Forty Big Questions for Progress and Shared Prosperity

Structural factors including inequality, discrimination and disadvantage have impeded progress in sub-Saharan Africa for much of the last century. Many of these factors are rooted in colonialism, culture and economic systems that inhibit the capacity of Africans and African countries to unlock their full potential. In recent years, national epidemics and global pandemics, such as Ebola and, recently, COVID-19, have raised important questions about African scientific advancements and readiness to address collective threats. Furthermore, Africa’s agricultural development remains largely lagging despite centuries of agricultural practice and latent capabilities. Although local approaches have been pioneered over centuries across diverse domains from justice systems to medicine, there remains a weakness in codifying and standardising them which often limits their application in addressing important challenges.

The issues of African progress and shared prosperity have been of concern for much of the last six or so decades. They are further exacerbated by the growing threat of climate change which amplifies gaps in social development, specifically in areas such as poverty, food security and others reflected in the UN’s sustainable development goals. They are made all the more imperative by the limited progress despite over sixty years of organised international development practice that attempts to find viable paths to progress. This situation calls for a revisiting of the root causes of the social, economic, political and scientific questions that the region is facing. Is international development focusing on the most important questions whose answers will move sub-Saharan Africa closer to shared prosperity? One approach to advancing on this issue is to take a step back and ask what critical, but often overlooked, questions need to be answered to enable progress and shared prosperity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Call for Submissions

The purpose of this exploration is to invite the submission of root cause or deep seated questions from scientists, activists, social researchers, artists, across age groups and other axes of identity. These questions need to be consequential ones that are fundamental to the advancement of their specific area of focus. This may be an issue that has been largely neglected, under-explored, taken for granted or yet to be developed, but which has relevance for unlocking progress in the wider area of interest. 

More specifically, the submitted question must meet the following criteria:

  • It should be a root cause challenge, that is under-funded, under-explored, ignored, or for which previously proffered solutions have not received sufficient follow-up.
  • It should be relevant to an identified geographical area within sub-Saharan Africa (national or subnational) or the region as a whole. The geographical area of the question raised should be specified.
  • It should be central to the advancement of a field or issue of interest.
  • It should foster a collaborative approach that enables the involvement and participation of the affected communities in diagnosing and resolving key problems.
  • It should have the potential to spark in-depth conversations and be capable of propelling new research or practice.
  • It should link root causes to practicable solutions which would be sustainable in the long run.


Big Questions submissions: Interested individuals and institutions are invited to submit a question, accompanied by a 200 – 300 word abstract on why the question is pivotal to Submissions will be accepted until April 7, 2021. Following this, a selection panel will review the questions and corresponding justifications, and select forty to be published in a set of collections according to the subjects treated.

Virtual Convening: A series of virtual convenings will be held to discuss these ideas. Starting with the first on April 23, 2021.

Community of Practice: A community of practice will be established to further explore and develop the submitted ideas. A web-portal will be developed to disseminate the questions received as well as enable ongoing dialogue and sharing between the contributors and the wider communities to which they belong.


If you have any questions, please contact


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s