Africa is one of the regions most in need of innovative solutions for tackling water and climate change-related challenges; yet many parts of Africa are also suffering from the lack of water-related skills and capacity as well as wide-spread institutional fragmentation. The AfriAlliance project aims to better prepare Africa for future climate change challenges by having African and European stakeholders work together in the areas of water innovation, research, policy, and capacity development.
Rather than creating new networks, the 16 EU and African partners in this project will consolidate existing ones, consisting of scientists, decision makers, practitioners, citizens and other key stakeholders, into an effective, problem-focused knowledge sharing mechanism. This will be coordinated by means of an innovation platform: the Africa-EU Innovation Alliance for Water and Climate.
AfriAlliance will support the existing networks in identifying appropriate social innovation and technological solutions for key water and climate change challenges. It will capitalise on the knowledge and innovation base and potential in Africa and in the EU. The project will support effective means of knowledge sharing and technology transfer within Africa and between Africa and the EU, all with the aim of increasing African preparedness to address the vulnerability of water and climate change-related challenges.
AfriAlliance will make extensive use of existing/emerging communication channels and events (EU/African platforms, conferences and social media) to streamline climate change issues into water-related networks, thereby raising awareness about their impacts and propose adaptation measures.
Africa-EU cooperation will be taken to a practical level by sharing (non-)technological solutions for local challenges, thus also identifying and boosting sustainable market and investment opportunities. Demand-driven, problem-focused action groups will share knowledge between the identified stakeholders and networks at all levels to identify and address vulnerabilities effectively.
Water and climate change research and social innovation (R&I) cooperation between Africa and Europe will be reinforced through a combination of forward-looking and bottom-up innovation and road mapping techniques. AfriAlliance will also identify demands, opportunities and constraints at different levels and develop strategic advice (short term demand-driven R&I outlook and long term R&I agenda) for improving Africa-EU collaboration. This will help policy makers to create a consistent approach to bilateral cooperation between Africa and the EU in the field of innovation for water and climate.
AfriAlliance is lead by UNESCO-IHE (Project Director: Dr. Uta Wehn) and will run from 2016 to 2021. The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 689162.
Filling the gap
The lack of appropriate water-related skills and capacity in some parts of Africa and the wide-spread institutional fragmentation within Africa as well as between Africa and the EU is a major obstacle to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals and addressing water crises, many with severe climate change implications. Many initiatives have been created to address the fragmentation of the water sector within Africa and internationally but significant collaboration gaps still exist for internationalizing European water initiatives. This is reflected in the table below.
From this table, one can conclude that - except for networking among policy makers and financiers – there are:
- Very limited ‘horizontal’ networking opportunities between Africa and the EU across the various categories,
- Very limited ‘vertical’ networking opportunities between Africa and the EU that include the full range of stakeholders.
At best, these interactions can be conceived to exist via some of the global networking initiatives, but with less focus and less emphasis on the Africa-EU interactions. This is the gap AfriAlliance addresses, by setting up an umbrella network to galvanise existing networks and institutions to facilitate knowledge exchange within Africa and between Africa and the EU.
Social innovation defined
In AfriAlliance, social innovation means tackling societal, water-related challenges arising from climate change by combining the technological and non-technological dimensions of innovation.
Social innovation refers to those processes and outcomes focussed on addressing societal goals, unsatisfied collective needs or societal - as opposed to mere economic – returns. It is particularly salient in the context of the complex and cross-cutting challenges that need to be addressed in the field of water and climate change - and which will not be met by relying on market signals alone.
Social innovation consists of new combinations or hybrids of existing and new products, processes and services. In order to succeed, social innovation needs to pay attention to technological as well as non-technological dimensions: 1) technology, 2) capacity development, 3) governance structures and 4) business road maps. As such, these four dimensions of the social innovation process cut across organisational, sectoral and disciplinary boundaries and imply new patterns of stakeholder involvement and learning.
AfriAlliance is currently preparing Social Innovation Factsheets to illustrate concrete social innovation opportunities in the field of water and climate.