Walkabout of the NantSA Vaccine Manufacturing Campus in Brackenfell

In academic circles, an almost universal challenge is translating knowledge into policy action, the main reason being that the scholars who generate knowledge do not necessarily have access to those able to implement it. When they are fortunate enough to have such access, it is critical for them to be able to communicate the essence of their research findings and policy recommendations in ways that resonate with policy-makers by demonstrating their practical applicability in real-life settings.

As the custodian of the South African BRICS Think Tank (SABTT), the Institute is part of the BRICS academic  infrastructure whose work informs the policy directions and decisions made when the BRICS heads of state meet at the annual BRICS summit. This is not to say that the BRICS leaders will always accept the recommendations and findings presented to them from the academic structures within BRICS (chiefly the BRICS Think Tank Council, comprising the five member states’ think tanks, which gather at the annual Academic Forum to prepare policy recommendations for the leaders’ summits). However, there have been a number of instances where recommendations made at BRICS Academic Forums have been implemented in practice.

An example of which the NIHSS is extremely proud is the launch in March 2022 of the BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre initiative, taking the form of an internet-based virtual centre linking up with a national centre in each of the five BRICS countries, enabling them to share best practices and cooperate in the research, development, production and distribution of vaccines.

It was South Africa that first proposed the creation of such a centre. That proposal was put forward in 2018 when the country held the BRICS Chairship and hosted both the leaders’ summit and the BRICS Academic Forum.

“We are grateful for the subsequent support and efforts of the Brazilian, Russian and Indian Chairs, which ensured progress in taking forward this commitment. I would also like to pay tribute to and express our appreciation to Minister Wang and the People’s Republic of China for the decisive leadership during China’s Chairship, which resulted in our readiness to celebrate the launch of the initiative today,” said Dr Bonginkosi “Blade” Nzimande, Minister of Higher Education, Science and innovation, during the  virtual launch of the centre.

While it may take several years for policy proposals shaped at BRICS academic events to come to fruition, it is encouraging that when they do, they may be of significance not just to the member states of the BRICS, but to the Global South at large.

It is vital to acknowledge the contribution of the scholars behind the recommendations that eventually make their way to the leaders of BRICS. These recommendations would never come to life were it not for the myriad of academic initiatives behind them, particularly the BRICS Cluster Projects and the seminars, workshops and conferences hosted to share research findings and prepare for the annual Academic Forum.

The Institute gratefully expresses appreciation for the contribution that South African scholars made in 2021/22 to the work of the SABTT. In particular, we thank the project leaders of the 13 BRICS Cluster Projects, the organisers of the 12 seminars, workshops and conferences hosted during the year and the members of the SABTT Secretariat and the SABTT Advisory Committee, who held South Africa’s head high at the 2021 Academic Forum, hosted virtually by India.