The Mawazo Institute has two priority sectors with a basis in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) – energy and climate change – and two drawn from the social sciences – improved governance and economic policy. Each of the four sectors addresses questions that are crucial for long-run economic growth and improved quality of life in countries like Kenya.
The energy sector is increasingly rising to the forefront of the global development agenda, as governments and aid donors recognize its key role in driving progress across all other development sectors. After all, it’s difficult to run successful businesses or develop world-class universities without consistent access to electricity! Indeed, research shows a strong correlation between GDP and electrification rates. Lack of electricity also exerts a disproportionate burden on the world’s poor, who spend a larger share of their income to meet their energy needs, and are exposed to more toxic pollutants associated with fuel-based lighting. Yet, an estimated 2 out of 3 people in sub-Saharan Africa still lack access to electricity, which is holding back socio- economic growth in the region. There are numerous technology, policy, and financial barriers to achieving universal electrification in the region, and much research is required to understand the most sustainable and cost-effective pathways to expand access and spur improvements across all aspects of generation, transmission, distribution, and use of power.
Climate change is one of the biggest contemporary threats to global development and human prosperity. The effects of climate change are not simply limited to global warming, but also include climate instability – increases in extreme weather events, and changes in patterns of rainfall and average temperature. For the large majority of African citizens who grow their own food and depend on lakes and rivers for their water, a changing climate threatens their entire livelihoods. Researchers have an important role to play in coming up with new ideas that will help African populations adapt to climate change and build resilience against climate shocks. Mawazo will fund research projects that add much needed local perspective on this issue, including support for projects that evaluate and prioritise local climate risks, demonstrate effective policies, and identify promising pathways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In the social sciences, a great deal of research suggests that stable, inclusive political institutions help countries to reduce poverty and improve their citizens’ quality of life. For example, countries which are more democratic tend to spend more money on health and education services. Countries which have stronger governments and lower levels of ethnic favoritism also tend to have higher economic growth in the long run. However, the question of how countries can transition to democracy, create strong state institutions, and support the inclusion of vulnerable and minority groups is a challenging one. There is a clear need for researchers to identify new pathways towards reform, evaluate existing reforms, and document the cases where African countries have successfully improved their quality of governance, so that activists and reform-minded politicians can learn from other experiences around the continent.
Low income countries face two major challenges as they work to escape poverty: promoting economic growth, and ensuring that the benefits of growth are shared equitably amongst their citizens. Market-supporting economic policies, like control of inflation and secure property rights, are a central component of long-term economic growth, and an essential complement to stable political institutions. However, it's not enough to have growth for growth's sake. It's essential to work to reduce income inequality and broadly share the benefits of economic development, so that all citizens can live healthy and fulfilling lives. Researchers can play a key role in supporting improved economic policy by assessing the impacts of current policies, proposing improvements, and highlighting cases where countries have successfully made market-supporting reforms.