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Stepping up to the SDGs | Insights from Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia on how partnerships in Scotland support the SDGs  

At the halfway point to 2030, how are organisations across Scotland progressing SDG7, and how can iNGOs and academia work more closely together to advance the broader SDG 2030 Agenda? This was the focus of SIDA’s first ‘Stepping up to the SDGs’ Roadshow event at the University of Strathclyde.  

SIDA Chief Executive Frances Guy opened the event by outlining how the world is making progress towards SDG 7. While there are encouraging signs that energy is becoming more sustainable and widely available, more focused attention is needed to improve access to clean and safe cooking fuels and technologies for 3 billion people, to expand the use of renewable energy beyond the electricity sector, and to increase electrification in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Spotlight on the Global Renewables Centre – an academic insight

Damien Frame, research fellow at the University of Strathclyde, talked about the Global Renewables Centre (GRC). Hosted by University of Strathclyde and funded by the Scottish Government, the GRC provides a hub for facilitating knowledge exchange between stakeholders in international development partner countries and the Scottish Renewable Sector, offering networking, shared learning, and resources that enhance global citizenship and enables increased deployment of sustainable energy. The GRC contributes via building capacity to deploy renewables and supporting access to resources to take renewables projects forward.  

Damien outlined how the Centre has established partnerships with the Renewable Energy Industry Association of Malawi (REIAMA), the Zambia Renewable Energy Association (ZARENA) and the Energy Private Developer’s Association (EPD) in the Scottish Government’s three African international development partner countries. 

Representatives from these partner organisations traveled to Scotland to speak at the event. This included Serge Wilson Muhizi, Chief Executive Officer of EPD; Chikuku Katebe, GRC project lead for ZARENA Zambia; and Soustain Chigalu, president of REIAMA. The audience heard directly how partnerships between Scotland, Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda are supporting the continued growth of renewable energy, and the multiple benefits it provides. 

Partnership in action – shining a light on Malawi

Soustain Chigalu, president of REIAMA, and Aran Eales, research fellow at Strathclyde University, discussed one particularly notable example of academic/iNGO partnership. Founded in 1999, REIAMA is a national industry association for all renewable energy sectors in Malawi. REIMA exists to promote efficient and sustainable use of renewable energy technologies in Malawi. Soustain and Aran discussed how partnership between iNGOs and academia has changed the lives of residents in the remote Malawian village of Mthembanji. The village was one of the many areas not connected to Malawi’s national grid. Building upon longstanding partnership work between Strathclyde University’s GRC, the Centre for Water, Sanitation, Hygiene and Appropriate Technology Development, iNGO Self Help Africa and Community Energy Malawi, a solar microgrid was installed in Mthembanji. Soustain and Aran explained how access to electricity has been transformative for the small businesses in the village and especially the children who are progressing much faster through the education system now they have light to study in the evenings. 

Spotlight on SCIAF and KidsOR – an iNGO insight

The audience heard from Courtney Ludick, Biomedical Engineer at KidsOR, about how they have improved surgical outcomes through the installation of solar surgical systems. After an initial test at KidsOR’s mock operating room in Dundee, the solar surgery system is now being trialled in countries across sub-Saharan African, including Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Tanzania.  

Ben Wilson, Director of Public Engagement at SCIAF, highlighted how energy goes beyond electricity, with much of SCIAF’s international work focussed on green charcoal, community owned solar kiosks, solar irrigation and clean cookstoves. From Ben’s experience working with academia at SCIAF, he believes there is often a divergence between the viewpoints of the academic and the NGO. While academics are usually concerned with the pursuit of knowledge, NGOs are focussed on the pursuit of change. Ben also highlighted that there is a tendency for iNGOs to focus on reporting based on funding requirements. He believes that this focus makes it difficult for NGOs to evaluate the long-term impacts of their work. Ben emphasised how collaboration with academics could support iNGOs with this evaluative process.  

Laying the foundations for future partnerships

Frances Guy kicked off the Q&A panel discussion with a question to Benjamin Carey, Director of Carey Tourism, about his experience of partnerships between iNGOs and academia. 

Benjamin shared the benefits of working with academic institutions. He highlighted that universities have access to different sources of funding and different areas of expertise. Benjamin also thinks NGOs can benefit from academics as they tend to be better at analysing impact which is important for funding.  

Chilombo Chila, representing ZARENA Zambia, highlighted a gap with linkage to universities in Zambia. She shared an example of successful engagement, with academics supporting the Ministry of Energy with modelling work for Zambia’s first integrated resource plan.  

Damien agreed that academia is isolated from other sectors in the GRC’s partner countries and reflected on the need for NGO and academic collaboration within Zambia, Rwanda and Malawi. He also emphasised that partnership takes time and reflected on the need to create space for conversations between NGOs and academia.  

Allen Munganyinka, EDP Rwanda, also felt that there was a lack of academic collaboration in Rwanda. Allen believes that academic collaboration would help guide research priorities and ensure that outcomes are beneficial to local communities.  

Frances presented a question to Aran Eales, asking why local universities in each GRC partner country can’t assume the role of the University of Strathclyde. 

Aran explained that Scottish Government international development funding conditions previously required a Scottish partner. He acknowledged the value of a local academic partner and welcomed recent changes to the Scottish Government funding terms as this will encourage futures partnership between academics and NGOs in partner countries, without the need for a Scottish intermediary. 

Interested in learning more? Why not check out our upcoming SDG Roadshows, being hosted at Universities across Scotland.

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