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Building blocks for transformation: How Southern Science Granting Councils are making an impact


Panama’s science granting council, the Secretaria Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnologia e Innovacion (SENACYT), is currently working on a cross-regional analysis of open science policies in Central America. The goal of the project is to develop a regional policy on open science, one of the many ways that IDRC is supporting efforts to strengthen science, technology and innovation systems across the Global South.  

“For years, IDRC has been an important ally for STI (science, technology and innovation) systems in the Central American region, as it works in a committed manner promoting collaboration and knowledge sharing in the region, thus demonstrating its high commitment to sustainable development and the improvement of living conditions in developing countries,” said Carlos Maynor Salinas, adviser at SENACYT. 

Granting councils like SENACYT are key players in STI systems. Councils are responsible for setting national public research agendas, managing calls on priority challenges, engaging in joint programming with other countries and supporting research with the private sector.  

Where councils are under-supported and underfunded, key opportunities for advancing development are often missed. Through its work with Southern science granting councils, IDRC has committed to supporting long-lasting institutional change that will result in a future where science systems across the Global South effectively lead on finding solutions to development priorities. 

Research highlights

  • By pooling resources and expertise at a regional level, science granting councils can address common challenges and leverage collective action for transformative impact. 
  • Projects in Latin America, such as those promoting open science and inclusivity and facilitating joint efforts on emerging technologies like AI and geospatial data, highlight a strategic approach to building capacity and addressing regional development priorities. 
  • By supporting these organizations in advocating for public and private funding aligned with national priorities, as well as fostering equitable North-South partnerships, IDRC aims to shift global dialogues on research funding and help elevate leaders from the Global South.

A regional approach: Africa 

While councils operate at national levels, they benefit from coalition-building and peer learning from their regions. This approach also helps to meet a glaring lack of regional research collaboration across the Global South. A lack of incentives and networking opportunities often means that a country may miss out on innovative solutions being developed right next door.  

For almost 10 years, the Science Granting Council Initiative in sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI) has demonstrated the value of this type of regional collaboration. Thanks to support not only from IDRC, but also South Africa’s National Research Foundation (NRF), the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation and the Swedish International Development Agency, SGCI continues to grow and evolve. Today, SGCI comprises 17 public science funding agencies across sub-Saharan Africa. Regional collaboration has been central to peer-learning and collective action that has played a transformative role in the African science landscape. 

SGCI has also inspired IDRC and NRF to deepen their engagement with innovation agencies, which play a key role in supporting inclusive economic growth through innovation. This includes encouraging private-sector investment in research and development, fostering partnerships between industry and academia, developing and implementing effective innovation policies and promoting entrepreneurship. 

A regional approach: Latin America 

IDRC has worked over many years to promote greater regional science integration through the member states of the Central American Integration System (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama), where science systems are woefully under-resourced. This support culminated in two projects that strengthen capacity at a regional scale in themes such as open science and inclusivity. New research networks are being built around issues like food security, poverty, digital transformation and climate change. The initiative is centered on fostering peer learning across regional STI actors and synthesizing best practices and policies that can support more inclusive and sustainable work by councils. 

In Uruguay, IDRC research partner Agencia National de Investigación y Innovación led a joint effort with the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas in Argentina and the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo in Brazil to fund projects on the responsible use of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and geospatial data to address regional development challenges. This collaboration has fostered a regional network of organizations using AI for issues ranging from assessing water quality to public procurement across Latin America. A new collaboration across councils on energy transitions has recently begun.

A regional approach: Asia 

To help strengthen connections between research councils in Asia, IDRC launched a project in the spring of 2023 in collaboration with the Association of Asian Social Science Research Councils. The project provides research grants for priority issues and to strengthen a network of research organizations, across a region where impactful social science is needed to enhance people’s lives. 

A strong foundation to change the balance of power and localize knowledge 

The proximity of granting councils to potential research beneficiaries and policymakers as well as their keen understanding of national research landscapes means that they are best placed to help guide and manage research. Those landscapes are evolving. A recent study by SGCI revealed the complexity of research funding flows in Africa, and indeed elsewhere in the Global South. Empowering granting councils and innovation agencies now strengthens their ability to handle new challenges in the future.  

IDRC’s work is also about shifting global dialogues on research funding to make room for granting councils from the Global South on the world stage. For example, a new project with the International Science Council will promote granting councils and other key science system stakeholders from the Global South as emerging leaders in the responsible use of new technologies such as AI. 

The focus on new technology in changing the science and innovation funding landscape is a central part of IDRC’s forward-looking approach to our work with granting councils in the Global South. We are at a critical moment when there is an increased awareness of the need to decolonize and localize knowledge, to support greater international collaboration on research, and to recognize the need for a more equitable and inclusive global science landscape. The science granting councils represent a key group of actors who can play a lead role in this regard, managing not only research funding, but also partnerships and policies that can drive transformational change. 

You can access further information and resources on IDRC's support of science granting councils here.

Contributors: Matilda Catherine Dipieri, Knowledge Sharing Officer, Education and Science Division, Hannah Whitehead, Research Award Recipient, Education and Science Division and Matthew Wallace, Senior Program Specialist, Education and Science Division.