ResilientAfrica Network - abbreviated as RAN - is a network of different stakeholders including USAID and Universities. The program is spread across 20 African Universities as well as Stanford and The George Washington University.
Across Africa, it is implemented through 4 regional centers; RAN Universities Eastern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab, centred at Makerere University, Horn of Africa Resilience Innovation Lab, centred at Jimma University in Ethiopia, Southern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab, centred at the University of Pretoria in South Africa and West Africa Resilience Innovation Lab, centred at University for Development Studies in Ghana.
The reason the network was formed is to get universities to work with development agencies and communities.
"The funders realized that students are involved in many projects of innovation but do them only for academic purposes. After school, they tend not to go ahead and work on them," Dr. Roy Mayega, Deputy Chief of Party at RAN, pointed out.
There has been a rumor that ResilientAfrica Network is closing after it's five-year award from USAID, its main funder, came to an end in October 2017.
However, Dr. Roy William Mayega, says that's not true. Though he admitted that the first phase of the program came to an end this year and they haven't yet received another award to take them through the second one.
"The initial award was a 5-year project, which was supposed to run from 2012 to 2017. It had specific things it was supposed to achieve," Dr. Mayega said.
Dr. Mayega maintains that RAN is not closing as they have cultivated a great relationship with the partner which is most likely to result in another award.
"Now that phase of the project has ended but as you know how the USAID cycle works, one award ends and when you start a new award you have to get new calls for proposals and then you put in the proposals again," Dr. Mayega added.
Nonetheless, as they wait for the next call for submission of proposals, they'll continue to operate under what Dr. Mayega called the "no-cost extension period".
This is granted when a project or organization has reserves of funds from the previous project. Therefore, they'll use the remaining funds to help them operate.
"The fortunate thing for us is that we do not have to go through that process. We have been given a 5-year no-cost extension. And that is usually done when an organization has developed trust in you, so they're not going to put out necessarily any public calls so that in case there's a new award to be processed, you just continue," Dr. Mayega.
Instead, Dr. Mayega predicts that RAN is likely to become bigger. "We also have other funding sources which are also supporting other ongoing initiatives. So we are not closing as people say. In fact, we are likely to even get bigger," he added.
The ResilientAfrica Network got funding of $25 Million to run for the 5 five years. Yet, according to Harriet Adong, the Head of PR at RAN, "most people think that all the amount went to RAN Universities Eastern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab" - which is centered at Makerere University.
The amount was instead shared amongst the 20 African universities, on top of Stanford and The George Washington University. An amount Dr. Mayega actually thinks is not enough, because "when spread, it becomes quite small and that's the challenge."
"In other areas, you see investments of $150 Milion dollars. I think for Innovation and Startups especially that support youths, we need more investment," Dr. Mayega adds.
So far, RAN has been able to support more than 30 successful innovators from a pool of more than 200 applications. These cut across various sectors with some listed below;
Matibabu, according to this document dated October 2016, received a grant of USD 75,000. The other is Improved Solar Irrigation Water Pump - a low cost solar powered irrigation pump system for smallholder farmers to engage in agricultural production year-round - having received a grant of USD 50,000.
Lastly, the document lists RootIO - a community radio that provides a communication platform for communities to engage with different issues ranging from sensitization to transactions - that received a grant of USD 70,000.
ResilientAfrica Network, according to Harriet Adong, has a number of partnerships lined up. Though they're all with either the public sector or not-for-profit organizations. Yet, we know the private sector for being lean and agile - something RAN can tap into given it is a not-for-profit itself.
Dr. Mayega agrees and would relish a partnership with a private sector partner.
"That one should actually be the most important type of partnership because we want to develop these [innovations] into viable products and make money. And, the best or least bureaucratic [sector] is the private sector. We are trying to do that," he says.
However, he adds that "the slowest types of partnerships to develop here according to our experience has been the private sector."
"Reason being that the private sector here in Africa is not yet tuned to the startup and innovation culture. When the private sector wants something innovative, they organize competitions and fish for how people are doing it. Because they have the money, they start building it in-house. Yet, if they create linkages like in Silicon Valley, they stand to benefit more."
He advises that private sector needs to put aside funds to support innovators in form of research and development - R&D.
"Right now, when it comes to putting aside funds, they only think of distributing mosquito nets. They need to think in another direction, which is R&D," he added.
What Dr. Mayega talked about, the habit of private companies fishing for ideas is actually claimed to be a strong and growing vice amongst the private sector - with MTN being the most singled out.