Ten years of research deliver sustainable solutions across the world

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The r4d programme of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the Swiss National Science Foundation is ending. It funded 57 research partnerships between Switzerland and countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Research can help solve global economic, environmental and societal problems. With this aim in mind, the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development (r4d programme) of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funded research partnerships between Switzerland and countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America from 2012 to 2023. A total budget of 97 million Swiss francs was used to fund 57 research projects. The programme also funded projects intended to specifically implement the research results. A public event to mark the conclusion of the programme will be held in Bern on 25 April 2024 (see box).

The r4d programme was open to all scientific disciplines. The resulting diversity of topics addressed by the projects was one of its strengths. From sustainable building material made from coconut fibres to reducing antibiotic use and agroecological practices, the r4d projects developed tangible solutions and made them available to decision-makers and stakeholders. In the r4d programme, science made a major contribution to achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals and Agenda 2030.

Coconut fibres in construction and better vocational training

In one r4d project, the Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH) partnered with researchers and implementation partners in the Philippines to develop a coconut fibre board that can be used for interior fit-out and to make furniture. The Philippines coconut harvest produces around 5 million tonnes of waste fibre annually. The project harnesses this resource to manufacture low-cost building material locally and for local use. This innovative project spawned the Swiss start-up company NaturLoop, which is currently developing its “Cocoboards” to market readiness.

Vocational training is essential to improving the job market chances of young people in countries in the Global South. A project at ETH Zurich addressed this subject. Working with local partners, the researchers examined how vocational training in Benin, Costa Rica, Chile and Nepal is organised and how institutional framework conditions can be improved. The results of the research were presented to decision makers at an international workshop in Switzerland and new local approaches were developed. This resulted in the creation of new courses at Kathmandu University in Nepal and the public University of Costa Rica.

A programme that was ahead of its time

According to an external evaluation by consulting firm BSS, the r4d programme and its approach to transformative research were ahead of their time. This type of research aims for tangible, sustainable solutions. Various elements were tested and subsequently rolled out in other international programmes. r4d thus also laid the foundations for the Solution-Oriented Research for Development (SOR4D) programme, a new joint initiative by the SDC and the SNSF.

“The external evaluation of the r4d programme has shown that there are several things we can still do better,” says Pierre Willa, the SNSF’s Head of Thematic Research. “We are all the happier that many of these points have already been included in its successor programme SOR4D.” To increase the relevance of research findings and their ground-level impact, it is important to involve affected local actors. This is the approach pursued by the SOR4D programme.

The r4d programme spawned a large number of research partnerships between Swiss researchers and their counterparts in the Global South. It will be possible to maintain these important networks through the SOR4D programme. Odile Robert, head of the SDC’s Analysis and Research section, adds: “r4d was an innovative programme that delivered a lot of new insights. It has shown that transformative research works. r4d supplied scientific excellence, and the SDC was able to combine the results with its on-the-ground work at local level.”

Odile Robert, Head of Analysis and Research section, SDC

“For innovative solutions and global networking”

What makes the r4d programme so special?

The external evaluation showed that the r4d programme was innovative and very effective. It developed innovative approaches to reducing poverty. The fact that it linked up different stakeholders and encouraged partnerships between researchers from the Global North and the Global South is certainly another important aspect.

What was cooperation between the SNSF and SDC like?

The SNSF and SDC have been partnering on development and international cooperation for over 30 years. The two organisations have complementary skills, and this has been a factor in the success of the r4d programme. We are very pleased that the partnership will continue through such initiatives as SOR4D.

Why is it important for Switzerland to fund research projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America?

Programmes such as r4d foster global research cooperation. This helps Swiss researchers develop their global network. Funding for r4d projects was always split 50-50 between researchers in Switzerland and researchers in the Global South. This enabled the programme to contribute to the UN’s Agenda 2030 by establishing competences at ground level and developing solutions.

Public event in Bern on 25 April

“Research for development: Solutions for sustainability”

To mark the conclusion of the r4d programme, the SDC and SNSF are organising a public event in the form of a panel discussion entitled “Research for development: Solutions for sustainability”. The panel will discuss research partnerships between Switzerland and the Global South and their significance for achieving global sustainability goals and bolstering Switzerland as a centre for research.

The panel members will be:

  • Jean-Luc Bernasconi (member of the Directorate and Head of the Foundations and Quality Division, SDC)
  • Sabin Bieri (Co-Director, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), University of Bern)
  • Jacques Ducrest (Head of the International Relations Division, SERI)
  • Matthias Egger (President of the National Research Council, SNSF)
  • Smita Premchander (Sampark, India, member of the SOR4D Review Panel)

The event will take place from 5–6.30 p.m. at Welle 7, Bern. It will be held in English and followed by drinks. Attendees must register.