of her story is the number of times she applied for this award. Four consecutive attempts (each year since 2016). What determination!

And do you know why it worked this year? Because this time, Carine was coached by a professor (a woman) from her university. The defect of her application is that she did not sufficiently highlight her qualities and other relevant activities (such as community involvement) in which she had voluntarily participated. She limited herself to detailing her academic background and research work. Lesson to learn: It is important to learn how to stand out from the crowd....

Carine is also the mother of a little boy, and Carine's father was there in Dakar to support and encourage her. It is thus a smiling, happy and grateful woman that I discovered. A real pleasure. P.S. : Carine Kunsevi-Kilola studied at the Kabambare High School in Kinshasa. Congratulations also to this school which is among the best in the capital. 😉

For Women in Science programme

The awards evening began with the following video presentation of the For Women In Science programme.

I don't know about you, but when I watch this video, I feel like I'm growing wings. The music, the text, the images, everything tells me that everything is possible for us women, for us Africa and for us the world. And this slogan adapted for the occasion: "Africa needs science, science needs women." Wow!

Not enough researchers in Africa

Some may find that we are exaggerating, do you not? In her opening speech, Alexandra Palt, Executive Vice-President of the L'Oréal Foundation, recalled some figures. According to UNESCO, in 2018, there were only 2.4% of African scientists among the world's researchers, of whom only 30% were women. Do you still think we're exaggerating? To understand the extent of the problem (and see the opportunities), I invite you to discover this tool developed by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS): Data for Sustainable Development Goals - http://uis.unesco.org

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, in 2015 (the only year for which data are available ☹), there were about 10 researchers (in full-time equivalent) per million inhabitants, of whom only 10% were women. In comparison, in South Africa in the same year, there were about 473 researchers per million inhabitants, 44% of whom were women.

Another interesting statistic (even if it is depressing at first glance) is the percentage of researchers by employment sector. In the following image, I have taken the data from China, South Africa and the DRC. The private sector in the DRC simply does not employ our researchers and we do not have enough (highly rated) universities and research centres. Interesting, isn't it? In China and South Africa, note the share of jobs held by the state... Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Chercheurs par secteur demploi

Research, for development

Research and Development (R&D) and innovation are important for the growth of our companies and the socio-economic development of our nations (in Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo too!). And as Alexandra Palt put it so well: "While the level of economic development and population growth in sub-Saharan African countries is unprecedented, it should not be forgotten that they still face major challenges: climate change, poverty, unequal access to education and scarcity of resources. In this context, the contribution of women scientists will be crucial for the achievement of inclusive research capable of addressing these major problems." Yes, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa and the world need science, and science definitely needs women.

In conclusion, I would like to tell you about one of the highlights of the evening, the speech of the First Lady of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denise Nyakeru Tshisekedi, who honoured this evening's awards ceremony with her presence. Our First Lady literally charmed the audience. The women around me told me that we were lucky to have a First Lady like her, that she seemed welcoming, simple, open, accessible 😊 In addition, she supports the STEMDRC initiative of Sandrine Mubenga Ngalula and Women in STEM. Who says better? 😉

Yes, Jonathan, Carine and I were happy and proud to have the First Lady at this event. We were proud together to represent our country, the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Science is fun, join us ! 😊

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