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Call for Expressions of Interest — Hub for Responsible AI for an Education Innovation Research Network in Africa


June 25, 2021 by 23:59 (EDT)


Education, hub management, research, technical support and guidance


Up to 30 months

Funded by

IDRC and Sida






CAD $1.2 million






The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) invite expressions of interest from individual organizations, or consortia of organizations to express interest in applying for a grant to play the role of the Innovation Research Hub for an African-based research network on responsible artificial intelligence innovations that seek to advance education across Africa. The Hub will design, develop, and manage the education innovation research network as key part of the Artificial intelligence for Development in Africa program (AI4D Africa).

The general goal of this innovation research network is to advance education that strengthens teaching, learning, and school administrative functions in Africa through the responsible development and deployment of artificial intelligence innovations.

Note that all innovation work supported will seek to be responsible and uphold the Principles for Digital Development

Key Dates

May 25, 2021
Expressions of interest release date
June 9, 2021
Deadline for submission of questions
June 11, 2021
Answers to questions posted
June 25, 2021
Submission deadline

The selected Hub will design and develop an innovation research network of researchers and innovators applying responsible AI to advance education, from remedying biased algorithms to advancing new innovations that advance justice, access to government and financial services, climate change, improved health outcomes, reduced gender based violence, and more. For a consortium, IDRC will enter into a funding agreement only with the lead organization.

Eligibility and requirements

This call for expressions of interest is open to individual organizations or groups of organizations that:

  • Have their headquarters based in lower and lower-middle income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with preference given for organizations in low- and medium-income countries (see complete list below).
  • Have a proven record of working in Africa and supporting the design, development, and scaling of education and AI innovations in these contexts.
  • Internal expertise in AI and education technologies.
  • Ability to work in both English and French at a minimum. Other languages a plus.

Transdisciplinary consortia are encouraged to apply. Consortia may consist of up to three (3) organizations. In case of a consortium, the expression of interest needs to provide a rationale explaining why the consortium has come together to implement this innovation research network and describe the role and added value provided by each member organization. Consortia must describe the governance and coordination arrangements they will use to produce high quality work and support fair and equitable partnerships.

NB: This call for expressions of interest is not open to individuals or government ministries and agencies, but it is open to public research institutes and public university centers, labs and departments. It is also open to private sector actors.

In case of a consortium application, individual members can be based in different countries and the non-leading members may be based in countries other than the list of Annex II. However, the leading member can only be based in an eligible country (see Annex II). IDRC will get into contractual agreement with the lead member only. The other members will be considered as subcontractors.

Evaluation Criteria

1. Knowledge and expertise on Education, ML innovations, and research (20%)

  • Demonstrated experience engaging in education research and/or AI innovations in Africa.
  • Experience and learning about scaling pathways in ML innovations for education innovations within Africa.
  • Connections with research and policy communities relating to education and/or AI.

2. Knowledge and expertise in supporting research and/or innovations networks (20%)

  • Demonstrated experience running collaborative research activities and/or networks.
  • Proven ability to support and guide researchers and technologists
  • Ability to facilitate knowledge exchange through participatory mechanisms both virtually and face-to-face.
  • Experience managing calls for proposals processes.

3. Innovation Research Network Plan (20%)

  • Logical network plan that funds and supports responsible education innovations
  • Approach ensures inclusion and equity of both genders and other vulnerable groups
  • High impact knowledge synthesis and sharing activities
  • Reasonable and feasible budget

4. Expertise in synthesis, learning facilitation, and knowledge mobilization (15%)

  • Ability to facilitate cross-grantee learning and synthesis.
  • Experience in designing and developing products that support knowledge sharing and use: high quality practitioner-oriented outputs, toolkits, rapid knowledge syntheses, supporting resources, and policy briefs.
  • Experience in knowledge mobilization for policy and practice improvement.

5. Organizational performance (20%) 

Evidence that the organization has the basic systems, resources, and management capacities to succeed in setting up and running a Pan African research network. Capacity to work in English and French (other languages would be an asset).

6. Organizational motivation (5%) 

Evidence that the organization’s programmatic strategy, institutional mandate, and previous experience align with and are relevant to the role of the Hub.

If you have any questions about this call for expressions of interest, please contact IDRC at [email protected]

Any inquiries that affect all applicants will be posted anonymously online when the answers to questions are posted. Applicants are strongly encouraged to monitor this website (ai4d.ai) for any updates regarding the call.


The selected organization will also be responsible for the following non-exhaustive set of activities:

  • Supporting the competitive selection of high-quality research projects from African innovators and researchers at the intersection of artificial intelligence and education;
  • Providing conceptual and technical support and guidance to the research network members;
  • Conducting research reviews and syntheses on AI innovations in education in LMICs in Africa;
  • Building synergies and collaborate where appropriate with other innovation networks, such as around issues of scaling, or human rights impact assessments, and
  • Contributing to the strategic guidance of the AI4D Africa program.

Specific objectives are to:

  • Deepen understanding of how to develop and scale responsible AI oriented innovations for education in sub-Saharan Africa;
  • Better our understanding of contextually appropriate AI teaching and learning applications, their impacts on learning and in the society;
  • Build the capacity of African innovators and researchers to develop, deploy, scale, and research responsible AI applications in education; and
  • Facilitate the contribution of African research to international AI policy and practice conversations.

I. Set up and manage the network

  • Develop and run a call for proposals for AI for education innovation research;
  • Develop and manage a call review committee, made up of multi-disciplinary experts and ensuring equal engagement of both men and women;
  • Sub-grant to successful research teams to become members of the network and implement their innovation research projects (ensuring equity and participation of different researchers in projects);
  • Manage sub-grants to winning institutions (henceforth sub-grantees), including sub-grantee monitoring and evaluation; and
  • Interim and final technical and financial reporting to IDRC.
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II. Support to network members

  • Provide technical and methodological assistance to sub-grantees as required;
  • Ensure network members engage in responsible AI practices and approaches – ensuring that interventions contribute to rights, inclusion, ethics and sustainability practices;
  • Plan and run network workshops and other network support activities designed to collectively tackle common issues and/or facilitate cross-project collaboration where appropriate;
  • Facilitate sub-grantee reporting;
  • Connect sub-grantees to other resources (knowledge, financial) as required.
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III. International Collaboration and Engagement

  • Coordinate with African KIX Regional Hubs
  • Coordinate with International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIED) international conferences in Africa and the rest of the world
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IV. Knowledge synthesis, sharing and learning

  • Produce a baseline scanning document of AI for education innovations in Africa;
  • Produce a yearly report on the state of AI innovations in education in Africa, highlighting promising innovations, key opportunities and challenges;
  • Design a framework for facilitating the synthesis of lessons learned from across the different innovation projects supported by the network;
  • Support uptake and scaling of research for policy or practice change;
  • Require that all grantees openly release any data sets that are generated by the research project;
  • Facilitate the production, communication and marketing of research outputs stemming from the network and ensure research publication in appropriate venues in accordance with IDRC’s Open Access Policy.
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V. Contribute to the overall AI4D Africa program strategy

  • Participate in the implementation steering committee of AI4D; and
  • Participate in the AI4D Africa learning, monitoring, and evaluation activities.
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Research Areas

To achieve these objectives, the proposed approach is to implement an innovation research network, managed by the AI4D Education Hub, which will bring together (~6-10) African innovators and researchers working on, or researching education innovations through an open call. The selected innovators and researchers will receive funding and support for a research project of at least 18 months on their innovation. It is expected that the selected projects will represent linguistic, gender, and geographic diversity across Africa; diversity across relevant areas of application of AI to education; and diversity of relevant involved stakeholders, e.g., ministries of education, private sector players and other relevant agencies, university researchers, and start-ups. The Hub will play a critical role in establishing, managing, and supporting the innovation research network.

Critical to this is the role of the hub in:

  • Supporting researchers across the various geographies and in at least two languages (English and French), and to facilitate equitable engagement of women in research and leadership roles.
  • Ensuring that each research project is multi-disciplinary, engaging researchers with different skillsets and expertise working together to advance new innovations (e.g., ensuring a combination of AI-related expertise, such as computer science, data science, and statistics; and intersectional expertise in relevant frameworks such as rights and law, sociology, or gender studies; and experience in the topics or areas of additional study (e.g. sexual and reproductive health rights, justice systems, finance, and more).

The exact nature of the role of the Hub is not fully determined to allow for the proposing organization(s) to provide information on how they propose to add value to the network to ensure that its outputs and outcomes are greater than the simple sum of the individual research projects. Given the emerging nature of this agenda.

Eligible Countries

Burkina Faso
Central African Republic
Rep Côte d'Ivoire
Sierra Leone
South Sudan
The Gambia

How to Apply

The applicant organization (or, in the case of consortium, the lead organization) should submit an expression of interest of no more than 4,000 words that clearly addresses the following:

  • The organization’s (or consortium’s) interest in becoming the Hub and how this role aligns with their organizational mandate.
  • The organization’s (or consortium’s) experience running innovation and/or research networks.
  • The key areas where leveraging Machine Learning (ML) in support of AI innovations in education in Africa can bring the biggest benefit, and the challenges to achieving those benefits.
  • The scope of AI innovations research to be conducted by the network (e.g., public pre-school, primary school, secondary school, technical, vocational, and/or public universities systems). It is expected that the winning Hub will determine and develop the exact scope of the proposed research agenda. Provide a suggestion of how you would scope this call for expression with justification.
  • How the organization engages in the education space and/or artificial intelligence/ data science for development.
  • How the organization would build an innovation research network that (1) secures diverse participation across Africa, (2) supports responsible innovation, and (3) provides innovation and research support.
  • How the organization will ensure inclusion and equity of both genders and other vulnerable groups in research design, implementation, and outcomes.
  • Experience with research synthesis and knowledge mobilization.
  • The team composition and resources deemed necessary to successfully implement the network, including its evaluation and governance processes (in the case of consortium, outline the roles each member would play, which organization would lead, how partners would coordinate equitable and effective partnerships).
  • What major challenges the organization (or consortium) foresees in implementing the network and what actions it will take to address them.
  • Indicative budget. We expect that a minimum 55% of the total budget goes towards network research projects.

In addition, please include:

  • Contact information of the lead applicant and members of the consortium if applicable;
  • Institutional Profile Questionnaire (IPQ) to be completed by the lead applicant; and
  • Abridged CVs of the lead applicant with relevant experience and key contact individuals from other organizations in the case of the consortium (CVs should be no longer than two pages).

The review process will consist of the following steps:

  1. Verification of eligibility requirements and expression of interest completeness: IDRC will review all submitted expressions of interest to ensure they meet eligibility requirements and all necessary materials. Incomplete expressions of interest or those that do not meet the requirements will not be considered further.
  2. Review and ranking of expressions of interest: IDRC staff will review eligible expressions of interest using the evaluation criteria. Each expression of interest will be reviewed by at least two reviewers. Expressions of interest will be ranked based on scoring and subsequent IDRC discussion.
  3. Shortlisting expressions of interest: On the basis of scoring and internal discussion, IDRC will shortlist high-quality expressions of interest and will invite them to submit a full proposal. The full proposals will be assessed by an external expert review panel, who will recommend a shortlist to IDRC and Sida.
  4. Proposal feedback will only be provided to those that are requested to submit a full proposal.

The expression of interest and all requested supporting materials must be consolidated into one PDF/Word document and sent by email to [email protected] with a timestamp no later than 23:59 EDT on June 25, 2021. Please use the follow subject when submitting your EOI: Name of the lead institution – Education Innovation Research Network.

Ready and Eligible?

Apply Now!