Imagine being able to find the market expert you need in Ethiopia in half the time it normally takes.
Imagine a health official in Zambia helping colleagues in Mali to solve a water problem.
Imagine being able to easily access the best local expertise on Kenya’s power sector.
Such possibilities are all too rare because locating expertise and talent in Africa is currently very difficult - people move frequently, contact details are not kept up to date, networks are weak, and knowledge is frequently siloed among donors, governments, the private sector, academia, and the media.
We take a broad view of what constitutes expertise because it can be found in many forms: civil society leaders with deep experience, former government officials, young entrepreneurs, researchers in academia, political advisors, technical experts in NGOs, consultants in local companies or multinationals.
The Problem We Want to Solve
The most promising solutions to Africa’s challenges come from the most promising minds on the continent -not from the outside.
Yet the size of the continent makes it hard to find the right experts in a timely way. Networks connecting individuals are poor; particularly between francophone and anglophone countries, and there’s a tendency of African governments to rely on the expertise of the global North, rather than African experts on the ground.
As a result, donors and others tend to return to the same actors they have used before, and many of the brightest minds who have the most to offer miss out on opportunity and struggle to make a living with little access to funding and training.
Most of our elites still believe that the monopoly of ideas is in Washington.
Dr. Albert Zeufack, World Bank's Chief Economist for Africa
The supporting ecosystem of African academia has been debilitated by years of neglect and underfunding. For example, the number of African contributors to leading academic journals has halved in the last 20 years; it’s estimated 30% of Africa’s PhDs continue to leave the continent every year, and there is currently only one African think tank in the Top 50 think tanks in the world.
Our Theory of Change
Talent. Community. Data. Our theory of change is that a dedicated focus on supporting Africa’s own experts will lead to an accelerated development.
Giving a stronger voice to this talent is a low cost/high return opportunity that will help to retain expertise on the continent, produce better outcomes, and benefit every one of the SDGs.
The return on this investment is potentially enormous: bringing these minds together could dramatically increase the flow of new ideas across the continent, and increase the knowledge flow between the development community, the private sector and government.
Rather than supporting institutions, which can be a resource-hungry approach, AfricaWorks focuses on the individual. There are a number of benefits to this:
Given people’s tendency to move around the continent, a network approach allows individuals to be supported wherever they are located - unlike the institutional route which ties funding to bricks and mortar.
A network is the best way to quickly scale a success across the huge distances and cultural differences of the continent. Through it, knowledge can be rapidly disseminated and individuals connected.
A network is highly dynamic. It can adapt to changing circumstances, and support an entire sector across the continent just as easily as a subsector in a single country.
A network can get to scale without requiring major additional resources, and carries very little overhead or sunk costs.
The way we work is through a process of continuous improvement:
Identify the most effective experts
Build networks to support them
Strengthen their skills through training
Develop new theories of change
Stage 1: Identifying Talent
A key part of the process is assembling data on the expertise across different geographies and sectors. This involves scouring informal and formal networks, existing directories, agencies and government lists, as well as using word of mouth recommendations to track down the individuals. In this way, we are producing a valuable knowledge bank for funders, governments, and the experts themselves for them to identify where expertise is located and who is doing what.
Stage 2: Building the Community
As individuals are identified, they will be connected to a professional community. Unlike personal networks, which are limited to the personal preferences of an individual and often become stale over time, this network will be actively managed.
We will seek the input of members themselves on the optimum way to foster collaboration and knowledge-sharing so that the platform is purpose-built to their needs. For the first time, they will be connected to others working on similar challenges in different parts of the continent, allowing them to identify opportunities for collaboration.
Stage 3: Strengthening Capacity
African talent can often be excluded from projects owing to a gap in their skill sets such as a lack of experience in presenting research, or expertise in budget management, a lack of connections and so forth.
Through the platform, experts will be able to take advantage of training and upskilling in key areas. These might include proposal writing, networking, outreach, monitoring & evaluation, project management and impact assessment. Considerable economies of scale will be achieved by providing these services in a centralized manner. Funding will be sought to create travel and scholarship funds experts to work overseas, and to encourage mentoring by those in the diaspora.
Stage 4: Developing New Theories of Change
At every stage of this process, we will acquire data on how expertise is applied to policy by comparing differential success rates from different sectors and geographies. Over time, the platform will become a powerful source of knowledge on how to ensure sustainable outcomes.
Since the architecture of policymaking in Africa is still in its early stages, we will share these best practices with funders and governments alike.
Who Are the Beneficiaries?
The primary beneficiaries of this program will be the African people. Africa must develop pools of qualified, policy-relevant expertise if its efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals are to be successful.
Better public services will stimulate more economic activity, deliver more private sector growth, create more jobs, and lift more people out of poverty than any amount of outside aid.
The private sector, donors, governments and the development community will all be major beneficiaries. For the first time, they will be able to identify and engage the best minds in a sector, thereby ensuring that their activities are successful and sustainable. Surveys show that government leaders in low and middle income countries regard an understanding of the local context as the most important determinant of whether or not data is useful to them.
The final beneficiaries of this project will be the experts themselves. Belonging to this community will provide career development, strong networks, more access to funding, knowledge sharing - and greater impact for them. Through the network, we will help to improve their capacity and develop a pipeline of young technical talent.
We are seeking partners who are passionate about this cause. We know the goal and needs to be done but we do not pretend to have the answers to all the questions on how to get there, and we look for partners who can help develop the direction of travel.
The following metrics will be used to determine impact and success in the first 5 years:
- Widespread consensus that African development projects have been strengthened by this project
- Significant use of the platform for delivering capacity building and training
- An ability to demonstrate new methods of translating ideas into tangible outcomes
- A significant increase in the volume of project funding going to African researchers
- Evidence of collaborative solutions generated by AfricaWorks fellows
- A sustainable revenue stream in place by year 5