Research Administration and Management Programme (RAMP) training: a learning journey

News article 16 May 2023

By Samira Abdallah

I am Samira Abdallah, a research assistant at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanon. I assist the ReBUILD for Resilience (R4R) programme in activities such as data analysis, knowledge production and research design, as well in administrative tasks such as report writing, audio transcription, grant administrative tasks, budgeting and forecasting. My role sits in between the research teams and the administrative, financial, management and procurement teams, and I therefore need to converge and mediate different points of views to achieve better and more time-efficient outcomes.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Research Administration and Management Programme (RAMP) training in Malawi from 18 to 25 March 2023. This experience was eye-opening and enriching. It was a great initiative to build the capacity of research support staff, and exchange knowledge and expertise between partners from eight different countries in Europe, Africa, Middle East, and Asia. For research to thrive, it is crucial to have competent research administrators, managers, and other research support staff contributing to better outcomes.

The training ran for three consecutive days from 20 to 23 March, and it was designed to equip researchers, administrators, project managers, and finance officers with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively manage research projects and funding. It was organised into three modules: Administration, Management and Finance, and covered a wide range of topics starting from the basics of admin, management and finance to digging deeper into logistics, procurement, project management tools, contracting, research ethics, progress tracking, teambuilding, budget forecasting and monitoring, value for money, audits, communication, and reporting. What impressed me the most was the participatory approach of this training. Most of the time, rather than just listening to theories, it was more a discussion where everyone had the chance to share their expertise in their field of interest through group and teamwork activities. Everyone was eager to offer ideas and to learn more. The trainers and the participants were knowledgeable and experienced, and they did an excellent job of delivering the contents in a clear and concise manner.

Along with the training, some social and teambuilding activities were organised during the week. First, we visited one of the sites hit by Cyclone Freddy. The team had nothing materialistic to offer, but in my opinion, we gave a very precious thing: we offered our feelings, support and empathy to affected communities who had lost everything but their dignity.

In addition, we celebrated our differences in language, religion, and background by organising a cultural exchange evening during which we showcased our cultures and found common ground in our appreciation for diversity and our desire to learn from one another. During the evening, everyone shared information, food, artifacts, songs, traditional attires, and dances from their home country. In addition to enriching our knowledge, the cultural exchange evening provided an opportunity to break all the barriers between us. It was truly an inspiring experience, and one that I will always cherish.

 Despite all the challenges, mostly due to the damages caused by the cyclone, we managed to arrange and enjoy a day-out in Blantyre. We visited stables and then enjoyed a relaxing lunch at the heart of a forest. It was also nice seeing tea plantations and harvesting along the road as well.

I realise that as a group we were searching for natural or historical attractions to see and eventually we discovered that the greatest attraction in Malawi are the people! Kindness is a universal language and Malawians showed this in the best possible way. Even if language was often a barrier, you were always greeted with a big smile and kind shiny eyes. This legendary Malawian hospitality made us all feel at home!

On the last day of our stay, our colleagues at the Malawi Liverpool Wellcome Programme (MLW) showed us their offices and laboratories. We visited Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Kamuzu University of Health Sciences where research and studies on tuberculosis take place, and we also visited a study site where participants’ recruitment for the LIGHT Programme takes place. This was a really productive and enriching day which fed our curiosity for the work that our colleagues in Malawi do on the ground.

In conclusion, it was really useful for me to acquire deeper knowledge in project administration, management, and finance; enhance my skills; and build connections with such a great group of peers. I will make sure to implement the proficiency that I got from this training in finding top-notch solutions in my job.

A special thanks goes to our hosts at MLW – Thandiwe, Luke and Asimenye, who made us feel welcome and arranged a unique experience for us despite all the difficulties.