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Request for Proposals: Building Climate Change Adaptation Capacity at African Universities
November 30, 2009
Rhett Bowlin
The Open Society Institute invites a range of proposals to build climate change adaptation capacity at African universities. We seek to support the development of African intellectual and institutional capacity to address the scientific, economic, sociological, and political issues, among others, that Africa faces in order to adapt successfully to the significant threat climate change poses on the African continent.
OSI would like to acknowledge the valuable inputs received from climate change adaptation experts, scholars, professionals, practitioners, and funders in shaping the vision for this work.
Background and Vision
A significant body of evidence points to the threats that the African continent faces due to climate change. Several efforts are underway already to support adaptation research and action, but capacity remains limited as the challenges mount. OSI would like to contribute to existing efforts by targeting university-based action for building sustainable capacity to deal with global environmental change over the long term.
OSI also wishes to contribute to the strengthening of the African voice in international climate change and global environmental change discussions, and believes that African intellectual products should be informed by local needs and should inform simultaneously the development of local and international policy. We believe that we need to support movement beyond instinctive responses from communities at risk by supporting research, teaching and outreach at universities, and stimulate their interaction with civil society, policy makers and communities and their practices in sustained transformation due to global environmental change. The time has come to support sustained academic efforts and to integrate non-academic professional inputs into research and teaching.
Deepening the climate change adaptation discourse requires a structured response to the need to build climate change adaptation capacity. As Africa needs science, monitoring and the creation of knowledge bases, OSI wishes to contribute to meeting these needs through university-based efforts. Building and supporting expertise to scale up to address the bigger picture of adaptation and global environmental change will require embracing new agendas and interacting with a range of actors. We would like to support the need to capture indigenous knowledge and build that indigenous knowledge as legitimate, and we also would like to support work from other platforms, too. We therefore wish to support a long-term engagement with a pragmatic vision that builds on existing and emerging capacity that will be inventive and creative and push boundaries in its work. We are looking to create networks and build a ‘network of networks’ working on the continuum of university-centered activity related to climate change adaptation and global environmental change.
Why Universities?
Universities are currently slow to respond to climate change adaptation challenges for a number of reasons. Some university leaders, for example, believe that climate change adaptation efforts are beyond the universities’ mandates. However, we believe that work needs to be done to speed up the universities’ responsiveness and responses to climate change as essential developments in building sustainable adaptation capacity. We see universities as offering better economies of scale in using existing organizational, intellectual and financial resources, and also see university-based efforts as opportunities to attract other donor involvement.
OSI’s support, we hope, will speak to broad challenges of African academe today. From questions of relevance of research to economic development to the role that higher education should play in society as it faces climate change challenges, OSI’s support for African colleagues may help transform the higher education landscape even through this specific effort to build climate change adaptation capacity.
This work will need to address challenges of enhancing and, in some cases, changing centrally-defined academic programs and also the real need to adjust approaches to teaching and learning. And as collaborative work almost by definition spawns better analytical approaches to complex problem solving, the transdisciplinary nature of adaptation will require new approaches and spaces for collaboration.
We understand that the nature of education at present does not, in some cases, support collaboration, hence we need to build a culture of ‘shared thinking’ and collaboration. It is important for Africans to have a more assertive international presence to improve the quality of the global discussions. Backing this up with clusters of colleagues working together at established institutions will help anchor the African voice; and at the same time it provides space for sharing multidimensional ideas that cut across sectors and traditional lines of thinking.
Strengthening capacity of African universities to embrace and be involved in global change research is essential. While we see a number of excellent researchers who are affiliated with academic institutions, their work is not necessarily appreciated or even welcome at the institutions where they are teaching and researching. This situation exacerbates the already critical but fragile existing knowledge gap in climate science and global change science. We must work to develop and demonstrate the emerging intellectual leadership in climate change adaptation that is both based at institutions of higher education and embraced by institutions hosting this leadership. Through the proposed network with universities, we will build the profile of climate change adaptation as a legitimate focus for scholarship, teaching and research and therefore begin the self-perpetuating intellectual endeavor of continuing to train future generations of scholars, researchers, practitioners and policy makers who will carry forward Africa’s work in climate change adaptation and global environmental change.
Proposals for Support
At this stage we are seeking a range of proposals to build emerging and existing efforts into larger-scale university-based initiatives that will be the "backbone" for building a network of networks. OSI also welcomes indications of interest in this work from civil society organizations, NGOs and other knowledge platforms that might wish to engage in this work but do not yet have established partnerships with university-based efforts.
These indications of interest will be matched, where possible, to university-based proposals. Ideally, we are looking to support efforts that will build toward the following:
  • an assessment of current climate change adaptation teaching, research and outreach at the institution, including information on individuals involved in this work
  • a vision for strengthening what the institution offers already with a clear concept of how to design and deliver degree programs and/or short courses that embrace adaptation/global environmental change
  • relationships with other organizations and knowledge platforms and ideas for other/alternative ways of sharing information and gaining knowledge and how these will feed into the emerging work
  • avision for enhancing university teaching and research with community outreach, short-term training with various relevant constituencies, policy proposals and interventions, and how all of this work is complementary and mutually reinforcing in building the science/policy/practice interfaces of adaptation
  • a plan for how the work will extend beyond the proposing institution to benefit a wider audience
  • a plan for adapting research products into policy briefings of use to government, business and other stakeholders
  • co-designed strategies and approaches for communication and awareness raising (e.g., science, policy and the practice community)
  • a plan for action-oriented research for use at grassroots level
  • partnership with civil society organizations able to take work forward in other fora
As noted above, we see climate change adaptation work as a continuum and look to support efforts on the basis of their strengths and advantages in this continuum. Our aim is not to be interventionist, but we see opportunities to connect identified winning edges as an important part of this effort.
Proposals should:
  • address to the extent possible the points listed above and explain the operationalization and implementation of proposed work over an appropriate timeline. Proposals that envisage realistic and phased development are encouraged, particularly those that aim to put in motion action that will lead toward the vision outlined in the proposal.
  • detail expected outputs and outcomes, indicate university support for the proposal and include a plan for monitoring and assessing progress and impact throughout the period of implementation.
  • include budgets in US dollars for the proposed work.
  • indicate past or current engagement in climate change adaptation work.
Please note that proposals may contemplate inter-institutional collaboration both nationally and internationally within Africa. At the same time, proposals may indicate international collaboration beyond African partners but only African partners are eligible to submit proposals.
Please address proposals, expressions of interest, and inquiries to:
Rhett Bowlin
Higher Education Support Program
Deadline for Submission
February 1, 2010
OSI’s Role and Proposal Selection
OSI will put together a reference group to guide this work. In some cases, proposals may be sent to external reviewers to help inform the selection process. OSI expects to play an ongoing role in building the emerging ‘network of networks,’ and in growing and nurturing the efforts toward this end. As such, additional calls for proposals may be issued at later stages, and opportunities for partners to continue to expand their work will be offered on an ongoing basis.
While the term of this first phase of support is not predetermined, in three years’ time we do expect to take a close look in collaboration with our partners at the outcomes and outputs to date, and identify potential gaps to help guide further work.
This effort is led in collaboration with OSI’s offices in Africa, International Higher Education Support Program, and Scholarship Programs.
Related Information
The Adaptation Imperative—Food Security and Climate Change
OSI-New York
July 22, 2009
Open Society Fellow Mark Hertsgaard and others discuss the implications of climate change for food production and global hunger.
Adaptation and Mitigation—Waking Up to the Reality of Climate Change
OSI-New York
May 11, 2009
Open Society Fellow Mark Hertsgaard discussed the need to adapt to the consequences of global warming, even as we strive to minimize those consequences.
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