Building Powerful Partnerships

April 2, 2018

What does it mean to be a good partner? I considered this question many times in the six days I spent traveling in Ghana and Kenya during spring recess. A major focus of my trip—one of many to the continent but my first since becoming president of Yale and announcing the Yale-Africa Initiative—was strengthening the diverse research and educational partnerships Yale has established in Africa. From conversations with dozens of African leaders, scholars, and alumni, I learned how these partnerships are advancing our shared goals: creating new knowledge, launching important discoveries, and preparing the next generation of leaders. 

Partnerships are critical when it comes to addressing multidimensional problems, such as those we face in medicine and public health. In trying to address epidemics and diseases, it would be foolish to think any single institution could “go it alone.” Our model of partnership means each side provides expertise, resources, and insights. While in Accra, I visited the new University of Ghana Medical Center, and I took part in a roundtable with participants of the Yale Summer Research Program at the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research. In 2007, Yale faculty members—Dr. Elijah Paintsil, a graduate of the University of Ghana Medical School, and Dr. Michael Cappello—established the Ghana-Yale Partnership with the goal of improving health in sub-Saharan Africa. The program sponsors bi-directional faculty and student exchanges and prepares young scientists for careers focused on addressing major public health concerns. 

The results have been superb. Over 85 percent of the participants have continued research in their home countries, and alumni of the program have published a multitude of scientific papers. In an exciting development, research conducted through a collaboration between the University of Ghana Medical School and Yale has identified low-cost biomarkers that can be used to monitor the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy in children with HIV/AIDS. In fact, our collaboration in Ghana has been so successful that we expanded the program to include medical trainees and researchers from universities in Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, China, Australia, and Jamaica. What started between Yale and the University of Ghana has created a supportive global network of research collaborators. 

International partnerships enable scientific research that would be impossible for faculty members working in isolation. In Nairobi, we formalized a new agreement to study the tsetse fly by collaborating with the Kenyan Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization and the Kenyan Wild Life Services. Now tsetse fly parts will be transported to Yale so that scientists can study these organisms and better understand the harmful parasitic diseases, such as sleeping sickness, they transmit. 

Attracting the most talented and motivated students to Yale is another benefit of our international partnerships. While in Ghana, I had the privilege of announcing the extension of the Yale Young African Scholars. The program was founded by African students at Yale, and it is taught by Yale professors, students, and staff who provide guidance and mentorship to young African students who wish to apply to American colleges. Three weeklong sessions are held in different African locations, attracting students from across the continent. Thanks to the generous support of Zimbabwean philanthropists Strive and Tsitsi Masiyiwa through their Higherlife Foundation, we will be continuing this partnership for the next five years, helping to prepare the next generation of leaders.

Yale’s collaborations are not limited to any one country or continent. For example, we have more than one hundred separate research projects that are focused on China or involve partnerships between Yale faculty members and colleagues in Chinese universities, government agencies, and independent research institutions. And our faculty members and students are engaged in other international collaborations across disciplines—from language reclamation to economics to cultural heritage preservation.

My visit to Ghana and Kenya taught me so much about the transformative power of partnerships.

Great collaborations, like the ones we celebrated and extended, are based on the open exchange of ideas and mutual respect. We will continue to strengthen our international partnerships—to the benefit of our university and to people worldwide—as we carry out Yale’s mission.