Planning an ‘Astronomy for Development’ Project in Africa

An astronomy for development project is an instrument that uses astronomy to improve the living conditions and economic status of people. The project can benefit any group of people, from a small disadvantaged community to an entire nation.

Through the IAU OAD and the DARA Basic Training Programme, I and a team of students were given the opportunity to design and implement one of these development projects in Kenya (http://sayarikenya.org/). Here are some lessons I learned from the process – you can use these as guidelines while designing your own project.

1. Clearly establish your goals: It’s important to set out exactly what you want your project to accomplish. By clearly understanding what you want to achieve, you minimize the risk of spreading your project too thin – it’s better to address one or two issues thoroughly instead of trying to tackle multiple things half-heartedly. Your ideas will evolve over time, and the final implementation is often very different to your initial idea. However, having a clear direction helps you to deal with obstacles effectively, and decide which opportunities and channels are actually relevant to your project. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are useful guidelines to help you think about what outcomes you want from your project.

2. Find a solution to your problem: not a problem for your solution. Problems in Africa are very different to problems in first world countries, where the infrastructure is well developed and funding doesn’t diminish. While building an expensive satellite to advance your national space agency sounds prestigious, it’s more effective to address pressing problems like poverty, illiteracy, economic growth, and food security. Simple projects improving health, infrastructure, employment, and education are more likely to benefit Africa in the long term.

3. Plan for sustainability: Many governments and organizations provide funding for well-thought out development projects. However, relying only on external funding is not practical. The money could run out at any time, which means your project might get cut short before you have a chance to make any significant impact. By continuously using funding money, you also deny other worthwhile projects a chance to contribute to development. Think carefully about how to minimize your costs, and explore different business models and cost structures to keep the project self-sustaining. This will maximize the impact of your project, and create opportunities for expansion in the future.

4. Do your research: The idea that you have could already have been implemented somewhere in the world. Most development projects also have to submit a thorough report and analysis of the successes, failures and lessons. You can learn a lot from past implementations of projects, so make sure you search for projects similar to yours, and see if you can learn from their mistakes and challenges. You can also consider adopting and modifying their style of implementation to suit your goals – this will can save you a lot of work.

5. Find a solution that scales well: Africa is the second most populous continent in the world, and is expected to contribute 82% of global population growth by the year 2100. For developmental change to be effective, It is crucial that your solution targets the majority of the population, either directly or indirectly. Consider making your solution cost-effective and scalable. A few ways to do this are digitizing educational resources, offering large scale trainings and partnering with organizations that have existing infrastructure and reach.

The International Astronomical Union Office of Astronomy for Development (IAU OAD) puts out a call for proposals that specifically use astronomy for development. A well thought out proposal could receive funding and other support needed for implementation. If you have an interesting project idea that you think might work in your country, visit www.astro4dev.org to learn the process and deadlines for application.



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