Africa biotech summit at University of Cambridge a resounding success
On 4 April, African Business Review attended the inaugural African Diaspora Biotech Summit. Located at University of Cambridge, UK, the conference invited students, academics and industry leaders from Africa and the diaspora to discuss the current state of Africa’s bioeconomy.
The Summit was run by JR Biotek Foundation. The organisation is student-led, not-for-profit and aims to boost STEM (specifically biosciences) in sub-Saharan African Africa. As a precursor to the Summit, the Foundation ran a Molecular Laboratory Training Workshop for African students between 27 March and 3 April.
The Summit took place at the Sainsbury Laboratory Auditorium, University of Cambridge
Carol Ibe, founder of JR Biotek Foundation, gave the Summit’s welcome address. “To our fellow Africans who are present here today,” she said. “I would say that it is time now for us to take the lead in encouraging our government to invest in quality education and training, so as to provide our young people and future generations with the right knowledge and skills that they need to compete.”
Carol Ibe, Founder of JR Biotek Foundation & PhD student (Gates Scholar) University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge PhD student then introduced a keynote speech from Professor Lucy Ogbadu. Ogbadu is a Professor of Microbiology and Director-General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) at the Nigerian Ministry of Science and Technology. With equal parts humour and passion, Ogbadu addressed issues such as funding, politics and education. She began and finished her rousing speech with the mantra, “only Africans can do it for Africa”.
Keynote speaker Lucy Ogbadu
The second keynote speech was delivered by Onyekachi Wambu, Executive Director of African Foundation for Development (AFFORD). AFFORD is a UK-based charity aimed at enhancing the impact that diaspora Africans can have on Africa’s development. Consequently, Wambu spoke about how Africans outside the continent can boost Africa’s bioeconomy from afar.
The Summit also included interactive panel-led discussions, in which the audience could quiz series of industry experts. The panels concerned food security, tertiary education, research & development and gender issues. Discussions were lively, yet cordial. The panel on the role of African women in biotech was particularly passionate. One audience member commented: “Women cannot contribute much, because we are the primary victims. Especially in Africa, where almost everything is wired against women.”
The final panel discussion: "The role of African women and the African diaspora in building a sustainable African bioeconomy"
The Summit closed on the NextGen Africa Bioinnovation Pitching Competition, where workshop attendees proposed innovative biotech ideas to a panel of judges.
When asked about the future of the Summit, Ibe replied: “We have plans for next year, or the year after, next year might be a little too soon.” Regardless, Ibe considered the event to be a success. “It’s amazing to learn and to hear other people’s perspectives,” she said. “I’m very, very happy. I learned quite a lot.”
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”