Makerere University has launched a ground breaking new initiative that brings together universities from across the continent to tackle the challenges of Africa’s most vulnerable people. Over fifty members of the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) met in Kampala from April 17-22, 2013, for a forum and work plan review meeting. The consortium of African universities seeks to analyse and strengthen the ability of African households and communities to cope with recurrent shocks and chronic stresses. Representatives from the network’s regional partners discussed frameworks for assessing resilience, methods for consulting local communities on their needs and priorities, and strategies for generating university environments that encourage students and faculty to develop innovative solutions for local problems.
In his opening remarks, Professor William Bazeyo, RAN Chief of Party and Dean of the Makerere University School of Health, stressed that the network’s principle aim is have real impact on the well-being of people and households in the continent’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.
Makerere University, which leads the network, hosted partner institutions from across the continent at the Protea Hotel in Kampala. Key regional partners include the University of Ghana in West Africa; the University of Pretoria in Southern Africa, and Ethiopia’s Jimma University in the Horn of Africa. These regional labs will work with other universities in their respective regions, and it is expected that RAN will ultimately comprise a total of 20 African universities from 16 countries. Also partnering in the initiative are U.S.-based Tulane University, Stanford University, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The network is funded by the U.S. Agency in International Development, which seeks to draw on the strengths and knowledge of African university communities and use science and technology to address long-standing development challenges.
At the session, RAN members mapped out how best to address the priority challenges of their respective regions. Climate change, conflict, rapid urbanization, HIV/AIDs, and chronic and recurrent displacement were among the themes discussed.
A panel on innovation provided real-life examples of creative thinking and collaborative problem-solving by students, faculty, private sector actors, and governments. Panelists emphasized the need for close consultation with local communities, the importance of pragmatism and flexibility, and the role that universities can play in encouraging innovative thinking.
Tulane University shared its experience in analyzing resilience in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and Stanford University representatives familiarized participants with a polling method they have developed to better understand community opinion and priorities.
Finally, regional teams refined work-plans and set out measures of progress to meet RAN objectives to: 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 forum provided an important opportunity for RAN partners to share, debate, and refine their respective strategies to assess, analyse, and strengthen resilience in Africa.
For more information on the ResilientAfrica Network, please visit http://www.resilientafricanetwork.org.