National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) are dedicated internet infrastructures and service providers to the research and educational communities within African countries. NRENs provide connectivity and services to higher education establishments (typically universities) and research institutes, but also support schools, further education colleges, libraries, museums, teaching hospitals and other public institutes.
The EU co-funded AfricaConnect3 (AC3) project supports the creation, development and use of advanced, reliable Internet connectivity for the teaching, learning and research communities of Africa. The project is bringing together NRENs from all African regions in an initiative aimed at raising the visibility of NRENs’ contributions to SDGs.
In September, the AC3 Communications team organised an online webinar “How are African NRENs contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?“ that saw the participation of representatives from several African countries. The webinar served as an introduction and starting point for the next step, which is the face-to-face workshop that will be co-located at the UbuntuNet Connect 2022 conference in Gaborone, Botswana, on November 24. The workshop is meant for both communications and technical personnel of African NRENs and their member Institutions.
How are African NRENs contributing to SDGs?
The SDGs have become a benchmark to measure the success and relevance of an organisation. So, naturally, they have attracted a lot of interest from policy and decision makers. A common misconception about the SDGs is that only governments are expected to implement strategies for the purpose of achieving them. However, the engagement of other sectors plays a critical role for succeeding. Businesses, civil societies, and individual citizens can contribute to SDGs. This includes NRENs, which support a number of SDGs both directly and indirectly.
Directly means through a direct service provision, such as better and more reliable internet connectivity to schools and universities, which makes access to education easier for many in the community (SDG 4 Quality Education). African NRENs are also contributing directly to SDG 5 (Gender Equality) with women empowerment initiatives such as ICT courses for young girls which provide them with equal opportunities to enter the job market.
NRENs also directly contribute to SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth) by offering online training and workshops to raise the capacities of their staff and that of the African community at large. In addition, NRENs not only work to connect institutions and improve connectivity but also to promote a more inclusive, sustainable and reliable research environment to less developed regions (SDG 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure).
Finally, the last SDG to which they contribute directly is SDG 17 (Partnership for the goals). NRENs are, by definition, partnerships and are constantly creating new ones by implementing capacity-building activities with various international stakeholders (the European Commission, Internet Society, World Bank and Network Startup Resource Centre, for example) in a variety of fields, such as Earth Observation, climate change, and Open Science. These cross-continental and cross-disciplinary collaborations, in turn, facilitate the achievement of the SDGs.
Indirectly, instead, means that NRENs enable other services and benefits through their work and infrastructure. This is called a “multiplier effect” because the effects of their direct contributions to SDGs are multiplied and touch upon so many other areas. For example, by providing internet connectivity to research institutes, NRENs also support the vital research that these institutes carry out in the fields of food and environmental sustainability (SDG 2), water (SDG 6) and ocean management (SDG 14), to name just a few.
Why is this initiative important?
Gathering evidence of the many contributions and showcasing to the world the crucial role that NRENs have in the achievement of the SDGs is key for the NRENs to better position themselves as active providers in their local communities across the African continent.
By highlighting such examples and showing that their activities are SDG-tailored, African NRENs will attract more interest and funding opportunities as well as they will position themselves as crucial actors in addressing major societal challenges. To present, the primary roadblock in this field is the lack of awareness among decision makers of how the internet works and what added value an NREN can bring to higher education. This awareness gap may also extend to a lack of knowledge of how the IT revolution has affected the education world, as nowadays, students and teachers are turning more digital and mobile. Therefore, if NRENs are not telling the world how they are contributing to making the world a better place, they are missing an opportunity!
More on the results and inputs gathered during the workshop will be shared in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned!