ERAFRICA: Expanding Horizons

In pooling resources as necessary panacea against tough economic times, in demanding financial commitment from all participants while granting each an equal voice and in creating networks that can translate their interaction in this area to other projects and partnerships as well ERAFRICA shows itself perfectly conforming to the demands of a changing world. In this way it can serve as a model for future international engagement and suggest an effective approach for deriving maximum benefit from bi-regional cooperation under the Joint Africa-EU strategy.
(Paper for side event to HLPD meeting, 28 November 2013, Brussels)

Background

Three years ago a group of countries from the European Union and associated states as well as Africa embarked on the realisation of an ambitious vision, namely the creation of a new kind of intercontinental science, technology and innovation collaboration which could serve as a model for similar engagements in the future. Liberated from the lopsided operation of traditional development aid schemes as well as from a donor-imposed structure and functioning mechanism this new cooperative venture would be designed from the bottom up by its participant members, each of which would have an equal say in every part of its design and implementation from beginning to end. With seed funding from the European Commission as part of its ERA-NET scheme the newly-minted ERAFRICA was to be an equal partnership in which every member would invest to its maximum ability and from which each would draw a wealth of experience in charting a course into the future of funding international research cooperation. In this new world the operative principles are consolidation of resources and experience, forging consensus from disparate positions, finding solutions where none are readily apparent and ensuring success through an equal commitment made by all.

Research and innovation funders from the following countries are currently participating in ERAFRICA: Austria, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, Kenya, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.

Preliminary Results

From an initial consortium of twelve countries, by the time its first call for proposals was launched in early 2013 participation in ERAFRICA had grown to 21 institutions representing 16 countries instead (and with current levels of additional interest indicating that a second call may well increase these numbers easily). Preparing for the call took two years of continuous labour, since all principles and strategies, tools and operating mechanisms had to be created anew and in a way that would satisfy the national priorities and interests of all involved. Those were heady days, setting a steep learning curve and requiring both exactitude and creativity to ensure the work’s completion.

However in the end projects could be solicited from joint European and African research teams in the themes Renewable Energy, Interfacing Challenges and New Ideas, with the sheer volume of responses indicating clearly the need and desire for such a funding opportunity. Subjected to an extensive evaluation and review process the projects received have thus far yielded a final selection list of 9 projects confirmed for funding, 9 further projects of which the funding depends on some minor operational negotiations and 2 reserve projects the funding of which is still under discussion (7 of said projects directly addressing the important issue of food and nutritional security, 3 dealing with health and 3 more with the development of novel sources of energy). Pending finalisation of the selection and the signing of funding contracts at national level, it is anticipated that the distribution of funds (some 10 million euros according to the optimal scenario) will take place between January and June 2014. And while this initial phase of the project can already be held up as a success, there remains much room for further advancement.

After all the total demand for funding amounted to more than 70 million euros within the framework of 124 submitted projects, suggesting a vast market of European-African research collaboration still only partly addressed by such projects and programmes as are currently in place to do so.

ERAFRICA Suggested Future Contributions

Assuming a successful continuation with the approval and support of European and African authorities, ERAFRICA is willing and able to lend its established operational network and unified resources to the advancement of European and African collaboration in science, technology and innovation via the following (non-exhaustive) list of mechanisms:

  • Funding of collaborative research projects involving institutions from partner countries from both continents and complementing funding themes such as those promoted within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Framework Programme and the programmes of the African Union;
  • Expansion of the existing ERAFRICA network to include even more European and African countries, thus creating an ever-larger network of mutual cooperation and dialogue able to facilitate collaboration both in terms of ERAFRICA activities and other areas;
  • Creation of research networks between European and African teams which can serve to enhance cooperation on multilateral and bilateral level and will allow for expansion into other projects and programmes of mutual interest;
  • Sharing of knowledge and expertise within the network, thus allowing for the advancement of operational ability of partners less familiar with large-scale international collaboration and so increase their opportunities for greater integration into the global research marketplace.
  • Connecting with other projects and programmes operating in the same sphere (such as CAAST-Net Plus and the African Research Grants programme) so as to ensure optimal investment and avoidance of duplication in promoting of Africa-European cooperation in science, technology and innovation.

Conclusion

In pooling resources as necessary panacea against tough economic times, in demanding financial commitment from all participants while granting each an equal voice and in creating networks that can translate their interaction in this area to other projects and partnerships as well ERAFRICA shows itself perfectly conforming to the demands of a changing world. In this way it can serve as a model for future international engagement and suggest an effective approach for deriving maximum benefit from bi-regional cooperation under the Joint Africa-EU strategy. And while the project partners have no intention of allowing ERAFRICA to fade away following its official conclusion (already discussing how to capitalise on the lessons learned and relationships forged during this phase), it would be unfortunate if some sort of continuation was not situated within the administrative landscape best able to exploit it.

This means the European and African Union Commissions as well as the decision-making authorities on science, technology and innovation in Europe and Africa. After all, when entering a challenging future why do so unarmed with means and mechanisms having already proven their effectiveness?

Contacts:

Dr Jean Albergel
ERAFRICA Coordinator: 
phone: +27 12 844 0117
jean.albergel@ird.fr

Dr Johan Viljoen
Project Manager: 
phone: +27 12 844 0118
johan.viljoen@ird.fr


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