Harvard Initiatives

For decades Harvard students, faculty, and alumni have been collaborating with African partners to implement innovative programs to tackle critical issues facing communities throughout the continent. The Harvard community continuously seeks new ways of engaging with Africa both here and on the continent.


Agricultural Innovation in Africa

The Agricultural Innovation in Africa project (AIA) at Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, is funded by a generous grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the purpose of providing support to efforts that contribute to agricultural science and technology policy improvement through Africa’s Regional Economic Communities (RECs).  The Project seeks to engage with policymakers and focus information dissemination on efforts to align science and technology missions and operations with agricultural development goals in the RECs as part of the larger agenda to promote regional economic integration. Calestous Juma is the Principal Investigator for the project.


Africa Business Conference

The Africa Business Conference is the world’s largest student-run event focused on business in Africa. The conference brings together an impressive array of African students and business professionals from around the world and provides an exceptional networking opportunity for business and community leaders, current and prospective Harvard MBA students and alumni, students from other graduate programs and educators from around the world. The seventeenth annual conference, A More Inclusive Africa: The Pursuit of Progress for All, held from February 27, 2015 to March 1, 2015, drew more than 1,300 participants.


Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab)

Harvard’s i-lab, launched in November 2011, serves as a resource for students from across the University interested in entrepreneurship and innovation. The programming offered by the i-lab is designed to help students grow their ventures as any stage of development and covers a wide range of disciplines. Current venture teams working on African entrepreneurship include:


Tech in the World

Tech in the World seeks to provide a global, hands-on experience for top computer science students who want to apply their technical expertise to solve critical issues in the developing world. In January 2013, Tech in the World piloted a 4-week program in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It put together a team of four top-notch computer science students at Harvard, and we partnered with Bienmoyo Foundation and the Association for Private Health Facilities in Tanzania (APHFTA) to improve their electronic medical records for maternal health care. Tech in the World recruited a VES student to film a documentary of the experience. http://www.techintheworld.org/documentary


FXB Field Education Internships

This internship will support FXB International’s FXBVillages program, a sustainable, community-based solution to extreme poverty and AIDS. Each FXBVillage delivers long-term improvements in health and education, and provides economic opportunities to children and families in need.


Student Projects

Across Harvard’s 12 schools, undergraduate and graduate students are developing new projects and conducting groundbreaking research related to Africa. Here’s a small sample of recent student projects:

Learning from District Six: Drawing On Cape Town, by Ashley Mendelsohn (Master in Design '14)

In the spring of 2014 Ashley Mendelsohn spent several weeks conducting fieldwork in South Africa’s District Six. District Six is an infamous example of the forced-removals of the South African apartheid regime. The vibrant, integrated district was declared white and 66,000 people were forcibly removed over the course of two decades. A year of research, both on and off site revealed multiple competing registers of District Six: the extent to which it is represented and misrepresented, contested and forgotten. Fieldwork involved unraveling the current status of the site. Mendelsohn was confronted by conflicting information, heated emotions, rumors and scandals. Design can be used as a way to communicate complex issues. The future of District Six depends on changing the perception of the site as a place and as a concept. Making the distinction between learning about and learning from District Six, Mendelsohn created a book that catalogs and unpacks elements from the urban fabric that can contribute to future development and understanding of the broader city.

Design for Limited Resources in Africa and Haiti, by Caroline Shannon (Master in Architecture I '13

Caroline Shannon worked for the MASS Design Group in Boston, MA. MASS was started by a group of GSD students in 2007 to provide architectural design, construction, and consulting services to communities and clients in limited resource settings. MASS develops each project in close collaboration with partners and local populations as an engine for economic growth, job creation, capacity building, and ultimately for reduction of poverty and improvement of living standards.

Caroline worked on four main projects throughout the summer. They included a proposal for a Vocational School in Corporant, Haiti; a SEED (Social Economic Environmental Design) Application for Butaro Hospital in Northern Rwanda; acasebook for the planning and design of health facilities in resource limited settings (specifically focused on design strategies to reduce the transmission of air-borne diseases such as tuberculosis); and the AE Com Urban SOS Competition – Campus Catalyst.

Caroline served as the project team leader for the AECOM Urban SOS Competition, working on a proposal for transformation in Port-au-Prince Haiti by adapting the Vocational School model to the post-disaster urban environment.  The Team was selected for inclusion on a short-list of 29 out of hundreds of teams and remains in competition for final selection.

Caroline’s summer experience was funded by the GSD’sCommunity Service Fellowship Program.

Anam New City Project, Nigeria, by Quardean Lewis-Allen (MArch I '13)

Quardean Lewis-Allen received the Community Service Fellowship Program—International Travel Award to fund his travel to Nigeria in the summer of 2011. Working with the Dr. Aloy & Gesare Chife Foundation, a registered non-profit organization in Nigeria focused on improving the study, teaching and application of technology in Africa, he participated in a workshop for the Anam New City project. The project is a collective effort of the greater Anam community in partnership with the Chife Foundation whose overall goal is to create a dynamic model for sustainable development that balances ecology with economic growth, delivers world-class quality of life across generations and leverages technology within the African culture of collective progress.

Quardean’s work this summer included a neighborhood survey of existing Anam housing settlements, the development of affordable housing for a new greenfield rurban (hybrid urban + rural landscape) development and the strategies of implementation of the housing at multiple scales. This encompasses roof construction detailing to housing aggregation at the community scale, creating the phase one development plan for housing on the Ogwuyo site.

All houses will be off-the-grid, built from local and renewable materials, with the objective of being customized to fit the cultural frame of the modernizing Igbo society while being simultaneously viable under the constraints of social microfinance. Pictured is the morphological array of housing typologies that refined the logic of standardized customization or a “kit of parts” construction catalog. Final deliverables were to include a Revit BIM model for integrated building systems (biogas, solar PV, solar hot water, rainwater harvesting, etc.) from single residence to clustered compound living.

Project Khayelitsha, South Africa, by Laura Shipman (MAUD '08), Ashley Heeren (MArch I '09), Patrick Stowe Jones (MArch I)

Laura Shipman, Ashley Heeren, and Patrick Stowe Jones received travel grants from the GSD’s Community Service Fellowship Program to fund their travel to South Africa in the summer of 2007.

Project Khayelitsha is an effort to design and assist in construction of a new multipurpose community center in Khayelitsha, on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa. The recently acquired site provides an opportunity to create a center which fosters a sense of community ownership, and a space serving an entire neighborhood with education and development projects. Khayelitsha is the second largest township in South Africa, home to over 500,000 people. This project is affiliated with Art Aids Art and MonkeyBiz, nonprofit organizations working with a South African collective of women artists to create employment and empowerment for disadvantaged women through beadwork in the township.


A Place in the Sun

A Place in the Sun works to improve education in West Africa through high quality early childhood education curriculum and teacher training that helps children learn to read.

A Place in the Sun Foundation

A Place in the Sun Foundation is a non-profit organization founded by former Peace Corps volunteers and Harvard grad students to improve the quality of early childhood education in West Africa.


Mobile health platform for data collection & storage at health facilities to aid research, intervention, and policy formulation in Africa.


Memunatu is a classroom magazine for teenage girls in West Africa that promotes literacy, female leadership, and empowerment. Their mission is to create a unique, community driven publication that provides under-served girls with a rage of educational and fun content.

Sawubona Health

Sawubona Health is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that utilizes text messages (SMS) to help patients stick with their HIV medications in South Africa.

Tomato Jos

Fully integrated tomato paste manufacturing business in Nigeria – good for farmers, good for consumers!

WAVE Hospitality Academy

WAVE Hospitality Academy aims to transform the lives of unemployed and underemployed West African youth by giving them industry-relevant skills and access to employment opportunities in high growth sectors, such as retail and hospitality.