Tulane University (2011)

African Biodiversity Information Scientist Mentoring Program in Conjunction with Annual TWDG Conferences

Project Details

Grantee Organization: Tulane University
Grant Amount: $9,990 (2011) & $35,550 (2012-2014)
Contact: Dr. Henry Bart Jr.
Contact Email: hbartjr 'atsign' tulane.edu
Funding Dates: 9/2/11-12/31/11 & 5/23/12-5/30/14
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UPDATE: JRS awarded follow-up grant to continue the work of the project. Please click here to view. 

Background

Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG) is the premier, international organization on standards and technology for biodiversity information.  TDWG annual conferences are the place to hear about the latest advances in biodiversity informatics.  The conferences are held in various locations around the world and attract a broad cross-section of the biodiversity informatics (BI) community, including data providers, data aggregators, data indexers, IT experts and end-users.  TDWG conferences also attract taxonomists, ecologists, computer programmers, geographers, librarians and information scientists.  Regrettably, however, participation of biodiversity specialists from developing Sub-Saharan African countries has traditionally been very low.

Key Objectives and Activities

The objective of this project is to increase participation of biodiversity specialists from Sub-Saharan African countries in the annual conferences and activities of TDWG. The project is accomplishing this by awarding travel grants to biodiversity specialists from Sub-Saharan African countries to support their participation in annual TDWG conferences. Two grants have been awarded to Tulane University by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation to fund this activity.  The grants are used solely to cover the travel costs of Sub-Saharan African biodiversity specialists to TDWG conferences.

Planned Outputs and Outcomes

The immediate planned output of the project is increased African participation in the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 TDWG conferences.  The planned and hoped for outcome is that the participants would build capacity to conduct biodiversity research at the conferences, and would establish research collaborations with TDWG members to sustain their participation and engagement with TDWG.

Participation in the 2011 TDWG conference by biologists and biodiversity specialists from developing African countries was accomplished in the following manner.  A notice requesting expressions of interest to participate in the TDWG conference in New Orleans was posted to the Royal Museum of Central Africa (MRAC) website and other email lists maintained by MRAC. Fifteen applications for the travel funds were received. These applications were carefully reviewed and three specialists were awarded travel funds from the JRS sponsorship.  Additional travel awards to the conference were funded by the Belgian Development Cooperation (DGD).

Results to Date

The first JRS Biodiversity Foundation grant supported participation in the 2011 TDWG Conference in New Orleans, LA.  Travel awards were made to Mr. Innocent Akampurira, Node Manager for the Uganda Biodiversity Information Facility (UgaBIF) and Ms. Sediqa Khatieb, Project Manager for the Biodiversity Geographical Information Systems unit of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).  Mr. Akampurira and Ms. Khatieb participated in the meeting and gave presentations on their work in a Symposium entitled ‘Biodiversity Informatics Research in Africa’.  The awards supported their travel from their home countries to New Orleans and back, as well as travel visas, ground transportation, and lodging and meals during the conference hotel.  TDWG members served as mentors, helping each of the travel award recipients to meet and interact with other TDWG participants.

This endeavor was so successful that JRS extended their sponsorship for an additional three years for the 2012 TDWG conference in Beijing, China, the 2013 TDWG Conference in Florence, Italy, and the upcoming 2014 TDWG conference in Nairobi, Kenya. Sponsored attendees to the 2012 Conference were: Dr. Alex Asase, Department of Botany, University of Ghana; Dr. Lucy Waruingi, African Conversation Centre, Kenya; Philbert Nyinondi, Tanzania Biodiversity Information Facility; and Dr. Pierre Radji, Botanical Garden and Herbarium of the University of Lomé, Togo. Sponsored attendees to the 2013 Conference were: Prosper Karame, Cardiff University School of Biosciences; Kudzai Mafuwe, Curator of Entomology of the Natural History Museum, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe; and Tantely Raminosoa, Information Management & Technology Unit of the Missouri Botanical Garden Madagascar Program.

Lessons Learned

Respondents to a survey of 2011 and 2012 travel awardees – conducted to assess the quality of the conference participation experience, including knowledge gained at the conference and the extent to which the broader aims of increased collaboration are being met – indicated that much of the information presented at the conference was highly technical and unfamiliar.  Moreover, collaborations with TDWG members have been slow to develop.

This feedback has prompted project leaders to explore ways of providing African biodiversity specialists training in the various biodiversity informatics tools and technologies discussed at TDWG conferences. A new JRS Biodiversity Foundation proposal is being developed to offer this training to a large number (20-25) of African biodiversity specialists prior to the 2014 TDWG Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

Notes from JRS

This Foundation grant provided funding for involving three biologists and/or biodiversity informaticians from developing African countries in the 2011 TDWG conference, which was held in New Orleans on October 2011. The theme of TDWG 2011 was, “Digitization Methods, Technologies, and Standards for Biodiversity Collections”.

Last Updated: February 28th, 2017

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