The Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance is an £160 million initiative funded equally by The Wellcome Trust, UK and Department of Biotechnology, India. The broad aim of the India Alliance is to build excellence in the Indian biomedical scientific community by supporting future leaders in the field.
The Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance (IA; India Alliance) was officially launched on 9 September 2008 and registered as a charitable trust in India. The organisation is an equal partnership between the Wellcome Trust (UK) and the Department of Biotechnology (Government of India).
The Wellcome Trust is a global charity dedicated to improving health by supporting bright minds in science, the humanities and social sciences, and public engagement. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests. The India Alliance is its first venture internationally where it has partnered with the Government to build capacity not only by providing funding for science but also by training a Grants unit that follows internationally recognised processes.
The Department of Biotechnology (DBT), under the Ministry of Science and Technology, was formed in 1986, giving a new impetus to the development of the field of modern biology and biotechnology in India. It has made a significant impact on the growth and application of biotechnology in the broad areas of agriculture, healthcare, animal sciences, environment and industry. Given the large breadth of activities and intimate involvement with the nation’s effort to build capacity in human resources and infrastructure the DBT greatly strengthens the IA’s capacity.
Together, this partnership is aimed at promoting biomedical research in India through funding and engagement.
An independent grants office was established to facilitate and carry out this mandate. The India Alliance offers four Fellowship schemes to basic biomedical scientists, clinicians, public health researchers and veterinarians who wish to pursue academic research in India. The basic aim of all the schemes is to provide flexible and generous funding to enable the researchers in different stages of their careers, to perform internationally competitive scientific research. The schemes are highly competitive and the Office works with the applicants and Committees to ensure that standards are maintained to the highest international level. To accomplish this goal it was decided that the India Alliance office would be based in India but it would follow grants processes similar to that at the Wellcome Trust. The initial Grants team was trained in grants management at the Wellcome Trust from January 2009 to July 2009 and the India Alliance Office was set up in Hyderabad after having been sufficiently trained and equipped. It has now been fully operational since July 2009 from its office premises at Road No. 12, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad. An additional office in Delhi was officially inaugurated in November 2014.
IASys, India Alliance Grants Management System
India Alliance initially adapted the Wellcome Trust’s grants management system, which required constant IT support from the Trust. In order to be self-sufficient, a new online grants management system IASys, customised to suit the operations and processes of India Alliance, was introduced in July 2011. All of the India Alliance’s grants management is migrated and is fully functional on the new system from early 2012. This system, allows all Fellowships to be stored and accessed on an online system, which ensures that all matters (correspondence, referees, financial aspects of the award) related to a Fellowship can be performed via and stored in a single system. Additionally, applications are received online and the submission requires the participation of the applicant and the Host Institution. Two obvious advantages of this approach are that a high level of transparency and efficiency are ensured in the IA processes.
When the first awards were made, it was realised that formal documents that describe policies on scientific misconduct, good research practice and conflicts of interest were not present at most Indian Institutions. To address these lacunae, the Office has undertaken to assist institutions with the India Alliance Fellows to draft and implement policies in these areas. Click here
to visit IASys.
Workshops and Outreach
As with any new organisation the IA recognises the importance of sharing its philosophy and processes with the scientific community. Not only is it essential for the Indian scientific community to recognise the role this might play in their career trajectories but as the applicants, the referees and the Selection Committee are all international, a systematic effort is also required by the IA to reach the international Community.
As the IA is committed to enhancing the scientific capacity of the country, a major effort was to reach potential applicants who are ready to start their independent research career in India. For this purpose, IA staff routinely participates in various outreach activities in India and abroad. In addition, the selection Committee meetings are conducted in different cities across the country which allows the Committee members to visit various institutions in the cities where the meetings are conducted. As a part of its mandate to build capacity, IA also sponsors many scientific meetings and conferences every year.
The IA also recognises that capacity training has to occur at various steps along a typical scientific career. Human resource development is a popular corporate mechanism to ensure a high quality workforce. Borrowing from this management principle, the IA initiated and is continuing to organise a two days workshop called “Hyderabad Science Communication workshop” which brings 30 senior PhD students selected via a pan-India competition together with mentors from various institutions in India. This workshop focuses on three aspects of skills training: General presentation skills (training to be taken by a Professional HR development firm), Grants Writing and Delivering scientific talks. Sessions are also planned that would encourage students to talk to mentors about developing an independent career in science, networking, ethics and integrity in science research etc.
Besides its Fellowship Programme, the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance aims to enhance the public understanding of science in India. It has become increasingly important for scientists to engage with the public to increase the awareness of science, technology and medicine (STM) research, and themselves get fresh perspectives on their research towards a larger picture. We, at the India Alliance, endeavor to bring the scientific community and the public together to share, debate and deliberate on important scientific and human health issues that have implications on the society at large. Read a full report on our Public Engagement activities here