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Research and innovation

Research is one of humanity’s foremost tools for developing and solving problems. But low-income countries conduct very little research of their own. Sida supports research that can eventually improve the lives of people living in poverty.

Progress has been made

Innovation contributes to sustainable development

New research results and innovations have improved the lives of people living in poverty, for instance by purifying water, cure diseases, givning access to electricity and good care, or growing crops with greater nutritional content. 

National research

The importance that all countries be able to conduct their own research has received greater attention in international contexts and from the governments of low-income countries

Crises increase the use of new techonologies

The Covid-19 pandemic and the following economic downturn have worsened the conditions for innovations. At the same time, the restrictions have led to innovations. One example is remote health counseling using cell phones.

Challenges remain

Skewed distribution of research resources

The distribution of the world’s research resources remains very skewed. Almost all of the world’s researchers are located in Europe, North America and Eastern Asia. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to just one hundredth of the world’s researchers – even though one in seven of the Earth’s population lives there.1

Gender inequality

A mere 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women, and research studies often fail to consider differences between women and men, even when they are highly relevant.2

Sida's work with research and innovation

Nearly all the world´s research resources are employed to solve economically rich countries´problems. For example, very few resources are used to combat infectious diseases affecting people living in poverty, or to refine crops grown mainly in low-income countries. All countries need to conduct their own research in order to solve problems and develop into sustainable societies, where both people and the environment can thrive. 

Research also plays an important role in democracy, because it contributes to critical thinking. Research provides the knowledge necessary for people to make wise decisions and question the actions of those in power.

Increased research capacity

Becoming a researcher requires an extensive and specialised education, and research takes time and costs money. Many low-income countries have not given priority to the long-term investment that research entails. As a result, there is a dearth of both researchers and institutions that can develop new knowledge and ideas to solve societies’ most pressing challenges.

Construction of national research systems

No one knows better what local problems need to be researched, or what solutions are practicable, than the partner countries themselves. Sida supports the construction of national research systems in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Bolivia and Cambodia. Doctoral students divide their time between their home universities and Swedish universities. Support for libraries, laboratories, IT and research councils is also included, with the aim of creating functional research environments. The cooperation is based on the countries’ own priorities, and the goal is for countries to eventually be able to educate researchers and conduct high-quality research on their own.

Support to women and national research systems

Sida supports numerous research organisations working to enable countries to conduct their own research, among them the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), which focuses on economics, and the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (Carta), which educates researchers in health care systems. To increase the proportion of female researchers, Sida supports the Organization for Women in Science in the Developing World (OWSD), whose scholarships and networks make it easier for women to build a research career.

Research relevant to low-income countries

Many research areas relevant to low-income countries are severely underfunded. For example, overlooked fields include a large number of diseases, agriculture and forestry methods, nature conservation, culture, community building and climate adaptation.

Vaccines to the most vulnerable

To develop vaccines for people living in poverty is rarely profitable for pharmaceutical companies. The International Vaccine Institute (IVI) develops vaccines to protect the most vulnerable against infectious diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever. IVI’s oral cholera vaccine originates from a recipe developed through a research collaboration between, among others, Gothenburg university and the health research institute icddr,b in Bangladesh. It is further developed in collaboration with several companies in Asia.

Agricultural resilience

Many farmers in Africa, Latin America and Asia are severely affected when their crops are destroyed by pests. Sida supports the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), where among other things researchers have developed an environmentally friendly method to protect plants from fall armyworms, which can decimate maize harvests. Icipe is also researching how humans can protect themselves and their livestock against pathogenic insects and developing ideas for the food of the future, using insects as a sustainable source of protein.

icipe website

Artificial Intelligence for development

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be employed in countless ways, including in health care, agriculture, education and transport. Sida collaborates with the Canadian IDRC in the research program Artificial Intelligence for Development in Africa (AI4D Africa). The goal of the program is for Africans in all regions to be able to create and use artificial intelligence for healthier, better and more sustainable lives.

AI4D Africa website

Research and education strengthens human rights

Many of the regimes in South-East Asia systematically violate the human rights of their populations. Sida supports SHAPE-SEA , a regional network of social science researchers, which strengthens human rights and peace in the region through research and education.

SHAPE-SEA website

Innovation

For research to be useful, close cooperation between researchers and other actors in society, such as industry, is required. There is also a need to protect inventions and finance new business ideas. Many of Sida’s partner countries lack innovation systems (systems for turning an idea into a product or service) and regulations on e.g. patents and copyrights.

Construction of innovation systems

Sida supports the construction of innovation systems for countries to become self-sustaining in bringing innovations to the market. This entails the establishment of meeting places for researchers, authorities, companies and civil society, where they can collaborate on ideas, funding, regulations and marketing. For example, at the regional level Sida supports BioInnovate Africa, which provides funding to researchers in East Africa to develop innovations in biotechnology. Among other things, this has yielded successful techniques for cultivating mushrooms on a large scale and for purifying waste water from food industries.

BioInnovate Africa website

Access to health care

People who live far from a health centre often find it particularly difficult to get good health care. The Social Innovation in Health Initiative develops methods for diagnosing febrile children in the Ugandan countryside and for providing prenatal care over the phone to women in Malawi. 

The Social Innovation in Health Initiative website

Governance of Sida’s work with research and innovation

Support for research comprises the most long-term form of aid provided by Sweden, and the research cooperation often lasts for several decades. In terms of poverty reduction and more sustainable societies, it usually takes many years to see the results of these efforts. On the other, their impact can be major and long-lasting. 

In 2019, Sida’s support for research and innovation amounted to SEK 920 million.

Strategy for research cooperation and research in development cooperation 2015– 2021 on the Swedish government website

Updated: 22 September 2021