About Strategic Partnerships

About Strategic Partnerships

The NRF is considered in its approach to partnerships, where quality and depth, as well as intended outcomes are determining factors in the establishment and sustainability of partnerships. The NRF Strategic Partnership Strategy directs the organisation away from ad hoc approaches, towards approaches that enable specific, effective interventions.

Partnership Modalities

The shift towards a more intentional approach to partnerships requires the NRF to select partners based on an informed rationale and to address a specific purpose or need, in line with Vision 2030. Specific modalities for each partnership need to be tailored and directed towards targets within one or more of the focus areas.

A key modality for building the capacities of a transformed scientific workforce is being revived through the newly conceptualised Global Knowledge Partnerships (GKP) Programme that provides a 3 to 18 month international exposure opportunity to Early Career Researchers (ECRs), PhD students and postdoctoral fellows as a core strategy to meet the NRF’s goal of an internationally competitive, transformed and representative research system. In additional, enhanced partnerships with Industry offers high potential for building capacity as articulated in the NRF Industry Partnership Strategy. Whilst both of these approaches are primarily focussed on partnerships for human capacity development and skills transfer, they both draw on a diverse set of partnerships to leverage additionality to operationalise the initiatives.

Modalities for partnerships to achieve Vision 2030 as it relates to the knowledge enterprise will be directed primarily by the NRF Research Agenda. At national level, partnerships are selected based on the potential to advance impactful research within the Research Agenda themes. To increase the uptake of knowledge in society and industry, the NRF Industry Partnership Strategy is driving new collaborative research programmes that use a co-creation approach in design and implementation. The NRF is focusing significant attention on building high-impact large-scale bilateral and multilateral research collaboration partnerships of significant scope with clear alignment to the Research Agenda themes. The NRF collaborations will focus on leveraging the organisation’s position as a leading science granting council, aligning collaborative activities more closely with collectively-defined African priorities in line with the NRF Research Agenda, and boosting the level of intra-African research collaboration. New partnerships for global research collaboration are being established driven by their potential to enhance South Africa’s reputation within the global community and strengthen international scientific collaboration that has potential for impact.

Through the South African Research Infrastructure Roadmap, the NRF works in partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and knowledge sector partners to drive the adoption of a national lens for research infrastructure platforms. Partnerships focusing on widening access to National Facilities and developing partnerships to establish new infrastructure platforms with a broader disciplinary focus will receive high priority. High-profile, large-scale infrastructure projects of significant global scientific interest will be a strong component of partnerships around infrastructure. Industry partnerships, as articulated in the NRF Industry Partnership Strategy, will provide a platform for sharing high-end research infrastructure between academia and industry partners. International modalities that broaden access to international infrastructure platforms will be sustained.

The NRF has established an innovative and cohesive portfolio of programmes across identified partners, mainstreaming science engagement within the knowledge enterprise in collaboration with academic partners. Collaboration with society to ensure that the research outcomes remain relevant, and to ensure that academia develop solutions that have socio-economic and commercial benefit, will remain key priority.

Strategic Partnerships


Contribute to the creation of networks and partnerships

Strategic global, regional and national collaboration and partnerships are significant in driving science, technology and innovation (STI) endeavours, especially in a global environment that is continuously facing common developmental challenges. For publicly funded science granting councils (SGC), this environment presents opportunities to engage in bi- and multilateral strategic, directed alliances and engagements to leverage resources, and internationalise national research platforms. South Africa and the continent’s SGCs will continue to benefit from the existence of partnerships such as the Global Research Council (GRC) and the Science Granting Council Initiative (SGCI) in Sub-Saharan Africa as a broker of these engagements

The NRF has developed an interactive database/portal for NRF partnership contracts and collaboration agreements. The searchable database allows for user-enabled upload functionalities, informed by agreements from the various NRF Business Units and NRF Legal to collate the relevant data (Phase 1). During Phase 2 (in 2020), this database will be integrated into the NRF Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. The database can be accessed by NRF Staff HERE.

The SGCI is a multi-funder initiative that aims to strengthen the capacities of 15 science granting councils in sub-Saharan Africa in order to support research and evidence-based policies that will contribute to economic and social development. The SGCI contributes to strengthening the ability of science granting councils to: manage research; design and monitoring of research programmes based on the use of robust science, technology and innovation (STI) indicators; support knowledge exchange with the private sector; and strengthen partnerships between Science Granting Councils and other science system actors. The Initiative is being implemented in two (2) phases: SGCI-1 (2015-2020) and SGCI-2 (2018-2023). In addition to deepening the implementation of the four (4) objectives above-outlined, two (2) cross-cutting themes will be implemented in SGCI-2, namely; research excellence and gender and inclusivity. Click HERE for more information on the SGCI.

The ORTARCI first announced in December 2017 and officially launched in December 2018 combine political, development and higher education objectives. The initiative aims to honour a leading figure in the development of African unity, have a catalytic impact on the development of research infrastructure in recipient countries, and contribute to knowledge production and high-end skills in alignment with the African Union Agenda 2063 and the Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa (STISA 2024). Click HERE for more information on the ORTARCI.

This pan-African endeavour aims to position African scientists at the cutting edge of data intensive science by stimulating interactivity and creating opportunity through the development of efficiencies of scale, the creation of critical mass through shared capacities, and amplifying impact through a commonality of purpose and voice. Click HERE for more information on the AOSP.

Unlock other international research and innovation funding opportunities

The strategic objective of growing NRF influence, impact and reputation requires promotion of the organisation at the highest levels, positioning the NRF as a partner of choice and enabling the mobilisation of resources to fulfil STI endeavours. The NRF’s robust and internationally recognised funding systems position it as a leading funding agency in Africa, using this competitive advantage to accelerate engagements between countries on the African Continent in collaboration with international partners.

The IDRC funds research in developing countries to promote growth, reduce poverty and drive large-scale positive change. The South Africa–Canada Research Chairs Initiative is jointly funded by the IDRC and the NRF, and seeks to invest in the development of research in sub-Saharan Africa through the establishment of tri-lateral partnerships involving researchers from Canada, South Africa and another sub-Saharan African country. The IDRC is also a core funding partner, with the NRF and others, of the Science Granting Council’s Initiative in sub-Saharan Africa (SGCI), and the OR Tambo Africa Research Chairs Initiative. Click HERE for information on the IDRC. 

This two-year project is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and is implemented (and is co-funded) by the NRF in collaboration with the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. The objective of this two-year programme is to identify, analyse, document and share the key lessons learned from the Corporation’s investment in postdoctoral fellowships in Africa through a collaborative, participatory peer-learning approach, and to document and investigate partnership models for postdoctoral fellowship in Africa.

Contribute to policy and institutional transformations

The NRF recognises that in order to transform the South African research workforce, deliberate interventions are required. The organisation has identified a range of key strategic actions across the Human Capacity Development (HCD) pipeline to enable it to achieve its vision around a transformed scientific workforce (as guided by the NRF Transformation Agenda).

The Newton Fund uses science and innovation partnerships to promote economic development and social welfare of partner countries, through collaboration between those countries and UK delivery partners. The UK-South Africa Newton Fund partnership is administered by DSI and the UK’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, and based on a matching funding (co-investment) model. The NRF is one of a core group of South African Delivery Partners who co-designs programmes, develop and facilitate calls, and allocate and manage funding. Click HERE for more information on Newton.

The purpose of the GKP programme is to integrate and incorporate a 6 to 18 month international experience opportunity into the research and education programme of exceptional PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, and early career researchers (ECR) who are funded by the NRF. The GKP Strategy is available HERE.

This strategy aims to, in close collaboration with industry partners, accelerate the co-creation of knowledge for i) impact of knowledge products, and ii) skills development supported by the organisation, to the broader society. It is recognised that in order to optimally fulfil this mandate, the NRF must engage with industry, from both the public and private sector, which brings resources and experiences beyond the scope of the academic realm. Click HERE to access the Strategy.