Tuesday 4th June 2013 afternoon marked the official launch of yet another unique project by Makerere University in the Rwenzori Ballroom Sheraton Hotel Kampala, Uganda.
This five year project will harness locally based solutions to prevent, manage disasters and rehabilitate communities in disaster-prone areas. Out of over 500 applications, seven Universities (six in United States of America) won the award. Makerere prides in being the only African University that was selected as part of the USAID Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN). The network was officially launched in a colourful ceremony by the Rt. Hon Moses Ali-Second Deputy Prime Minister representing the Prime Minister of Uganda Rt. Hon Amama Mbabazi. In his speech read by Rt. Hon Moses Ali, he stressed that local solutions through local innovation are the best approach to solve these problems, the Wanaichi problems. This is what the Uganda Government would like to see from our Universities. The Government thus strongly supports this project

However, to implement its initiative; ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), Makerere University will work with a network of other universities across Africa, the main ones being Jimma University (Ethiopia), University of Pretoria (South Africa) and University of Health and Allied Sciences (Ghana). These will in turn work with other universities in their respective regions and it is expected that a total of 20 African universities will be involved in this exciting initiative. At the launch, it was exciting to interact and learn from Student Innovators from different higher institutions of learning who exhibited different innovations ranging from landslide risk modelling, biomas and carbon estimation, parabolic solar cooker, alternative malaria testing method, disease outbreak predictor to phone based scanner verification system among others.

It is expected that RAN, a partnership of 20 African universities, led by Makerere University together with Stanford University, Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy (DRLA) and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), will 1) Design and operationalize a scientific, data-driven and evidence-based resilience framework for Sub-Saharan Africa that builds on the resources already engaged through the RAN. 2) Strengthen resilience at the individual, household and community levels through innovative technologies and approaches to development, which will be identified, incubated, tested and scaled through the RAN in collaboration with its partners. 3) Adopt and launch a state-of-the-art massive online learning platform to engage students, faculty, staff and development experts globally in solving well defined development challenges.

The Dean School of Public Health and the RAN Chief of Party, Associate Professor William Bazeyo in his remarks strongly shared that ResilientAfrica Network is an opportunity to bring together different disciplines for the purpose of working together to strengthen resilience in Africa. Resilience is the capacity of people and systems to mitigate, adapt to, recover and learn from shocks and stresses in a manner that reduces vulnerability and increases well-being.

The HESN network represents a new era of development by tapping research institutions and students to catalyze global action, supporting the culture of entrepreneurship and fostering multifaceted approaches to development. Through the Network, these partnerships will engage a next generation of development professionals while guiding USAID’s programs.Each university will establish Resilience Innovation Labs (RILabs) that will work with USAID’s field mission experts and Washington staff to apply science and technology to define and solve key problems in areas such as floods, landslides, global health, food security and chronic conflict among others. To establish these labs, USAID is providing $25 million across the lead institutions. These Development Labs will initiate a global network to engage not only academics and students, but also a broader community around the world.

Dr. Alex Dehgan Director, Office of Science and Technology USAID in his remarks said I have high confidence that the RAN will use the power of science and technology to leapfrog traditional development paths, especially in light of the innovations and new technologies I’ve seen this morning at our exhibition. He further noted that together with Makerere, USAID and its university partners were now beginning to discover more innovative, results-driven, efficient, cost effective and accessible solutions to global development challenges ranging from climate change and its environmental impacts to chronic conflict to rapid urbanization.

The Development Labs will work to fully understand challenges to development, test new technologies, apply revolutionary solutions to global development problems and scale up these new technologies to benefit the communities. All this is geared towards strengthened resilience of the African communities. Resilience to human shocks and stresses thus strengthened development.