Africa Week Strengthens Global Partnerships For the University of Michigan

To watch live recordings from any of this year’s Africa Week events, visit our YouTube Channel.

The University of Michigan’s Africa Week brought together leaders in higher education, industry, and government for a series of inspiring virtual discussions, from February 15-19, 2021. The conference event addressed key opportunities and challenges that will shape Africa in the coming decades, and outlined several directions to expand and strengthen the collaborations between U-M and present and future African partners.

Africa Week logo depicting the globe showing the continent of Africa with the information for U-M Africa Week

Africa Week featured a series of fireside chats between U-M leaders and distinguished guests from the continent. Each conversation introduced themes for the day: Health and Economics, Technology, and Higher Education and Heritage. The subsequent panel discussions developed each topic further, with lively discussions connecting experts from Africa, the U-M community, and U-M’s alumni network.

Headshot of Dr. Vera Songwe
Dr. Vera Songwe, Under General Secretary of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa.

Fireside chats included Dr. Vera Songwe, Under General Secretary, UN, and Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa, speaking with Susan Collins, U-M Provost and Executive Vice President. Dr. Songwe and Dr. Collins offered a broad spectrum discussion on priorities to promote economic development in African countries, the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement that launched in January 2021, and the new priorities that have emerged in light of the pandemic. Dr. Songwe underscored the importance of education, and higher education especially, as “40 percent of the African population is under the age of 20 years old” — indicating that there is no time like the present to shape the training of the next generation of African professionals.

Patrick Awuah, President, Ashesi University, spoke on Tuesday with Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, of the role of technology in driving social and economic growth. Dr. Awuah underscored, technology must be paired with strong leadership and ethical values to successfully deliver a positive impact in society. These are the key principles upon which Ashesi University has been founded: their graduates have been increasingly successful, so much so that several other African institutions are now partnering with Ashesi to adopt their practices.

Dr. Lia Tadesse, Minister of Health, Ethiopia, sat down with Joseph Kolars, Senior Associate Dean, Michigan Medicine, on Wednesday morning discussing the invaluable benefits that medical trainee exchanges between Ethiopia’s St. Paul’s Millennium Medical College and U-M have brought for both institutions for the past decades.

Panel discussions included exploration of Fintech in the African context, leveraging food security for population health in Sub Saharan Africa, the role of computing in Africa’s economic future, the future of transportation in Africa, reclaiming and repatriating African heritage, and Africa-US Exchanges.  

Numerous participants were connected to the U-M African President Scholars (UMAPS) program.  As outlined by U-M President Mark Schlissel at the conference opening on Monday, the UMAPS program was established by Mary Sue Coleman, former U-M president. Each year UMPAS brings early- and mid-career faculty from African universities to the University of Michigan’s campus to further their research work and advance their scholarly productivity. The program is funded in part by donor support of the African Studies Center Strategic Fund.

“UMAPS forms the cornerstone of U-M’s engagement with Africa,” said Andries Coetzee, director of the African Studies Center. “Through this program, we have established a network of over 150 scholars across the continent who are closely affiliated with Michigan. These scholars gain from their connection to Michigan, but we gain as much through having them on our campus, interacting with our students, staff and faculty, and through the institutional relationships that we build in collaboration with our UMAPS alums.” 

Portrait of Priscilla Kolibea Mante
Priscilla Kolibea Mante, a UMAPS alumna and now a senior lecturer at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana.

Valeria Bertacco, U-M vice provost for engaged learning, noted, “Africa Week was a unique opportunity for the U-M community and its partners in Africa to hear from key African leaders, connect with each other, as well as envision and strengthen our collaborations with Africa for the next decades.”

“The global virtual conference provided many opportunities to think and plan for the future, engaging in ways that enable high-impact, long-term multidisciplinary and collaborative projects with partners across the globe.”

The three-day conference was followed by a series of co-located workshops, led by U-M faculty and graduate students, including a special discussion between Drs. Tadataka “Tachi” Yamada, Venture Partner with Frazier Healthcare Partners, Paul Farmer, Kolokotrones University Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Agnes Binagwaho, Vice-Chancellor for the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda, on the challenges associated with acquiring and distributing COVID-19 vaccines in Africa.  All three are close friends of the newly established Center for Global Health Equity at U-M.

Other workshops taking place addressed topics of healthcare and the ongoing pandemic, educator networks in STEM fields and the role of theater in driving social change.

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