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Call for
of Interest
Disciplinary AI4D Labs
in Africa


March 19, 2021 by 23:59 (EDT)


Cross-cutting issues e.g. AI and human rights, gender equity, future of work, climate change, inclusion of marginalised populations.


3 years (2021-2024)

Funded by

IDRC and Sida






CAD $1 million per lab






Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) invite expressions of interest from public universities in low and lower-middle income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to establish AI for development research labs (AI4D Labs) to engage in world-leading, multi-disciplinary, responsible AI research, innovation, and instruction. This funding opportunity will provide funding to two (2) public universities representing anglophone and francophone linguistic regions.

The goal of this initiative is to amplify African AI talent, research, and innovation by supporting the creation of two multidisciplinary AI4D Labs in public universities.

The two winning universities will establish or expand Labs that will develop and implement a locally relevant, multidisciplinary, and responsible AI4D research agenda, nurture local talent that responds to the capacity requirements of the public and private sector, develop associated AI4D academic courses, trainings, and curriculum, and broker alliances among the academic, industry and institutional communities. They will serve as resource centres for the development of the next generation of AI4D scholars and practitioners in the continent.

Key Dates

February 15, 2021
Launch of the call for expressions of interest
March 12, 2021
Deadline for questions
March 15, 2021
Answers to questions posted
March 19, 2021
Deadline for expressions of interest

AI4D Labs Definition: For this call, AI4D Labs refer to dedicated research facilities within a public university dedicated to promoting excellence in multidisciplinary AI4D research, theory, teaching and practice. It will provide the intellectual and experimental environment required to advance knowledge, new discoveries, and innovation.

Eligibility and requirements

This call for proposals is open to public universities from eligible low and lower-middle income countries with demonstrated expertise in the subjects that are critical for responsible AI research, education, and innovation. To be eligible, applicants must meet the following criteria:

  • Be part of a recognized, state-owned university that is predominantly funded by government;
  • Possess a track record of research on innovation, technologies, and AI applications and on cross-cutting issues;
  • Be committed to support the responsible, home-grown development and deployment of AI through investments in innovation, policy research, and capacity; and
  • Have working capacity in English or French, depending on their linguistic region of interest (anglophone or francophone Africa). Fluency in both languages and inclusion of Lusophone scholars as collaborators are considered assets.

Final decisions will be based on selecting one public university from each linguistic category.


The AI4D Africa program will target funding towards 3 critical pillars that will be needed to shape AI in Africa as a force for good:

  • Scaling proven responsible AI innovations that address Africa’s different development challenges;
  • Supporting policy research think and do tanks to establish responsible AI; and
  • Academic capacity building to foster African talent and skills around AI.

This initiative will contribute to the last pillar, along with the African AI4D Scholarship Program (announced previously) that will provide financial and professional support for the next generation of PhD students and early career academics across the continent. We encourage all applicants to have a look at the original AI4D Program Proposal.

The following indicative list of activities should not be considered exhaustive and may be complemented by other activities that will contribute to advance the responsible AI field in Africa.

I. Develop and implement a multi-disciplinary research agenda on responsible, African AI4D that is informed by national or local priorities

  • Develop a research agenda, including short- and long-term key research objectives that are relevant in the local/regional context and can make lasting contributions to the research field;
  • Implement collaborative and fundamental research projects that will guide and inform discussions/debates around AI for development;
  • Develop and make openly available AI4D teaching and learning resources such as curriculum and academic courses; and
  • Conduct seminars, workshops, and other learning and networking events to help share knowledge on AI.
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II. Bring on board talented scholars and cultivate expertise to leverage AI4D advances

  • Ensure representation of emerging researchers, including masters and/or PhD students, as well as established thought leaders (prioritizing gender equality and representation of minorities in the field);
  • Create an environment that promotes collaboration and peer-learning across research disciplines and establish a large community of scholars with similar objectives;
  • Ensure buy-in from members to develop a long-term vision and plan for continued operation beyond the funding period; and
  • Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion principles across all work and actively engage in dialogue and action on these issues.
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III. Strengthen the local/regional AI ecosystem to spark new ideas and create new alliances

  • Create a network that includes academic partners and private sector partners to discuss and utilize AI research and innovations that create positive change in Africa; and
  • Enable co-development of new applications with private sector partners, and where appropriate, to bring to scale innovations.
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IV. Connect with the AI4D Africa program network

  • Participate and help to organize AI4D conference(s);
  • Participate in AI4D Africa program activities as a member of the governance committee; and
  • Support shared monitoring, learning and evaluation with other networks and participating organizations.
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Research Areas

The Labs will bring together multidisciplinary teams of researchers and innovators to collaborate on critical AI4D questions. It will include graduate students and postdoctoral researchers pursuing research on African AI4D applications within specific domains as well as on cross-cutting issues such as AI and human rights, gender equity, the future of work, climate change, and the inclusion of marginalised populations.

In line with IDRC’s approach for achieving quality research for development, the Labs’ missions should embrace a broad definition of research quality that includes scientific rigor but also recognizes other critical dimensions. These include:

  • Multidisciplinarity: Produces multi-, inter- or transdisciplinary research, across disparate fields. Brings in scholars from disciplines, ranging from computer to natural to social sciences, to collaborate on the development and implementation of a research agenda.
  • Gender equity: Strives for equality in all aspects of its work. Takes an intersectional approach to equality recognizing that women, girls, LGBTIQ2+, and other marginalized groups experience persistent, structural barriers to equality in the developing world. Recognizing their right to equality, and that AI systems may continue to perpetuate or amplify these barriers unless specific steps are taken to remedy them.
  • Diversity and inclusion: Research displays sensitivity to, and respect for, local voices, knowledge, and contexts. Proposes mitigation strategies to reduce risks for vulnerable groups to be not included and represented, as well as fragile institutions, systems, and contexts.
  • Innovation: Takes risks by, for example, supporting new or riskier fields of work, engaging with complex and integrative challenges, builds constituencies and networks for change, test out innovative ways to scale impacts.

Eligible Countries

Burkina Faso
Central African Republic
Congo, Rep
Côte d'Ivoire
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Sierra Leone
South Sudan
The Gambia

How to Apply

Applicants should submit an expression of interest of no more than 4,000 words that clearly addresses the following:

  • An overview of the Labs’ objectives and governance structure;
  • Preliminary research plan including thematic priorities and potential project ideas;
  • An overview of relevant experience, key personnel to be involved, interdisciplinary approach and collaboration strategies;
  • A demonstration of the university and staff’s commitment to incorporate and promote responsible AI, inclusion, and gender-sensitive principles; and
  • Key activities to be supported with the proposed budget.

In addition, please include:

  • Contact information of the organisation and proposed head of the Lab/principal investigator; and
  • A maximum of 3 abridged CVs of key research members. CVs should be no longer than 2 pages each.

Applicants should note that no further documentation will be required or reviewed at this stage. Applicants who are successful at this stage will be invited to submit a full proposal.

The review process will consist of the following steps:

  1. Verification of eligibility requirements and completeness: IDRC will review submitted expressions of interest to ensure they meet eligibility requirements.
  2. Review and ranking: Each expression of interest will be reviewed and ranked by two IDRC program officers and one Sida officer.
  3. Shortlisting expressions of interest: On the basis of scoring and internal discussion, IDRC and Sida will shortlist three high-quality expressions of interest for each linguistic region and will invite them to submit a full proposal.

Expressions of interest must be submitted by email to [email protected] no later than 23:59 EDT on March 19, 2021.

Late or incomplete applications will not be considered.

We thank all applicants for their interest; only shortlisted candidates will be advised by email.

Ready and Eligible?

Apply Now!