Awardees Announced for the Motsepe Presidential Research Accelerator Fund for Africa

April 6, 2021

The Motsepe Presidential Research Accelerator Fund for Africa, supported by the generosity of the Motsepe Foundation, will significantly strengthen the University’s relationship with Africa. Through faculty-led science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) research across Harvard’s Schools, we explore questions of crucial importance to the region as illustrated by the first cohort of awardee projects.

“The Motsepe Presidential Research Accelerator Fund for Africa represents an important and impactful contribution to our faculty research community,” said Rick McCullough, Vice Provost for Research and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. “We see this clearly in the unprecedented number, and impressive caliber, of the applications we received in this first funding cycle. We are proud to support the work of our awardees, and look forward to facilitating additional exceptional research projects in future cycles of this fund.”

“We are thrilled to be able to contribute to scholarship and research that address major threats for the continent. Our faculty from across the university, with strong in-country collaborations, are deeply committed to advancing solutions that make a positive impact for the wellbeing of people in Africa and beyond,” said Wafaie Fawzi, Interim Oppenheimer Faculty Director at the Harvard Center for African Studies and Professor of Population Sciences, and Professor of Nutrition, Epidemiology, and Global Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The inaugural faculty projects awarded this year are:

Building Digital Infrastructure for Climate-Smart Public Health in Madagascar
Christopher GOLDEN, Assistant Professor of Nutrition and Planetary Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
This project, in partnership with the Ministry of Health in Madagascar, will build up Madagascar’s information infrastructure using satellite observations and community-based health surveillance to help the government produce policies that will positively impact health, agriculture, environment, and rural development.


Predicting the Sensitivity of Agriculture across Africa to Temperature and Water Availability Peter HUYBERS, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and of Environmental Science and Engineering, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
Also using satellite observations, but in a different way, Professor Huybers is building an empirical hydrological crop model that uses newly available satellite observation to indicate which crops across each country in Africa are vulnerable to climate change. This project builds in collaboration with African researchers.


SARS-CoV-2 among Nigeria's Healthcare Workers
Phyllis KANKI, Mary Woodard Lasker Professor of Health Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
This project builds on a long history of collaborations in West Africa, and will conduct research on the occupational risks associated with COVID-19 and the long-term immunity of healthcare workers in Nigeria.


Using an Appointment Scheduling System to Reduce the Risk of COVID-19 Transmission among Prenatal Care and HIV Patients
Margaret McCONNELL, Associate Professor of Global Health Economics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Taking advantage of a strong relationship with the Ministry of Health in Mozambique, Prof. McConnell will implement a proven system that will reduce crowding of prenatal care and HIV patients at public health facilities.


Language, Culture and Technology in Africa
John MUGANE, Professor of the Practice of African Languages and Cultures and Director of the African Language Program, Department of African and African American Studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Prof. Mugane is building a team to utilize natural language processing methods to address the obstacles posed by inadequate translation technology for African languages.


School Readiness of HIV-exposed Uninfected Children in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Christopher SUDFELD, Assistant Professor in Global Health and Population, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health & Dana McCOY, Associate Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Prof. Sudfeld and Prof. McCoy both have in-country expertise in Tanzania, and will examine pathways that both constrain and support the school readiness of children who have mothers living with HIV but are not HIV-infected themselves.


Describing and Understanding China’s Engagement in Africa
David YANG, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
A new member of the Harvard faculty, Prof. Yang will expand his work to Africa by constructing a comprehensive dataset on Chinese investment across African countries to investigate its economic and political impact.


Applications for the 2021-2021 award cycle will open in early Fall. You can find more information here: