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Meet the AI4D Africa partners leading policy research


The message from Africa’s growing artificial intelligence (AI) community is clear: in order for machine-learning technology to address development challenges successfully, it must be designed to meet local needs. That’s why IDRC partnered with Sweden’s International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) to launch the Artificial Intelligence for Development in Africa (AI4D) initiative, a four-year, CAD20-million partnership to support the African-led development of responsible and inclusive AI. 

The AI4D initiative is built on three pillars of activities: 

This article focuses on the policy pillar. It’s the first in a series of articles that looks at the work AI4D Africa has undertaken since its launch in December 2020. 

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In the past year, the initiative released nine calls for proposals and expressions of interest to recruit African partners to lead projects related to policy research. These open and competitive calls identified African-based think tanks, research institutions and not-for-profit organizations to support research-based development of public policies and regulations that promote the inclusive benefits of AI, while mitigating the potential costs and risks. 

Following rigorous recruitment processes, the following partners were selected to receive funding, spanning from CAD300,000 to CAD1.2 million, and inform policymaking to support responsible AI at the local and regional levels.  

Research-to-policy think tanks:  

  • Research ICT Africa serves as an AI policy think tank in Southern Africa. It generates knowledge grounded in the historical and contemporary contexts of African countries, advocating for people-centred, beneficial AI innovation and building local capacity and awareness.  

The newly released paper ‘’A gender perspective on the use of artificial intelligence in Africa’s fintech industry: Case studies from South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana’’ sheds light on the dominance of males in the African fintech ecosystem. Gender inequalities are obstructing not just women’s participation in the industry, but are ultimately also restricting the innovation of financial products aimed at women’s financial inclusion. 

A recent study, titled ‘’the Artificial Intelligence Labour Gender Gap In Africa," mapped the gender composition of AI projects and companies originating in countries across Africa to capture the diversity struggles particular to AI start-ups and determined the mechanisms that can be put in place to curb them. Among the findings, the project found that women only constitute 29% of the continent’s AI workforce. 

Policy network:  

  • Based in Senegal, Niyel seeks to establish a francophone network of researchers working on AI policy, build the capacity of research teams and policymakers, and support research teams in producing contextual, targeted and demand-driven research that will answer policymakers’ needs. 

"Unfortunately, most of our governments in francophone Africa have not spent enough time or had the resources to establish the right frameworks and policies to ensure citizens not only benefit from the leaps of AI technology, but that their rights are protected in the process. This project will not only strengthen the network of brilliant institutions that are working on AI in francophone Africa, but will also provide governments with concrete ways in which they can ensure that AI is done responsibly. We couldn’t be more excited for what is to come.’’ 
Valérie Traoré  
Founder and CEO, Niyel 

Observatory on responsible AI:  

  • Research ICT Africa also implements the African Observatory on Responsible AI (AORAI) to help position the African continent as a leading voice in global debates and policymaking in responsible AI and to deepen the understanding of AI and its effects in Africa. 

Dr. Rachel Adams, AORAI project leader, contributed a piece in a special issue of Interdisciplinary Science Reviews, exploring the notion of de/coloniality and its emphasis on undoing logics of race. One of the main objectives of AORAI will be to study how racial, ethnic and gender stereotypes, as well as profiling and social prejudices, occur in the development and deployment of AI systems in different African contexts. 

Policy-to-research bridge: 

  • This project, led by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) at the African Union Development Agency (AUDA), supports the co-creation of a model AI policy to enable governments to effectively harness AI for development purposes. AUDA acts as a policy bridge, supporting capacity-strengthening activities aimed at policymakers, enhancing connections with the private sector and supporting increased networking with academia and science systems. 

“We are pleased to be collaborating with IDRC on the development of an AI strategy for the African Union that includes legislative, regulatory, ethical, policy, and infrastructural frameworks. An important contribution of these frameworks will be to address myths and misconceptions on AI in socio-economic development and advocate for a greater use of responsible AI technologies in partnership with the private sector and innovators.’’  
Justina Dugbazah 
Senior Programme Officer, Education and Social Development, AUDA    

The next article in this series will introduce AI4D Africa’s partners leading capacity-strengthening activities. They seek to respond to the capacity requirements of the public and private sectors with a focus on the next generation of PhD students, post-doctoral students and early-career academics working on responsible AI.  

Learn more about AI4D Africa’s activities at   


Research highlights

  • AI4D Africa seeks to improve the quality of life for all in Africa and beyond by partnering with Africa’s science and policy communities to leverage AI through support to high-quality research, responsible innovation and local talent.  

  • The policy stream supports AI policy research to inform and facilitate the development of public policies and regulations that promote the inclusive benefits of AI, while mitigating its potential costs and risks.  

  • The initiative supports two research-to-policy think-and-do tanks in anglophone Africa and one policy network in francophone Africa. AI4D Africa also supports a Responsible AI Observatory and works with the African Union Development Agency to develop a model African AI policy.