Research Without Borders drives capacity building in Africa – Publisher Marc Chahin shares his assignment in Rwanda

Published: Thursday 1st March 2018
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by Marc Chahin

The Zero Stress Bar in Rwanda’s capital Kigali is a popular spot to unwind after a working day.

When I told friends that I’d go to Rwanda for a three week stay, many of them showed alarm. Even 24 years later, the country is still best known for the horrible events of the genocide that devastated the country during 100 days and killed an estimated 500,000 to 1 million Rwandans, as described in films like Hotel Rwanda or books like One Hundred Days. While today certainly not all wounds have healed, the country has made a recovery and is said to be one if the safest places in Africa. I was the third Elsevier Publisher to visit the University of Rwanda after Juliana Trajano and Daniel Staemmler, previously supported the institute through Research without Borders in collaboration with the African Journal Partnership Program(AJPP). This gave me the opportunity to build on the work they had done and focus on capacity building activities and the strategic direction of the Rwanda Journal of Medicine and Health Science.

In order to get deeper insight into the needs of the journal’s community, I conducted two surveys over my visit: one to the journal authors and one to the academic medical and health sciences staff of the university. The results helped the journal team in understanding the essential needs of their customers: short editorial times, visibility of the journal, indexing, and higher publication frequency. In parallel I organized two SWOT/TOWS analysis sessions at the two main campuses of the University of Rwanda in Kigali and Butare (Huye, a three hour bus ride from the capital), that were attended by the Editorial team and Board members and in the end led to some surprisingly simple ideas that, if consistently implemented, can have a huge impact on the journal. These include: establishing a mentorship scheme for potential authors from the research center; giving a journal copy to every external visitor or conference participant; and convincing visiting staff (e.g. the Fulbright Scholars) to (co-)author one article during their stay. As a wrap-up, I wrote a strategic plan for the next three years that rests on five pillars:

  • Regular and increased frequency of publication
  • Internationalization of authors and reviewers
  • Increased visibility, especially online
  • Improved author services
  • Editorial excellence.

The surveys also confirmed that the community has a strong desire for more training/capacity building and that is where I put a lot of my energy in. All in all, I was able to conduct ten workshops (author, reviewer, editor, grant application) in the region. It was shocking to hear stories of desperate young researchers who accidentally published in predatory journals – like so many Africans have.

Of course, I also tried to see as much as possible of the beautiful country and to experience the culture in a place that is not yet visited by many tourists. The whole trip was a very rewarding experience and I had the feeling that thanks to the support of the Elsevier Foundation I was able to have a positive impact on research and the understanding of the publishing landscape at the University of Rwanda.

Marc Chahin

This article was written by Marc Chahin. He is one of the Elsevier employees who volunteered in the Research without Borders program run by the Elsevier Foundation. The program is aimed at boosting African health research and its discoverability within the global health community.