ILRI CapDev Grand Challenge propels early career researchers on the path to creating transformative development impact

The latest cycle of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) CapDev Grand Challenge began in earnest on April 13, when 30 graduate students, research fellows and researchers from national programs participated in the CapDev research pitching contest—the first step in a long journey of personal and professional growth. While not all the contestants received awards, they did all learn lessons valuable to their future academic and professional pursuits. 

Perhaps the biggest lesson, which was highlighted by all the participants, was the ability to better communicate scientific research, especially when it comes to influencing policymakers. ‘I learned that in order to achieve the desired policy impacts, scientists must communicate their research clearly and concisely to diverse audiences’, said Paul Mwangi, a PhD fellow with ILRI’s Mazingira Centre

In this way, the contestants learned that science does not only consist of lab work. In fact, for lab work findings to have their desired impact, scientists must also learn to communicate those findings to policymakers, government officials and others—that too is a key part of science. Aime Sanhoun of AO-ASPIRE confirmed this sentiment, saying ‘I learned that science is not only about lab work and findings. It is equally important to make the work accessible to everyone.’

The scientific communication skills the participants developed during the contest will not only propel the participants toward their academic and professional goals but will also allow them to contribute to policies that enhance the lives of those across the developing world most vulnerable to contemporary issues like climate change and food insecurity.  

While the research pitching contest has already been a transformational experience for those involved, it has also generated excitement for the rest of the CapDev Grand Challenge. ‘I look forward to the 10-in-10 training on soft skills lined up because I believe they are essential to propel me along my career road map as an early career scientific researcher’, said Lydiah Kisoo, an early career biomedical researcher and graduate fellow at ILRI. 

Soft skills training is only one of the many opportunities the participants will have. Another key component of the CapDev Grand Challenge is the opportunity to engage with other young researchers, who come from a variety of countries across sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and southeast Asia. This allows the participants to share experiences across different country contexts and examine possibilities for expanding the scope of their research. ‘I am looking forward to networking with the other researchers for future collaboration’, said Jean de Dieu Ayabagabo, an animal health scientist at the University of Rwanda, currently a PhD student at Egerton University in Kenya, and a grantee of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems.

Ultimately, the participants expressed immense gratitude for the opportunity to be part of the CapDev Grand Challenge. ‘I will forever be grateful to the CapDev team for allowing me to be part of this process. Even though I didn’t win any prizes, I walked away with immense lessons and knowledge’, said Benedict Karani, a livestock genetics researcher with ILRI.

Looking to the future, the wide range of challenges facing agri-food systems across the developing world, such as climate change and rapid population growth, necessitate a new generation of researchers capable of deploying research evidence to inform and influence strategy, policy formulation and eventually contribute to development outcomes. 

ILRI’s head of capacity development Wellington Ekaya, who conceived the CapDev Grand Challenge, is optimistic that ‘this capacity development process focusing entirely on soft/social/interpersonal skills is creating the momentum for a new generation of transformative scientists who are confident, motivated and uniquely skilled to break barriers between research evidence and impact’.