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Call for Expressions of Interest — Hub for Responsible AI for Gender and Inclusion Innovation Research Network in Africa


June 4, 2021 by 23:59 (EDT)


Gender equality, inclusion, bias, 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 gender equality and the inclusion of marginalized communities across Africa. The Hub will design, develop, and manage the gender and inclusion innovation research network as key part of the Artificial intelligence for Development in Africa program (AI4D Africa).

The general objective of this innovation research network is to advance gender equality and inclusion 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

April 26, 2021
Expressions of interest release date
May 24, 2021
Deadline for submission of questions
May 26, 2021
Answers to questions posted
June 4, 2021
Submission deadline

The selected Hub will engage in field-building activities to design and implement an innovation research network of researchers and innovators applying responsible AI to advance gender equality and inclusion, 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 AI innovations, as well as capacity and expertise around specific domains and their relevance to advancing gender equality and inclusion on the continent;
  • Have a team with expertise in AI, as well as in advancing gender equality and inclusion and in other relevant areas as identified.
  • 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 I. However, the leading member can only be based in an eligible country. IDRC will get into contractual agreement with the lead member only. The other members will be considered as subgrantees.

Evaluation Criteria

1. Knowledge and expertise on gender and inclusion AND managing AI innovations and research (25%)

  • Demonstrated experience (by the host organization, or shared by the full consortia) in supporting research and innovations in Africa, in supporting action oriented research that helps to advance gender equality, inclusion and rights (in one domain or more generally) or strong experience in one of the above with proven track record of collaborations in the other domains;
  • Experience and learning about scaling pathways in developing AI innovations, especially within Africa;
  • Experience with machine learning or other AI applications to address pressing challenges in Africa that may augment or contribute to increasing and advancing gender equality and inclusion (for example, in access to finance, health care, access to government services, combatting gender based violence, access to justice, and more).
  • Understanding of the emerging challenges of AI applications may pose to gender equality and inclusion, including bias, explainability, and more;
  • Expertise in advancing a change oriented research agenda that has advance gender equality in two or more relevant research domains;
  • Connections with relevant research and policy communities, and experience advocating for gender and equality in those communities.

2. Knowledge and expertise in supporting research and/or innovations networks that include some field-building  (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 would support research projects to support field building, advance novel research, and apply it;
  • 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).

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, gender and inclusion;
  • Providing conceptual and technical support and guidance to the research network members as required such as ensuring responsible AI innovation development and deployment with a strong gender and inclusion considerations;
  • Support the exchange of knowledge and good practices between network members;
  • Building synergies and collaborate where appropriate with other AI and gender and inclusion networks and communities; and
  • Contributing to the strategic guidance of the AI4D Africa program.

Specific objectives are to:

  • Deepen understanding and support field building of how to develop and scale sustainable, African-led initiatives to deploy artificial intelligence in the service of improving gender equality and inclusion;
  • Build the capacity of African innovators and researchers to develop, deploy and scale such AI applications, and to do so in a way that ensures the continued engagement of under-represented communities; and
  • Facilitate the contribution and influence of an African research agenda on mobilizing artificial intelligence for gender equality and inclusion (and combatting bias and risks to increasing inequality from these to systems) to relevant regional international AI policy and practice conversations and agendas.

I. Set up and manage the network

  • Establish a preliminary research agenda and scope for the network, focusing on field building and advancing the ultimate goal of gender equality and inclusion for marginalized groups – some of this may be in collaboration with an international network focused on Feminist AI Research f<a+i>r;
  • Develop and run a call for proposals for AI for gender innovation research based on the innovation research agenda;
  • Develop and manage a call review committee, made up of multi-disciplinary experts and ensuring equal engagement of men and women, of whom at least 50% are from Africa;
  • Sub-grant to successful research teams to become members of the network and support the implementation of their innovation research projects (ensuring equity and multi-disciplinary participation of different researchers in those projects);
  • Manage sub-grants to winning institutions (henceforth called “sub-grantees”), including sub-grantee monitoring and evaluation; and
  • Interim and final technical and financial reporting to IDRC, according to the templates and standards.
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II. Support to network members

  • Provide technical and methodological assistance to sub-grantees as required in both AI and gender and inclusion approaches;
  • 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 and learning where appropriate;
  • Support network members in finding engagement opportunities with relevant initiatives and research users (such as governments, local community leaders, civil society organizations, etc) that may benefit from their research results and methods;
  • Facilitate sub-grantee reporting;
  • Connect sub-grantees to other resources (knowledge, financial) as required.
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III. External engagement

  • Coordinate with other African or international AI networks of programs to engage in global and multi-disciplinary exchange, organize joint initiatives and events as appropriate, and otherwise enable the impactful and responsible development of work and field-building.
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IV. Contributing to field building, advancing knowledge and policy dialogues

  • Produce a baseline scanning document of AI regarding the application of AI systems to advancing gender equality and inclusion in Africa;
  • Produce ongoing report(s) and white papers on the state of AI innovations for gender and inclusion in Africa;
  • 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 with a variety of researcher users and key stakeholders and influencers;
  • Require that all grantees openly release any data sets that are generated by the research project in accordance with IDRC’s open data statement of principles;
  • 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 AI4D Africa program will support the implementation of an innovation research network, managed by the Hub, which use a competitive and open call process to bring together (~6-10) African innovators and researchers (or teams). 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 (focusing on supporting innovations and field building across a variety of domains); and diversity of relevant involved stakeholders, e.g., university researchers, start-ups, research-oriented think-tanks, consultancies, labs, and civil society groups working on advancing gender equality and inclusion. 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(s).
  • The organization’s (or consortium’s) experience running innovation and/or research networks.
  • Outlining key areas where leveraging AI in support of gender equality and inclusion can bring the biggest benefit, and the challenges to achieving those benefits in that sector or domain. This may also include outlining the importance of a field-building agenda.
  • How the organization or consortium has experience engaging with gender focused and rights groups, supporting participatory design activities and/or artificial intelligence/ data science for development.
  • How the organization would design a gender and inclusion focused innovation research network that (1) secures diverse participation of researchers from across Africa, (2) supports responsible innovation, and (3) provides innovation and research support across a diverse agenda of research projects.
  • What strategies the organization will use to ensure gender equity and the inclusion of other marginalized groups research design, implementation, and outcomes.
  • Experience with research synthesis and knowledge mobilization, as well as field-building.
  • 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 and risks the organization (or consortium) foresees in implementing the network and what actions it will take to address and mitigate those risks.
  • Indicative budget. We expect that a minimum 55% of the total budget goes towards network research projects (sub-grants).

In addition, please include:

  • Contact information of the lead applicant and members of the consortium if applicable.
  • 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 4, 2021. Please use the follow subject when submitting your EOI: Name of the lead institution – Gender and Inclusion Innovation Research Network.

Ready and Eligible?

Apply Now!