Alumni Q&A: Dr Anne Makena (Kenya & Somerville 2012)
Q: Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?
A: "I’m currently the co-lead and Program Coordinator of the Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx), a vibrant research network with the vision to make engagement with Africa a strategic priority for the University of Oxford and other global research and academic enterprises. This is based not simply on the grounds of global good citizenship but especially because Africa is the most rapidly changing continent whose future demographic and economic growth will have a major influence globally. Over the last five years AfOx has become an established cross-university platform supporting the development of equitable and sustainable research partnerships between Oxford researchers in all divisions and colleagues across African institutions. We have supported over 200 travel awards, 40 Visiting Fellowships for leading African academics and 8 major collaborative research grants. I am particularly excited about our current focus on graduate scholarships for African emerging leaders.
It is astounding that only 3% of Oxford graduate students are from Africa despite the fact that Africa represents over 27% of student age population and is estimated that by 2050 about 50% of world’s student age population as well as 70% of the global labour force will be African. Our vision is to support a culture-shifting number of scholars to build a cohort of emerging African leaders in various areas of expertise and shift the dynamics of African scholarship and studentship in Oxford. We are therefore working with colleagues across the University, including the Rhodes Trust, to markedly increase the number of African graduates at Oxford and create a supportive environment to enable the students to thrive during and after their time in Oxford."
Q: Has your career trajectory panned out as you planned?
A: "No, and I’m glad it didn’t! I trained as a biochemist both at undergraduate and for my DPhil. I’m naturally inquisitive so I thoroughly enjoyed the scientific process from developing interesting research questions to setting up experiments and analysing results and their implications. My research focus on antimicrobial resistance is particularly topical and an exciting space to work in. However, towards the end of my DPhil, I realised that I was excited by broader questions that couldn’t be answered just by well thought out experiments. I was keen to work beyond disciplinary boundaries and have a more direct input into decisions that influenced research trajectories. When we launched AfOx, I was still working towards a typical academic career but as the program expanded and we started a family, I chose to take a different path. I’m thrilled that our work has supported over 300 researchers to have incredible breakthroughs across multiple disciplines. It is very gratifying to have direct impact both in research but also in other people’s career trajectories. I’m still very engaged with AMR research and my scientific training greatly influences my approach to research management. I won’t be surprised if the enzymes come calling back!"
Q: What excites you about the future?
A: "The future is African. From the World Economic Forum to the African Union agenda, economic and political pundits are pontificating about the rapid demographic, economic and social transitions in the continent and their influence on the world. For me the numbers aren’t mere abstractions. My children are the so-called youth-bulge as they will be entering the work force by 2050, my brothers with their tech start-ups are driving 4th industrial revolution, and close friends I studied with in Oxford are making agricultural policies in Africa that will shape our resilience to the climate crisis.
I am privileged to work with phenomenal African researchers and innovators and it is interesting to see how AfOx and other like-minded organisations can champion the development of knowledge-based economies and shift the research cultures that underpin development trajectories. It is absolutely exciting to be African right now, it is even more exciting to envision what the continent will continue offer the world as we take our rightful place in society."
Dr Anne Makena (Kenya & Somerville 2012) is the Program Coordinator of the Africa Oxford Initiative (AfOx), a vibrant platform for all things Africa at Oxford. Anne is responsible for developing and implementing the overall strategy of the Initiative (AfOx), as well as managing the core AfOx programs. AfOx supports a wide range of activities including a travel grant scheme and visiting fellowships for African academics, supporting high quality meetings and providing academic and mentorship support to African students and research staff in Oxford. Anne was recently appointed as the Pro-Proctor to the Junior Proctor at the University of Oxford.