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How the Science Granting Council Initiative is helping to drive a research agenda that benefits Africans


As part of an initiative to support public-private partnerships in research, the Ugandan National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) supported the development of TECHNOMART, an online gateway for technology matchmaking. It acts as a hub for researchers, investors, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other stakeholders interested in commercializing new technologies. It also helps to establish connections between the private and academic sectors, encouraging entrepreneurship in the technology field and collaboration within Uganda's science, technology and innovation ecosystem. This development was carried out thanks to two grants from IDRC in 2020 and 2023 under the auspices of the Science Granting Councils Initiative for Sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI), which supports councils across Africa to fund high-quality research that aligns with national development priorities. 

At the same time, UNCST has sought to look at its projects through a gender and inclusivity lens, examining patterns in its research funding to identify gaps and opportunities in terms of who is doing the science and who is benefitting from it. This work led to the establishment of UNCST’s first gender committee and the development of the UNCST institutional gender policy, which has become a mainstay towards mainstreaming gender equality into UNCST’s regular activities. The Human Sciences Research Council, which is working through SGCI to help councils better support inclusive science, supported this effort through mentoring and training activities. 

Research highlights

  • The development of TECHNOMART in Uganda supports public-private partnerships in research and technology matchmaking to promote entrepreneurship and collaboration within Uganda's science, technology and innovation ecosystem. 
  • The Science Granting Councils Initiative for Sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI) has helped strengthen African granting councils' ability to develop, fund and manage locally led research that benefits Africans, addressing gaps in the funding landscape, promoting partnerships and advancing gender equality. 
  • It is important to increase available resources for African science councils to enhance visibility and promote more equitable North-South partnerships in research. 

A new model to transform the African research funding landscape

The UNCST experience is by no means unique. IDRC works with a group of 17 African granting councils to strengthen their ability to develop, fund and manage relevant, locally led research that benefits Africans. Building on our long history of supporting science systems, IDRC launched SGCI in 2015 as a response to gaps in the African science landscape that remain relevant today. In particular, the lack of funding structures continues to limit research and innovation development in support of national priority objectives, such as ensuring transparency and effectiveness of funding instruments, developing partnerships between countries and with the private sector, and using research to advance gender equality and benefit marginalized communities. SGCI has improved the ways in which research is managed and governed in these countries, as highlighted in a recent external evaluation of the initiative.

SGCI is demand-driven and enables national councils to identify their priorities for capacity-strengthening, peer-learning, networking and research support. With funding from IDRC, the United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, South Africa’s National Research Foundation and the Swedish International Development Agency, new councils have been created in countries like Sierra Leone and Botswana, while more established councils such as Tanzania’s  Commission for Science and Technology and Côte d’Ivoire’s Fonds pour la Science, la Technologie et l'Innovation are emerging as national and regional leaders. SGCI participating countries are increasingly able to negotiate and implement high-impact research partnerships with other countries in Africa, as well as with donors from the Global North. They have developed new grants management systems, helped design and implement visionary science and technology policies aligned with development priorities, and are now partners of choice for organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Japan Science and Technology Agency. 

From Northern- to African-driven research

In the spirit of decolonization, the development and research sectors recognize the need for local ownership and knowledge in informing and determining appropriate policy choices. New principles have been adopted worldwide — including the Africa Charter for Transformative Research Collaboration, the World Resources Institute principles and the Bridgetown Initiative — to support the production and funding of research that is effective, equitable and locally led. But a true transformation of global research requires a recognition that Southern granting councils are best placed to develop, fund and manage science and innovation for the Global South. When Zimbabwe and Botswana collaborate on metallurgy and nanotechnology research, or Côte d’Ivoire funds the development of new technologies for agriculture, we see this vision in action.

Yet there is still work to do, as illustrated by the fact that most countries in Africa have yet to fulfill their commitment to spending 1% of their gross domestic product on research and development. In a recent review of the continent’s science, technology and innovation strategy, the African Union highlighted the importance of national funding structures and initiatives such as SGCI in achieving “The Africa We Want” by 2063. There is an opportunity for SGCI participating countries to continue to lead in informing and delivering on future regional science and technology policies. As such, SGCI’s efforts to leverage further resources for African science councils need to be redoubled, in particular when it comes to its visibility and engagement in global research fora. Northern institutions still dominate research development and, even when they collaborate, too many North-South partnerships continue to be driven by the priorities of Northern funders, which often differ from national development priorities in the Global South and the long-term organizational strategies of universities, think tanks or granting councils.

The value of working with, and investing in, granting councils across the Global South cannot be overstated. SGCI’s journey points to the need for councils, international donors and other stakeholders to advance efforts to put locally relevant research first. This goal can be achieved by continuing to advocate for more national funding, promoting the visibility of Southern councils in the global research landscape, developing more South-South collaboration, and pushing for more equitable North-South partnerships. This implies fundamentally changing how Northern donors collaborate with Southern partners such as granting councils in co-developing research agendas and transforming national science systems as drivers of change for more inclusive and equitable societies.

Contributors: Matthew Wallace, senior program specialist, IDRC, with Naser Faruqui, program director, IDRC