Get Involved! Apply for the Africa Research Excellence Fund (AREF) Towards Leadership Programme for Early-Career Researchers in Africa

The Africa Research Excellence Fund (AREF) is delighted to announce the launch of the Towards Leadership Programme in partnership with the UKRI Medical Research Council.   


The AREF Towards Leadership programme aims to empower talented, emerging scientists in Africa to compete successfully for UKRI MRC and other major funding opportunities in global health research. Together we are investing in talented African scientists in Africa, enhancing their global health research and leadership potential.   

The programme will run between Oct 2024 to Oct 2025, consisting of two residential workshops (opening and closing) and one virtual workshop. 

The curriculum is designed to support engage and enhance the participants’ capabilities and to empower talented, emerging scientists in Africa to compete successfully on a level playing field for UKRI MRC and other major funding opportunities in global health research. The programme is directed towards to winning grant funding, empowering effective teams, collaborating internationally, influencing stakeholders, and building rewarding research careers.  

Programme outline 

The Programme comprises the following elements: 

  • Three inspiring and practical blended workshops at six-monthly intervals 
  • Supplementary webinars, tutorials, and online resources 
  • Baseline and end-of-programme assessments and evaluation 
  • Collaboration between participating individuals  

The Programme has the following themes tailored to meet the needs of each cohort: 

  • The Researcher as a Leader focusing on learning & leading in a complex world; raising the cohorts’ self-awareness, and mindfulness while also building their coaching, influence, and leadership capabilities.  
  • The Effective Researcher develops the individual’s ability to envision, plan and action career goals and development trajectory through personal development planning, time management, and mentorship. 
  • The Researcher as a Communicator augmenting the individual’s leadership, authorship & authority skills through the use of effective presentations, storytelling and messaging while refining their engagement with research users. 
  • The Compelling Applicant: Understanding funders. Proposal development and writing skills: formulating a research question; justifying the design/strategy; concept notes and full proposals. Data sharing. Understanding peer review. Fellowship interviews. 
  • The Researcher as a Manager: Building a great team.  Effective collaboration. Implementation planning. Working with Research Support and Finance departments. Managing a budget. Managing intellectual property. 

The five themes will be integrated across the three workshops. The balance of the curriculum will be determined by the participant’s needs. 

The costs of the workshops and associated accommodation and travel of selected nominees will be met by MRC and AREF.  

Key events 

The timetable for all Towards Leadership participants is as follows: 

  • The opening Workshop is planned for 25-27th November 2024.   
  • Workshop 2 will be held virtually and is planned for 17 to 21 March 2025. 
  • The closing workshop is planned for October 2025 

Joining the Programme 

Entry to the Towards Leadership is through an application process that will be rigorously and fairly reviewed to select the best candidates for the programme.  

How to apply 

The applications for the Towards Leadership Programme must be submitted online by  6 May 2024. Please click on this link to submit your application. 

Global Health Remit 

AREF and the MRC are keen to recruit talented researchers from a diverse range of biomedical, clinical, and health-related disciplines. AREF will ensure the selection of a balanced cohort of men and women for the programme. If you are unsure of whether your research falls within this remit, please email [email protected]  


  • You are a citizen of a country in Africa. 
  • You are currently employed in Africa by a recognised university and/or specialist research institution.  
  • You are an early career researcher, having completed your research education and are now at the early stages of leading your own research group. 
  • You will hold a research doctorate (PhD/DPhil/MD) from a recognised academic institution OR you have a medical/clinical qualification PLUS a research-relevant Master’s degree, both usually within the last 10 years. If it has been longer than 10 years since your last degree, please explain in your application why you should still be considered an early career researcher (i.e. caring responsibilities or career break/change impacting your research career). 
  • You are currently responsible for managing/supervising one or more research students and/or research staff members and are involved in building research collaborations. 
  • You demonstrate evidence of being at the early stages of leading a research team or being an active member of a research team conducting Global Health Research. 
  • A significant part of your current employee role is to develop and conduct health research. 
  • You already have experience in obtaining research funding (Combined value of £500,000 or less). 


  1. To be accepted to the Programme, you will need to demonstrate the potential to benefit yourself and your home institution. Therefore, in the application form, you will need to provide a persuasive personal statement demonstrating: 
  • Your current/most recent research programme and the potential for it to make an impact on health. 
  • A compelling career vision and how you plan to achieve it. 
  • Your potential as an emerging research leader to build a successful research group, influence your discipline and engage with impact or innovation outside of academia. 
  • How you and your institution will benefit from participating in the AREF Towards Leadership Programme.  
  1. Nominations must be accompanied by a supporting letter from an authorised senior representative of your employing institution, such as the director. They should 
  • confirm your eligibility. 
  • confirm they authorise you to participate in all three workshops – that you will not be withdrawn to fulfil teaching, administration, or other obligations. 
  • Describe how they personally and the institution will recognise the benefits that participating in the programme brings – and how those benefits will be integrated into and sustained within the organisation. 
  1. Nominees must be fully committed to participating in all three workshops of the Programme; partial attendance is NOT an option.  

Key Dates 

Applications closing deadline 16:00 GMT 6 May 2024 

Successful applicants notified early to mid-July 2024 

Any questions? 

For general questions about the AREF Towards Leadership programme, you are welcome to contact us at  [email protected] 

Visit Official Website Here

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