Working with Think-tanks in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Caroline Smith
While new and emerging research institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa face many startup challenges, they also enjoy a multitude of valuable assets that set them apart from the establishment, and better position them as a future-oriented institution well-suited to weather the changes technology proffers to research organizations. Research bodies in Sub-Saharan Africa are uniquely poised to both ride the wave of innovation and to remain on the cutting edge by fostering entrepreneurship, engaging with communities, and leveraging technology through their research.
With the population of Sub-Saharan Africa set to double by 2050, now is the prime time for think tanks in Sub-Saharan Africa to set the stage for their role in the public sphere. As a continent known for its “micro-entrepreneurs” and ever more so for its social/tech entrepreneurs, research institutions have an opportunity to harness this entrepreneurial identity and amplify the voices of those it represents. According to the UNFPA “While 30% of youth aged 15 to 24 worldwide were considered “digital natives” in 2012 (five or more years of online experience), under 10% qualified at this level in sub- Saharan Africa.” But with the population becoming more and more connected and digitally savvy, by adopting these technologies communities can be empowered to share their voices and insights. In doing so, they can bridge the gap between field and desk research and increase scale of research.
Beyond the capacity for digital tools to facilitate knowledge collection and dissemination, digital tools can be used to collaborate and communicate with research subjects in novel ways. Nearly 90% of adults in SSA have mobile phones, thus mobile platforms offer a formidable resource to crowdsource information, map data, and engage with audiences.
Several institutions regularly crowdfund for solutions to complex global challenges, and research institutions can do the same to crowdfund information and entrepreneurial insights. While research organizations are often charged with the role of formulating policy outlooks, our greatest resource is our subjects and shouldn’t be afraid to redefine how they collect and access information. By working alongside those who live the realities of the subject matter are often best able to identify what needs to be done to fix a problem. To connect those with the means to target a problem and those who know the problem best may be the greatest role a think tank can offer. Social media is of course a vital tool for think tanks to connect with audiences.
Notes if talking about youth:
By embracing their young populations who have grown up in this era of digital enlightenment and tapping into technological innovations that may redefine research and “expertise”, emerging think tanks can leapfrog today’s 20th century think tank model and increase the quality and reach of research.
Half the population is less than 18 years old in some 15 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNFPA). Neither youth nor technology are the antidote for change. However, by investing in youth and technology think-tanks in Sub-Saharan Africa have an opportunity to redefine the think-tank model from the inside out by fostering entrepreneurship in its researchers and in its research practices.
In many ways emerging think-tanks may benefit most by aligning its mission to that of a university, the oldest incubators of knowledge and entrepreneurship. Think tanks can act as an incubator for youth and technology by using technology to conduct research.
Young think tanks in a young population: For think tanks in SSH, those that engage with youth and with technology from an early stage will progress in harmony without having to play catch up. Think tanks in SSA can leverage youth and technology by both appealing to youth and engaging with populations from a young age and --Inclusive economic growth