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, Government of India, 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 India Alliance’s capacity.
Together, this partnership is aimed at promoting biomedical research in India through funding and engagement.
In order to carry out the mandate of building scientific capacity in India, an independent Grants office was set up in India which follows grant 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. 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.
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 assisted institutions with the India Alliance Fellows to draft and implement policies in these areas.
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 set up in July 2011 and has been fully functional on the new system since early 2012. This system, allows all Fellowships to be stored and accessed on an online system, which ensures that all Fellowship-related matters (correspondence, referees, financial aspects of the award) 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 Sponsor at the Host Institution. Two obvious advantages of this approach are that a high level of transparency and efficiency are ensured in the India Alliance processes.
Click here to visit IASys.
As the India Alliance is committed to enhancing the scientific capacity of the country, a major effort is to reach potential applicants who are ready to start their independent research career in India. For this purpose, India Alliance 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 Fellowship Committee members to visit various institutions in the cities where the meetings are conducted. The India Alliance supports various scientific events like conferences, workshops, Symposia and meetings aimed at promoting science and providing platform to network with scientists. The key goal of event support is to publicize the India Alliance efforts in scientific capacity building through our fellowship programmes and also to understand the gaps in opportunities for research as a career.
The India Alliance 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 India Alliance initiated and is continuing to organise a two-day workshop called “Hyderabad Science Communication workshop” which brings 35 senior PhD students, junior postdoctoral researcher, allied health professional, clinician/public health researcher, selected via a pan-India competition together with mentors from various institutions in India. This workshop focuses broadly on three aspects of skills training: general presentation skills (training to be provided by a professional HR development firm/individual), manuscript and grants writing and delivering scientific talks. Sessions are also planned such that they would encourage students to talk to mentors about developing an independent career in science, networking, ethics and integrity in science research etc. Owing to increasing demand for these workshops, a shorter, one-day workshop "SciComm101" was launched in May 2014 wherein the India Alliance staff conducts workshops in different institutions across the country. More recently (July 2016), the India Alliance entered into a partnership with Nature India and Nature Jobs (India) for "Science Communication and Career workshops”, which will be held as a satellite to major scientific meetings in the country.
In addition to supporting biomedical research through its Fellowship Programme, the India Alliance aims to increase the public understanding of science through its Public Engagement activities. Through this it brings the scientific community and the public together to share, debate and deliberate on important matters of science, especially human health that have significant implications for the society at large. India Alliance recognizes the importance for scientists to engage with the public to increase their awareness of issues in science, technology and medicine (STM), and themselves get societal perspectives on the relevance of their research. To fulfill this vision, India Alliance regularly organizes public events in different Indian cities and supports groups and organizations that undertake public engagement activities. Read a full report on our Public Engagement activities here (updated August 2015).
The India Alliance is supported externally by various stakeholders and internally by the staff. The CEO manages the operations at India Alliance and reports to the Trustees, who provide oversight and formulate policy based on internal and external inputs.
Presently our Trustees are:
• Professor Charles Michael Turner, Head of Infection and Immuno-biology, Wellcome Trust, London, United Kingdom
• Dr Rajesh Kapur, Senior Adviser, Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India
The Trustees along with the CEO are informed of the India Alliance through internal and external channels. Externals channels include the various Committees constituted to oversee the India Alliances’ activities based on their expertise.
The India Alliance currently recognises the following formal Committees:
• Strategic Advisory Council
• Finance and Audit Committee
• Early Career Selection Committee
• Intermediate and Senior Selection Committee
• Clinical and Public Health Selection Committee
• Margdarshi Selection Committee
Strategic Advisory Council consists of independent scientists who advises the Trustees on policy matters, its overall strategy and progress. This Committee meets once a year to assess the India Alliance activities and provide appropriate recommendations.
Finance and Audit Committee consists of financial experts representing the two co-funders and advises the Trustees on finance and operational matters. This Committee meets once a year to approve the India Alliance budget and ensure that funds are being spent as they were envisaged.
The Margdarshi, Intermediate, Senior, the Early Career and the Clinical - Public Health Selection Committees consist of internationally recognised experts from various biomedical fields. The Committees review the applications received, are involved in short-listing applicants and then interviewing them. This Committee is at the core of ensuring that each full application submitted to the India Alliance receives full consideration and is reviewed by the highest international standards. Furthermore, the Committee makes recommendations to the Office to further improve its ability to attract the best and brightest biomedical researchers to India. Also, it assists the India Alliance in its endeavour to continuously ensure that the schemes and their provisions are in line with India Alliance’s goal to strengthen scientific capacity in India.