ACE Impact at 10 Celebrations Officially Launched in Abidjan Cote d’Ivoire

Representatives from the World Bank Group, the French Development Agency, the Association of African Universities, and the Ministry of Higher Education of Cote d’Ivoire have formally launched the ACE Impact at 10 (ACE@10) celebrations.

This pivotal launch event took place at the Latrille Events, Abidjan, as part of the official opening of the 10th Africa Higher Education Centres of Excellence for Development (ACE Impact) Regional workshop, currently underway in Cote d’Ivoire – from October 31 – November 3, 2023.

Guided by the theme ‘A Decade of Advancing Postgraduate Education Excellence in Africa’, the celebrations will spotlight the enormous impact and key achievements realised under the ACE Impact project, while positioning and mapping out its future of endless possibilities for transforming Africa’s higher education landscape.

Dr. Ekua Bentil, Senior Education Specialist at the World Bank Group provided an insightful overview of the Africa Centres of Excellence Project. She stated that for nearly a decade, the World Bank has invested over $650 million in Sub-Saharan Africa through the ACE Program to enhance the quality of higher education to solve developmental challenges in the region. Dr. Bentil took participants down memory lane to 2012 when the World Bank, in consultation with African governments, recognised the need to support the strengthening of various universities and their teams to drive Africa’s transformation and champion development within the sub-region.

The engagements and partnership led to the launching of ACE I in the year 2014, which featured 22 centres from nine countries in west and central Africa – Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.  ACE II followed in 2016, supporting 24 centres in eight countries in Southern and Eastern Africa, specifically, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

Following the significant successes achieved by the two phases of the project, the World Bank Group and the French Development Agency (AFD), in collaboration with African governments, launched the ACE Impact Project in 2018, to strengthen post-graduate training and applied research in existing fields, whilst supporting the development of new fields essential for Africa’s economic growth. ACE Impact is being implemented in 11 countries, with 53 centres, including 18 renewed from ACE I. Aside from the funding by the World Bank, Dr. Bentil highlighted the financial support provided by the French Development Agency (AFD), including €72 million to support Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria, under ACE Impact.  The AFD has also contributed an additional €6 million to support the ACE Partner Project, an initiative aimed at promoting the influence and collaboration of thematic research networks between African Centres of Excellence, key actors in quality education and research, mobilised around national and regional developmental issues.

Dr. Sylvia Mkandawire, Senior Program Manager of ACE Impact at AAU, outlined the plans for the celebrations. These include the generation of articles documenting the project’s key achievements over the 10-year period, profiling innovations and research breakthroughs, highlighting students’ research and alumni impact, and producing documentaries on the project’s journey, among others. The pinnacle of the celebrations will be a project-level celebration event scheduled to take place in Ghana in 2024.

Country teams were encouraged to make plans to mark the ACE@10 celebrations at the local level and to spotlight the tremendous achievements of the project. Groundbreaking and lifesaving research have been consistently produced by these centres of excellence, on many occasions when Africa and the world have faced global pandemics and crisis. The development of innovative solutions and nurturing of high-level human capacity have remained at the forefront of the project and will continue to be key focus of African universities in the years to come.

Cote d’Ivoire Welcomes Africa’s Higher Education Stakeholders to the Landmark 10th ACE Impact Regional Workshop

Over 400 delegates from 23 countries have convened in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire for the 10th ACE Impact Regional Workshop, marking a critical milestone in the project’s pursuit of advancing higher education excellence in Africa. The workshop, taking place from October 31st to November 3rd, 2023, has brought together vice-chancellors, project teams, subject matter experts, government representatives from various African countries, policy think tanks and other stakeholders. High-level government officials from Cote d’Ivoire graced the workshop with their presence at the opening ceremony.  The central theme of sustainability is at the forefront of discussions as the project progresses towards its culmination in 2025.

Co-organised by the French Development Agency (AFD), the World Bank Group, and the Association of African Universities, in collaboration with the Ivorian Ministry of Higher Education, the workshop’s hybrid format combines virtual and onsite activities. The opening and closing ceremonies are being held at the Latrille Events, whiles other key workshop activities, including plenary, parallel sessions and steering committee and experts’ meetings, will be held from November 1st –2nd, 2023 at the Noom and Movenpick Hotels concurrently. The opening ceremony witnessed a compelling address by Mrs. Marie-Chantal Uwanyilligira, the World Bank Country Director for Cote d’Ivoire, who highlighted the critical role of Africa’s youth population. She underscored the projection that by 2050, Africa’s population will reach close to 2.5 billion, representing 35% of the world’s population and having the largest share of youth globally.  The heightened need to leverage the opportunities presented and change the ‘youthquake’ into an opportunity was said to be critical. ‘Timely, deliberate and purposive actions must be taken now to harness this demographic advantage effectively’ – said Mrs. Marie-Chantal.

Already, numerous successes of Africans solving Africa’s developmental challenges through innovations exist, as evidenced by the ACE Impact project, demonstrating that indeed, ‘Africa can’. The data demonstrates the remarkable strides the centres of excellence have made in addressing the continent’s most pressing needs and continue to do so in impactful ways.  Since 2014, Centres have trained 71, 987 students, published 8,528 research articles, and raised USD 170 million of externally generated funds. They now host over 116 internationally accredited programmes.

Education, research, and innovation were said to be pivotal in attaining a SMART economy and therefore needed to be prioritised and placed at the core of capitalising Africa’s demographic transition. Mrs. Marie-Chantal indicated that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is positively correlated with levels of education, STEM education and scientific output, thereby investment in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and the encouragement of girls to take up studies and careers in the STEM fields needed to be promoted to boost country GDP.   Moreover, it was added that the ACE Impact project goes beyond training and graduating students, to innovating and driving solutions to Africa’s challenges. Stakeholders were invited to partner with the project teams and join in transforming Africa.

The workshop was officially opened by Prof. Arsène Kobéa, the Director of Cabinet of the Minister of Higher Education, who reiterated the numerous benefits of investing in human capital. He emphasised the need to strengthen collaboration between governments and academic institutions to overcome key challenges faced by their economies.  Prof. Kobéa called on African countries to promote sustainability and ensure that the various phases of the project, continue to drive innovation and economic growth.  Commending the efforts of the ACE Impact project’s facilitators and funders, he urged all stakeholders to contribute synergistically to building a stronger and more resilient continent.

Prof. Olusola Bandele Oyewole, the Secretary General of the Association of African Universities, underscored the importance of project sustainability, and encouraged robust collaboration and partnerships. He acknowledged the Ministry of Higher Education in Cote d’Ivoire for its pivotal role in hosting the workshop and recognised the unwavering commitment of government representatives, subject matter experts, the World Bank Group, AFD, AAU, and the 53 participating centers.

Highlighting the significance of the workshop, Prof Oyewole emphasised that “the workshop serves as a vital platform to assess the Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence project’s progress while providing the avenue for the sharing of knowledge, experiences, and innovations. The project’s collaborative spirit and innovation have had a profound impact, not only on academia but also on Africa’s socioeconomic and technological evolution”.

Prof. Oyewole encouraged participants to form robust collaborations and strategic partnerships with industry, governments, and international organizations, to leverage existing resources and expertise, citing that the trajectory of higher education and its role in sustainable development hinges upon the combined efforts of all stakeholders. The Association of African Universities’ commitment to supporting the various key components of ACE Impact and the common goal of advancing higher education in Africa was reaffirmed. He also encouraged the pursuit of funding opportunities from diverse sources to sustain and expand the programme beyond the World Bank and AFD funding.

Representing the French Development Agency, (AFD), Mr. Lionel Yondo, the Regional Director for Gulf of Guinea, urged stakeholders to harness Africa’s geographical dividends and the various opportunities.  He highlighted the transformative role of the 53 centres in achieving tangible results across various thematic areas. Emphasizing the achievements of the centres in the areas of scientific publications in high-impact journals, number of PhDs trained, attraction of externally generated funds, among others.  Mr. Yondo stressed the need for close collaboration with governments and the effective leverage and use of stable resources.

The workshop came to a close with the official launch of the 10-year Anniversary of the ACE Impact project (ACE@10), which will be celebrated in 2024 to mark a decade of remarkable achievements and contributions to Africa’s development.

ACE Impact-Morocco Partnership Forum provides learning opportunities for Vice Chancellors

To fast-track the connections between Sub-Saharan Africa and Moroccan universities and industries, the World Bank partnered with the Morrocco Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation, Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P), OCP Africa, the Association of African Universities (AAU), and the French Development Agency (AFD) to co-host the ACE Impact-Morocco Partnership Forum from 31 May to 2 June 2023 in Marrakech, Morocco.

 

This Partnership Forum involved the ACE Impact Centers, Moroccan government representatives, Moroccan universities, Tunisian universities, private sector representatives, experts in commercialization of research, other thematic/sector experts, and experts from the World Bank, AFD, IRD, and AAU. Because sustainability is vital for the future of the ACE Impact Centers, the Vice Chancellors of universities hosting the 53 Centers were invited to participate in this partnership forum so that they benefit from knowledge sharing and hopefully forge partnerships and networks with regional stakeholders to advance the sustainability of their Centers and their higher education institutions overall.

 

Learning visit to Mohammed VI Polytechnic University

In line with the objectives of the partnership forum, over 40 Vice Chancellors and Focal Points of governments participating in the ACE Impact Project visited the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University on the 31st of May 2023. Mohammed VI Polytechnic University is strategically positioned to promote applied research and innovation and places research and innovation at the forefront of African development.

 

The visit by the Vice Chancellors focused on understanding the strategic plan for Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, learning how faculty are supported to digitalize their courses, gaining exposure to the peer learning school, learning about the relevant and impactful research being conducted in the areas of phosphate fertilizers, green energy, materials science, and nano engineering. The Vice Chancellors who visited Mohammed VI Polytechnic University attested to the fact that is a model university of excellence in Morocco and Africa as a whole – demonstrating a high quality and conducive environment for teaching, learning research and collaboration.

 

Best Practices in Research Funding

Since funding is a key ingredient of sustaining the ACE Impact Centers, another special session on “Best practices in research funding in the context of autonomy” was organized for the Vice Chancellors on the 1st June 2023. Professor Mustapha Bennouna the former President of Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Tétouan-Morocco and now a World Bank Consultant facilitated this session to discuss good practices regarding research funding and shared experiences across African universities. “There are several reasons why governments must invest in research, and these include strengthening innovations, encouraging dynamic businesses, developing an effective system for creating and disseminating knowledge, taking advantage of the transition to the digital economy, and fostering talent and skills” stated Professor Bennouna at the beginning of his presentation.

 

Morocco is currently dedicating 0.8-1% of its GDP for research expenditure and the goal is to match and exceed countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Finland who are spending more than 3% of their GDP on research. Professor Bennouna also spoke about sources of research funding in general, common approaches to allocating public research funding, research funding in Morocco, Moroccan sources of financing and strengthening the financial autonomy of universities. He advised that for sustainability to be achieved, governments must be the largest sponsors of research and other sources such as private sector, foundations, sponsorships, and charities must complement government efforts.

 

Since 2015 the government of Morocco has made strides in strengthening the ‘National Fund for Scientific Research and Technological Development’ by ensuring that it is supplemented by other sources of funding. The country has also prioritized studies into the introduction of appropriate incentives and mechanisms such as research tax credits and public/private partnerships with a view to mobilising private research funds. The National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research (CNRST) is key player in the Morocco research and innovation space – it runs the National Support Programme for Sectorial Research and issues calls for research proposals to public institutions.

 

“To strengthen the financial autonomy of universities a new law called the ESRI PACT provides for the strengthening of the universities’ financial autonomy and the introduction of a control system based on performance criteria”, said Professor Bennouna. Financial autonomy will encourage universities in Morocco to mobilize their own funds and build their capacities to contract large projects and to invest in innovation and entrepreneurship.

 

Question and Answer Session

During the question-and-answer session following Professor Bennouna’s presentation the Vice Chancellors asked for advice on alternative sources for supporting universities since budgets provided by governments to universities were decreasing. Professor Bennouna recommended that universities target participating in thematic cooperation networks to respond to some international calls for large research funding.

 

Another question was on the level of PhD graduates employment in Africa and Professor Bennouna advised that universities should focus on running innovative PhD programs and not producing theoretical PhD graduates. The focus must be on developing new skills for PhD graduates and linking the training of PhDs to economic and global needs, advised Professor Bennouna.

 

On the question about the level of support from the private sector to research funding in Morocco Professor Bennouna advised universities to specialize in specific research domains so that they become known for expertise in a specific research domain. Private sector would then be attracted to support these specialized universities who meet the needs of the specific private sector.

 

On the important question of the independence of research focus versus the interests of the funders, Professor Bennouna reiterated that “If universities are excellent and focused on their areas of specialization they will be identified for the funding of their strong, specialist and relevant research areas”.

 

Conclusion

Clearly the ACE Impact-Morocco Partnership Forum provided valuable learning opportunities for Vice Chancellors that are hosting ACE Impact Centers. The topics that they were exposed to during the forum will contribute to their institutional strategies for sustaining their Centers and leading advocacy in their countries for increased research funding by their governments. The forum also provided opportunities for the Vice Chancellors to establish partnerships and networks with Moroccan universities and other regional stakeholders to advance the sustainability of the quality work being done by African higher education institutions.

Outcomes from the joint ACE Impact-Morocco Partnership Forum (May 31 – June 2, 2023)

The hosting of the 9th ACE Impact Regional Workshop and joint ACE Impact-Morocco partnership forum in Marrakech Morocco from 29th May to 2nd June 2023, was unique because Morocco is not one of the ACE Impact hosting countries. Morocco was identified to host these events because the country is strategically positioned to share its knowledge for the benefit of the ACE Impact Centers. The universities in Morocco are arguably more advanced in terms of their infrastructure, research and learning facilities and staffing as compared to most of their counterparts in sub-Saharan Africa.

The partnership forum took place from 31st May to the 2nd of June 2023 and involved plenary sessions, thematic breakout sessions and field visits to selected educational and research institutions in Morocco. The main objectives of the ACE Impact-Morocco partnership forum were to:

  1. Advance cross-country partnerships and networks between ACE Impact centers and Moroccan higher education institutions and private sector stakeholders, and
  2. Present opportunities for deep dive training and capacity building on the topic of moving research from the lab to the market.

The Thematic Breakout Sessions on the 31sy May were organized to initiate and foster partnerships by providing opportunities for participating researchers to share their research fields and identify opportunities for collaboration. The nine sessions which were facilitated by the ACE Impact experts were focused on Agriculture, Health, ICT, Education, Engineering, Energy & Environment, Water, Mining and Transport and Logistics.

The Engineering, ICT, Transport, Logistics and Urban Development partnership discussions revealed that the ACE Impact Centers and Moroccan Universities were keen to collaborate in the areas of digital technologies, that is artificial intelligence, big data processing, natural language processing, blockchain, and robotics​. Additional priority areas for collaboration were agreed to be in joint faculty research publications, and grants​; joint faculty and student exchange, supervision, and training; sharing of teaching/learning materials and best practices; joint organisation of PhD summer schools, seminars, webinars, scientific and technical workshops and conferences​ and collaborations in implementing entrepreneurial and innovative initiatives.

The Environment and Energy thematic group discussion between the ACE Impact Centers and the Moroccan Universities revealed that their highest interest for collaboration is in renewable energy enhancement, battery development, energy storage optimization, photovoltaic, electricity network management, green hydrogen, energy efficiency, pollution control and risk analysis.

The agriculture cluster of ACE Impact Centers and Moroccan Institutions agreed to cooperate through student exchanges, PhD training, seminars, and common research projects. ​ They also agreed to collaborate in communication, sharing cross information and common advertising​. The ACE Impact Food for West Africa network (Food4WA)​ and the Africa Initiative at UPM6 agreed to initiate the linkage between Morocco Institutions and ACE Impact centers. Immediate practical outcomes​ of the agriculture cluster included the invitation to Morocco Institutions to participate in the international conference on drylands in Kano September​ 2023. A connection was made between the Centre d’Excellence Regional sur les Productions Pastorales (CERPP) and the Hassan II Institute of Agronomy and Veterinary to collaborate in animal embryology and artificial insemination​.

The health thematic group agreed that their joint areas of cooperation were in idea development, building networks, business development, faculty exchanges and student exchanges. This cluster agreed on the research themes of infectious diseases, pharmaceutical science, drug development, herbal medicine, food safety​, nursing, reproductive, maternal, and infant health, and genetic medicine.

The ACE Impact centers also benefitted from mini workshops that were organized on commercialization of research results. These were parallel workshops to train participants on tools in value creation; what the journey from patent to products to market involves; and how to strengthen commercialization in the university ecosystem to attract investors and funders from both the private and public sectors. The ACE Impact Centers also had the opportunity to share on how they are currently handling the commercialization of their research results. The discussion knowledge sharing addressed models of technology transfer that are working well and provided best practices in planning, setting up private sector ventures and fostering public private partnerships.

The outcomes from the joint ACE Impact-Morocco partnership forum include the well-articulated proposed areas of collaboration, improved awareness of the research focus of the ACE Impact Centers, exposure to various models for research commercialization and value creation and physical exposure to selected Moroccan Universities that are doing well in the areas of research, teaching, and impactful collaborations.

Looking Ahead: Vice Chancellors’ Perspectives on Sustaining the Impact of the ACE Project

During the 9th ACE Impact Regional Workshop that was held in Marrakech, Morocco from 29 May to 2 June 2023, Dr Waly Wane a World Bank Practice Manager for West and Central Africa moderated an insightful question and answer panel involving four Vice Chancellors from Nigeria, Djibouti, Ghana, and Burkina Faso. The purpose of the Q&A session was to explore how universities hosting ACEs could best support their centers achieve sustainability beyond the World Bank funding by paying attention to human resources, funding, useful partnerships and other aspects.

The distinguished panelists were Professor Folasade Tolulope Ogunsola, Vice Chancellor from University of Lagos; Professor Djama Hassan Mohamed, Vice Chancellor from University of Djibouti, Djibouti; Professor Ellis Owusu Dabo, Pro Vice Chancellor, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Ghana; and Professor El Hadji Bamba Diaw, Director General, 2iE, Burkina Faso.

On sustaining the ACE Impact Centers beyond the World Bank funding, Professor Ellis Owusu Dabo, the Pro Vice Chancellor, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, from Ghana advised that it was important for all Centers to have embraced the concept of sustainability from the beginning of the project and to have integrated it to all their plans. He underscored that funding was a key indicator of sustainability and that ACE Impact hosting universities must develop diverse funding mechanisms. “Sustainability is a cross-cutting issue that requires governments, universities, departments, and the individual staff to all be involved and working together in an integrated manner”, stated Prof Owusu Dabo.

The Vice Chancellors said the next phase of the ACE Impact Project should consider supporting universities to move their research towards “tangibles / inventions” such as innovations, entrepreneurship / businesses, and technological products.  They agreed that Africans must focus on solving African problems for the benefit of Africa. “One such urgent problem was alternative energy sources and reducing energy wastage so that universities could power their sophisticated laboratories without experiencing power outages”, said Professor Folasade Tolulope Ogunsola. Professor El Hadji Bamba Diaw emphasized that the next stage of the ACE Impact project also needed to prioritize state of the art infrastructures and equipment for high-end computing.

When asked how the University of Lagos achieved its goal of having a sufficient number of qualified faculty to support post-graduate supervision and teaching, Professor Folasade Tolulope Ogunsola stated that they had been “intentional in developing multi-disciplinary teams and in  identifying like minded people keen to work and not motivated by monetary gains”. She also said that the University of Lagos used its policy allowing the use of international collaborators for co-supervision. The University of Lagos has also changed its staff appraisal form to emphasize the value of supervision – and this has supported the creation of incentives for quality students supervision. She also indicated that the university also complements the research support provided by the ACE Impact to encourage high quality publishing.

Professor El Hadji Bamba Diaw, Director General, 2iE, from Burkina Faso shared lessons on how 2iE had integrated entrepreneurship into its academic programs and overall institutional approach. He stated that 2iE had focussed on strengthening its ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation through building university level to support entrepreneurship and making entrepreneurship training compulsory for all students. “2iE considers entrepreneurship important for handling development projects and responding to the challenges facing Africa and therefore promotes innovation platforms and spaces to exchange ideas, promote business concepts and nurture those ideas / concepts” said Prof Diaw.

Professor Djama Hassan Mohamed, Vice Chancellor from the University of Djibouti stated that the ACE Impact project had challenged them as a university to adopt new ways of doing business and unifying their decision making and procedures. “The University of Djibouti used opportunities to understand the project through elaborate training on disbursement linked indicators, monitoring and evaluation, safeguards procedures and project management”, said Prof Djama.

The Vice Chancellors agreed on the value and benefits that the ACE project had brought to their institutions, countries, and Africa as a whole. Some of the key bonuses of the project that they mentioned included strengthened resource mobilization techniques, beneficial linkages and partnerships, increased visibility for the universities and the centers, strengthened capacities to implement demanding projects, attraction of students from various African countries, inter-cultural exchanges through regional events and academic / student mobilities, strengthened national collaborations with governments and regulatory institutions, increased research publications, a critical mass of future faculty trained, infrastructure and laboratories built, efficiencies in community trainings, accreditation of programs.

DAY 1 SUMMARY OF THE 9TH ACE IMPACT REGIONAL WORKSHOP

The 9th ACE Impact Regional Workshop commenced in Marrakech, Morocco on the 29th May 2023. The first day’s programme featured 7 key meetings.

  • Project Steering Committee Meeting

In the morning the Project Steering Committee (PSC) of the ACE Impact met at Riad Ennakhil Hotel to deliberate on the implementation progress of the project. The PSC meeting was chaired by Prof. Kouami Kokou, the PSC Member from Togo and it involved the representatives of the 11 ACE Impact implementing countries, the Association of African Universities, the World Bank, Research Institute for Development (IRD) and the French Development Agency. The opening ceremony featured Prof. Olusola B. Oyewole, Secretary General, AAU; Virginie Delisée-Pizzo, Head of Education Department, AFD Paris (connecting virtually) and Scherezad Latif, Practice Manager, West and Central Africa Region, World Bank. Dr Sylvia Mkandawire the Senior ACE Impact Project Manager provided the project updates, and she was supported by Mrs Adeline Addy (MEL, AAU); Mr Frank Adjei (Finance, AAU); Maud Kouadio IV (Project Disbursements, World Bank); and Mr. Harry Crimi (Project restructuring, World Bank). Dr. Gregory Giraud from IRD explained the support that IRD provides to the ACE Impact Centres. The PSC also deliberated on strategies for sustaining the gains from the ACE Impact project beyond the funding from the World Bank. Dr. Ekua Bentil, the ACE Impact Task Team Leader, from the World Bank also participated and provided next steps and closing remarks.

 

  • Experts Meeting

The Experts Meeting took place in parallel with the PSC Meeting at Riad Ennakhil Hotel. The purpose of the Experts Meeting was for the experts to engage in experience and feedback sharing from missions done to the Centres. This meeting also deliberated on strategies for supporting the Centers to achieve more results in line with the agreed project restructuring plans for each Centre. The group of subject matter experts are a team that contributes to the operational and technical implementation support and supervision of the ACE Impact Centers. These independent Experts are selected based on their academic and/or disciplinary expertise relative to the ACE Impact Centers, and their international experience in higher education and/or university leadership.

  • Procurement Meeting

The procurement session was held at the Palm Plaza Hotel and Spa in the afternoon and the attendees were procurement officers from the 53 Centres. The objective was to ensure that procurement contracts are successfully implemented by the Centres. The key presentation was in 2 parts – that is best practices, common challenges and experience sharing in managing procurement contracts and common and specific roles of procurement officers as part of a contract management team. The key highlights of this session were:

  1. Procurement Officers are not Project / Contract Managers.
  2. Proper planning and assignments of roles to members of the contract management team are prerequisites to successful contract implementation.
  3. Roles that cut across all procurement categories were highlighted as Contract Negotiation and Award; Contract Documentation; Relationship Management; Risk Management and Contract Change Management.
  4. Roles that are specific to the different procurement categories were also emphasized.

 

  • Financial Management

The financial management and disbursement parallel session concentrated on the financial management aspects of the project, and it was facilitated by the fiduciary team of the World Bank and the AAU. The session provided guidance and clarifications to the Centre finance officers concerning the World Bank financial management guidelines. The session provided a brief of centers’ achievements status and proposed changes for disbursement linked indicator six (DLR 6). During the meeting, the facilitators mentioned that it was essential to accelerate the progress on DLR6. Currently, the achievement status for DLR6 stands at 33% for the first ACE Impact centers and at 32% for the second ACE Impact centers. The need for speeding up implementation progress was emphasized so that the desired targets are met. The session also discussed the proposed changes to DLR 6 and these comprised the following:

  1. The remaining balance on DLR 6.4 is being reallocated to the other 3 sub-indicators under DLR6.
  2. An increase in the unit cost for DLR 6 was communicated and this would take care of the unachieved funds under DLR 6
  3. There are three more rounds of verification remaining for the project i.e., August 2023, Feb 2024, and August 2024.

 

  • Safeguards

The parallel session on Environment and Social Safeguards (E&S Safeguards) lasted around 4 hours and included a wide range of discussions on E&S Safeguards issues affecting the ACE Impact project. The items discussed during this session were part of the principal challenges and difficulties raised during the virtual round tables, and those identified by the World Bank and AAU E&S Safeguard experts over the last six months. The session was led by Gina Consentino from the World Bank, and Williams Dzonteu, E&S Safeguards Specialist from the Association of African Universities. The following key points were discussed:

  1. Each site where work has commenced should be visited by the World Bank and it is important that the project ensures that these visits take place.
  2. The Centres must monitor the Environmental, Social, Health and Safety aspects on all worksites that are ongoing and produce monitoring reports.
  3. Each Centre must prepare and transmit a quarterly follow-up/monitoring report on all aspects of E&S Safeguards to the World Bank and AAU.
  4. The level of implementation / monitoring of the Grievance Redress Mechanism in each Centre
  5. The level of implementation and monitoring of anti-sexual harassment policies by the Centers
  6. The difficulties faced by each center.

 

For each of the points discussed, clear recommendations were made to the E&S Specialists from the various centers, to ensure that better account was taken of safeguard-related aspects throughout the lifecycle of the ACE Impact project.

 

  • Monitoring and Evaluation

The M&E parallel session was organised for the M&E officers of participating ACEs. The aim of the session was to inform M&E officers about current changes to the project verification and reporting protocols. Due to the ongoing restructuring of the project, additional funds have been allocated to specific disbursement linked results (DLRs) and in some instances, funds allocated have been reduced. As part of the restructuring, the World Bank has also introduced several project-wide changes to the verification protocols of disbursement linked indicators and results. These include changes in the verification process for DLI 2 (Development Impact), increases in the unit cost for international programme accreditation and changes to how funds can be earned under DLR 5.3 (Entrepreneurship and Innovation).

Mrs. Adeline Addy, the ACE Impact M&E Specialist led the session and made a presentation on the changes to the project and the implications of the restructuring to results reporting and verification. The M&E officers were also given information about the verified results for students and research publications. The M&E team from AAU responded to all centre questions regarding verification of results. The reporting and verification schedule for results was also shared with the participants. In conclusion, the M&E officers were asked to submit any of their concerns on results reporting and verification to a dedicated SharePoint link. M&E officers were also asked to submit all results achieved to the MEL platform for immediate verification.

 

  • University Vice Chancellors and DLI 7 Focal Points

This session was specifically organised for University Vice Chancellors and disbursement linked indicator seven (DLI 7) Focal Points of each institution. The objective of the session was to update university leadership about the progress made in DLI 7 which focusses on institutional impact and the nimble impact evaluation done by the World Bank to assess the progress of the overall project. The DLI 7 is among one of the lowest earning indicators with a disbursement rate of 25%. Progress have been made notably on regional strategies (DLR 7.1) and on PASET benchmarking (DLR 7.4), with every institution having achieved 100% in the first round of evaluations. The indicators on gaps assessment (DLR 7.3) and institutional impact (DLR 7.5) are the lowest performing indicators. The University vice chancellors and focal points were encouraged to accelerate progress on these milestones.

The second session on the findings of the evaluation done by the World Bank consultants in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire centres was facilitated by Dr Jamil Salmi, formerly with the World Bank. The outcome of the evaluation revealed the positive effect the ACE impact project on the participating universities and African higher education development in general. He indicated the ACE model will be presented in Singapore this year and could be adopted worldwide. Some of the challenges revealed by the evaluation were related to institutional leaders that conflict with centre leaders in some centres and bureaucracy of internal processes which delay performances. The evaluation results concluded that when these challenges are managed there would be increased improvement in the progress of the project and the overall impact on African higher education.

Building Towards a Vibrant Biotech Start-up Ecosystem in West Africa

Since 2018, WACCBIP began a series of efforts to engage local biotech industries. In the process, the Centre discovered that the biotech ecosystem in Ghana, and by extension, in West Africa, are less dynamic and had little capacity for the uptake of biomedical innovation originating from Ghana. Consequently, the Centre reviewed its strategy to focus on enabling the set-up of biotech startups within Ghana and West Africa. This led to the creation of a cancer immunogenetics start-up, Yemaachi Biotech, a brainchild of a WACCBIP research fellow, Dr. Yaw Bediako.  WACCBIP closely supported the start-up and has since partnered with Yemaachi in some of its COVID-19 studies. Yemaachi Biotech, which has raised over $ 4 million, in 2022 performed the first human exome sequencing in Ghana.   

To inspire and enable the next generation of the indigenous biotech industry, the Centre’s first step is the develop a Biotech Entrepreneurship programme in collaboration with the University of Ghana Business School (UGBS) Innovation Hub, and the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST). The programme will encapsulate a training course, and a business incubation programme, run concurrently. In addition, the centre is implementing a small projects scheme to provide funding support to innovative, industry relevant research projects proposed and run by WACCBIP students and faculty: 

  1. The Essentials of Biotech Entrepreneurship Training Course- The Biotech Entrepreneurship Training Course is a one-month sessional course with at least 7 contact sessions. The course will have an in-person format with expert facilitators sourced from our training partners.  
  2. The Business Incubation Programme will be a 3-month business ideation and pitch development programme. Outstanding trainees from the training course, as well as other WACCBIP students and alumni with good business ideas, from the training course will be selected for the incubation programme. The incubation programme will provide advanced training in entrepreneurship, product development, finance, etc. Through the incubation process, trainees will develop their products and develop their business models under the mentorship of experienced scientists and biotech industry experts. At the end of the training programme, trainees will have prototypes and feasible business models, ready for execution. The final stage of the programme is a final pitch competition amongst the trainees, to select the most well-developed and feasible ideas for funding. Seed funding will be awarded to selected, outstanding business pitch ideas.   
  3. The ‘small projects’ scheme is a funding scheme for innovative, and industry-relevant research projects led by WACCBIP students and faculty. Each year, students and faculty members will be allowed to submit projects, which have the potential to be taken up by the industry. These projects will be screened, with the projects demonstrating the greatest potential, selected for funding.  

 Moreover, through several networks, WACCBIP is driving innovation in the West African sub region. The centre joins, lead and co-lead a number of projects aimed at enhancing South-South Collaborations and through these are helping to build the innovative capacity of other partners. Currently, WACCBIP is a vaccine development hub for the African Research Universities Alliance (ARUA), as well as a coordinating centre for the West African Network of Infectious Disease ACEs (WANIDA). The centre has leveraged these to train partner institutions in Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin and Togo in next-generation sequencing techniques. 

CEALT Students Win 2023 AUF Hackathon for Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Students of the Centre of Excellence in Logistics and Transport (CEALT) hosted by the University of Djibouti once again emerged winners in the 2023 Hackathon organized by the Agence universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF). Represented by a team of five-  Mr Aboubaker Yassin Cheik-Frah (MSc Civil Engineering), Mr Kadar Youssouf Ahmed (MSc Civil Engineering), Mr Mohamed Saïd Mahamoud (MSc Electrical and Energy Engineering), Mr Abdi Omar Obsieh (MSc Electrical and Energy Engineering)
Ms Oumoukaltoum Youssouf Ahmed (DUT- Commerce, Option marketing technology), CEALT competed against Universities of Alexandria and Cairo in Egypt, and other universities in Lebanon.  

Noting the existing timing and scheduling challenges in the Djibouti public transport system, the CEALT team developed Baskaagi – an AI powered application that tracks and provides real-time bus routes, schedules and delays, while providing tailored planning features. 

Baskaagi aims to make life easier for citizens by giving them access to real-time information on bus services and optimising their routes to save users time, while improving their travel experience. In the long term, Baskaagi could be a widely used application across East Africa, benched on cutting-edge technologies to help improve transport infrastructure and create new economic opportunities for the local people.

Baskaagi represents a promising initiative to solve public transport problems in Djibouti and across East Africa, using technological innovation and artificial intelligence to improve the accessibility and efficiency of public transport services. 

The Hackathon provided a unique opportunity for the teams to create innovative projects that explored possibilities offered by Artificial Intelligence to respond to key challenges in the priority areas of Logistics and Transport, Health, Economy and Education. The teams were selected following a competitive and rigorous selection process including idea pitching.  The selected teams also benefited from training and coaching sessions held to nurture their ideas and potential.  

CEALT’s sterling performance at the Hackathon is worthy of note since it is not the centre’s first win. In 2022, the centre’s EcoLAIR project was announced as the winner at the AUF Hackathon. Aimed at promoting waste recycling, the EcoLAIR- an air conditioning system was created from recycled bottles.  

CEALT continues provides quality training relevant to producing the next generation of engineers and IT specialists needed to bridge developmental gaps through research and innovations. 

Empowering the Next Generation of Innovators: The CEALT creative space- Fablab (Djibouti)

The Centre of Excellence in Logistics and Transport (CEALT) at the University of Djibouti hosts a state-of-the-art creative space- an open access fabrication lab (fab lab) with advanced technology for project creation. The fab lab offers open-source software and hardware for designing, prototyping and product manufacturing. Accessible to the university community and CEALT’s external partners, it allows for a fast concept-to-creation process for the students at the University of Djibouti. 

Aimed at unlocking students’ potential and creativity, the Fablab empowers students with digital design skills, prototyping tools, and new digital technology access for entrepreneurship and research project development, as well as providing a hands-on, accessible environment. The fab lab has been instrumental in fostering the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders. Key activities of the fab lab include research projects, conferences and workshops, intellectual support for students and teachers as well as exhibitions. 

Since its establishment in 2019, over 150 students have received training and mentorship with more than 50 training workshops and other activities organized each year. In line with bolstering entrepreneurship, four start-ups were established in 2022 to further nurture students’ innovations. Two awards (Hackathons) have been won from the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie (AUF) and Africa Innovations Week in recognition of ground-breaking innovations from the fab lab. The fab lab is not made accessible only to the university community, however, other individuals with a keen interest in technology are allowed to cultivate their interests through visits and trainings. Over 100 high school students have visited the fab lab to explore activities undertaken.

The CEALT fab lab is part of a global consortium of 1750 fab labs working collaboratively to offer the necessary resources and tools to enable a digitally dynamic and growing world. Other strategic partnerships have been established to further propel the activities of the lab as well as provide technical backstopping when necessary. These include: 

  • Technical partnership with the National Union of Djiboutian Women in the framework of the awareness campaign against Female Genital Mutilation and HIV AIDS 
  • Partnerships with the Ministry of Digital Economy and Innovation (MENI) and the World Bank in the implementation of the National Innovation Strategy 
  • Training and research collaboration with the American Embassy via Morgan State University. 

The Centre of Excellence in Logistics and Transport (CEALT) is one of the 53 centres of excellence established to address developmental challenges in priority areas in the region. With over 30% regional students’ population, the centre is dedicated to equipping its students with specialized training and research tools and knowledge in contributing to improving transport and logistics in the region. 

WACCI (Ghana) Establishes Kofi Annan Enterprise Hub to Unlock Students Entrepreneurial Skills

Background 

The Africa Higher Education Centres for Development Impact project aims to propel entrepreneurship and innovation. Through disbursement linked indicator 5.3 (DLI 5.3), ACE Impact Centres are expected to prioritize innovation and entrepreneurship as part of their activities. Entrepreneurship and innovation are related concepts that go hand in hand. IThrough support from the ACE for Development Impact project, the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) runs postgraduate programmes to train Plant Breeders at the PhD level at the University of Ghana focusing on Agronomy, Pathology, Entomology, Genetics and Plant Breeding, Post-harvest Technology, Horticulture, Agribusiness and Entrepreneurship and Agricultural Extension. WACCI aspires to become an African Centre of Excellence for Agricultural Innovation and Entrepreneurship and is committed to quality assurance and is guided by the core values of excellence, integrity, commitment to people, culture of mentoring, accountability, and shared governance.  Through the establishment of the Kofi Annan Enterprise Hub for Agricultural Innovation (KAEHAI) in 2019, the West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement (WACCI) has achieved great strides in strengthening entrepreneurship and innovation in its programmes.    

KAEHAI was established by WACCI, and the University of Ghana with the aim of contributing to food and nutrition security in Africa by delivering innovations to agricultural value chain actors especially farmers and creating employment opportunities to empower the youth. The Hub also partners with strategic local and international organisations to drive agricultural transformation in sub-Saharan Africa through entrepreneurship. KAEHAI was named after His Excellency Kofi Annan for his instrumental role in giving visibility to youth-empowering projects while serving as Board Chair for the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), the institution that provided initial funding for the establishment of WACCI.   

Activities undertaken by KAEHAI 

KAEHAI has launched 4 impactful programmes since its inception, and these are:

  1. WACCI-MIT Global Startup Labs 
  2. Conversations on Agricultural Innovation and Entrepreneurship 
  3. KAEHAI-ECE Entrepreneurship Training Programme 
  4. KAEHAI – KGL Foundation Incubator Programme 

WACCI-MIT Global Startup Labs

KAEHAI partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA to organize a five-week Summer Entrepreneurship Programme at WACCI in 2019. The initiative, dubbed “Global Startup Labs (GSL) Entrepreneurship Programme”, was an intensive course designed to take students through the process of starting a company, to expose them to relevant entrepreneurship lessons and to improve their technical skills. The GSL programme was founded by MIT to cultivate young technology entrepreneurs all over the world and the curriculum was modelled after incubator courses at MIT and covered two major topics, namely (1) Entrepreneurship & Business Skills and (2) Technical Skills. Out of over 100 applications, 29 applicants were competitively selected and invited to participate in the programme at no cost. At the end of the period, the teams pitched their innovative ideas to a panel of judges consisting of potential investors from the Greater Accra Agricultural and Entrepreneurship communities. 

Conversations on Agricultural Innovation and Entrepreneurship

As part of conversations on agricultural innovation and entrepreneurship KAEHAI hosted Mr. Alhassan Andani, CEO and Executive Director of Stanbic Bank Ghana Ltd, during its maiden edition in October 2020. This first edition featured theaward-winning journalist (Mr. Joseph Opoku Gakpo) as host of the discussion between Mr. Andani and Professor Eric Danquah, Director of WACCI, on the topic: Funding Agricultural Entrepreneurship and Scientific Innovations: The Role of the Private Sector, Government and Philanthropic Organizations. The programme forms part of a series of planned agricultural policy dialogues initiated to host agribusiness executives, policymakers, politicians, the diplomatic corps, and other influential stakeholders to discuss issues on the transformation of agriculture in Ghana.  

KAEHAI-ECE Entrepreneurship Training Programme

KAEHAI in collaboration with the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship (ECE) from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, organized a five-day Entrepreneurship Training Programme in 2021.  This programme was developed with the aim of introducing the basic principles and concepts underlying the entrepreneurship process to empower students, young graduates and new entrepreneurs to apply these to their entrepreneurial projects and startups.  The curriculum was developed by select faculty from the WACCI, University of Ghana Business School, Crop Science and Agribusiness and Agricultural Economics Departments of the University of Ghana in collaboration with the ECE and the Dutch Centers for Entrepreneurship (DutchCE) following a six-week virtual Entrepreneurship Skills “Train the trainer” workshop. Twenty-four students from the above-mentioned units of the University of Ghana participated in the programme. The programme wrapped up with a Pitch Day competition, during which nine teams pitched innovative ideas before a jury panel comprising academics from the University of Ghana and representatives from entrepreneurial support organizations active in Accra. 

KAEHAI – KGL Foundation Incubator Programme

The KAEHAI – KGL Foundation Incubator Programme is a 5-year project to be launched in 2023. The project seeks to address the challenge of youth unemployment by bringing together like-minded individuals from the private and public sectors to provide training and support to students. The model will create opportunities to mentor participants to become entrepreneurs with relevant and appropriate ideas, networks, and support services. This will help trained youth to drive innovation and new product development for agricultural transformation in Ghana. This will be achieved by operationalizing an incubator programme at KAEHAI, in partnership with the KGL Foundation, to train a critical mass of young agribusiness entrepreneurs. It is anticipated that there will be at least 20 agribusiness startups successfully established by the end of the project, providing job opportunities for the youth in Ghana.  

Evidence of the impact of KAEHAI through the WACCI-MIT Global Startup Labs

Mr Evans Larbi participated in the WACCI-MIT Global Startup Lab (GSL) programme in 2019 and described it as a ‘life-changing experience’. Prior to the programme, Evans worked as a smallholder farmer in Agomeda, Accra. During the training, he and his team were ranked second during the final business plan pitches. He then proceeded to use the knowledge he gained to establish the Beit Farms Company together with a group of young graduates who had been exposed to agricultural innovations and agribusiness. In his own words, Evans tells us how the WACCI-MIT GSL platform enabled him to develop practical skills,

I have been able to build more networks and reach more customers, as well as develop innovative initiatives that will help transform and scale up businesses along the entire agricultural value chain”.

Beit Farms currently employs 20 field workers and 4 permanent staff working on his 25-acre vegetable farm in Agomeda, where he produces onions, tomatoes, cabbages, lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, okro, chilli pepper and sweet pepper. In 2021 Beit Farms won the Bizz Hybrid Excellence Award by the World Confederation of Businesses.   

Evans also received additional training through the National Smallholder Farmers’ Summit at WACCI, and the WACCI Maize Workshop – and had the opportunity to share his experiences with other farmers and key stakeholders along the maize value chain. After the maize workshop Evans created DUAPA a mobile app to help farmers in Ghana and Africa to have access to ready markets, creditors, advisories and information on farm research activities.  Following the various trainings, Evans has also registered a cooperative group called the Beit Smallholder Farmers Association with a membership of over 60,000 farmers across Ghana and 80% being women and youth. Since its establishment a little over 3 years ago, the Kofi Annan Enterprise Hub for Agricultural Innovation (KAEHAI) is clearly demonstrating great strides towards advancing entrepreneurship and innovation skills for students at the University of Ghana and for youth in Ghana as a whole. Entrepreneurship and innovation skills development are critical in solving the unemployability challenges faced by youth in Africa.  KAEHAI is also a clear demonstration of how WACCI is delivering on the important disbursement linked indicator 5.3 as is expected under the Africa Higher Education Centres for Development Impact Project.

Contact: smkandawire@aau.org | Association of African Universities | P. O. Box AN 5744,
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