How has ESDA developed?

ESDA started as a project of UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (ISP) in October 2008 to develop and test a graduate-level education program for professionals to be engaged in sustainable development in Africa. With initial funding from the Japanese Government, UNU-ISP relied on its network with higher education institutions in Africa and elsewhere to organize a research team to implement this program development project. Principal participants for this work were the senior faculty staff of African universities who were active in research and education on sustainable development in African countries. Other participants were experts from Japanese and Northern European universities and international organizations, such as UNESCO, UNEP, UN-HABITAT and African Development Bank.


After the project to develop and test a new capacity training scheme was completed in October 2011 with a Reporting Conference in Tokyo, ESDA transited from its ‘Project phase’ to a ‘Program Phase’ in order to implement the outcome of the project – three Masters-level programs on integrated rural development, sustainable urban development and management of mineral resources, respectively. The African universities cooperating in the project phase became the African Partner Universities to assume the primary program implementing role, with UNU assuming a coordinating role. In 2012 and 2013 the collaborative arrangements by the African Partner Universities and UNU were formalized as MOUs, and preparatory activities were carried out such as adoption of the developed programs as part of the formal graduate curriculums of the respective universities, elaboration of detailed instructional programs and inter-university collaborative arrangements, preparation of learning materials and conducting of joint faculty training workshops. In 2014 the instruction of the ESDA Master’s Program was started, and in 2016 fourteen students from the first cohort graduated with a Master’s Degree in sustainable development.


One important concern from the initial conception stage of ESDA was how to strengthen the research system of the African universities for backstopping the graduate capacity building programs. In December 2012, a Next Generation Researchers (NGR) Project  was created with a team of young faculty under 40 years of age nominated by the respective African Partner Universities for the purpose of conducting field-based research in support of the ESDA Master’s Programs. NGR Project is also to contribute to strengthening of the long-term collaboration among the ESDA Partner Universities as well as with the stakeholders outside. One outgrowth of NGR work is the new research concern for youth, employment and entrepreneurship, which has led to ESDA’s latest exploratory work on Africa Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative .