The ESDA started as a project of UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (ISP) in October 2008 to develop and test, with the participation of eight leading African universities, a graduate-level education program for professionals to be engaged in sustainable development in Africa. The project benefited from the support of Japanese and European universities as well as international organizations active in this area, including UNESCO, UNEP, UN-HABITAT and the African Development Bank. After four and a half years of developmental work, ESDA generated problem-solving field-work oriented Masters programs in three areas – ‘sustainable integrated rural development’, ‘sustainable urban development’ and ‘mineral and mining resources’. In the fall of 2013 the African partner universities started implementing these programs on the basis of MOUs concluded with UNU.
The program is steered by an ESDA Consortium chaired by Prof. Stephen Simukanga, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Zambia, and consisting of the representatives of the African partner universities and UNU. UNU-IAS serves as the secretariat for the Consortium and ESDA as a whole. One major initiative of ESDA consists in the establishment of a Next Generation Researcher (NGR) team, comprising young researchers nominated by the partner universities, for promoting problem-solving research to generate learning materials to be used in ESDA classes as well as to create needed space for the students’ field work. The NGR research is conceived as a program of knowledge exchange between Africa and Asia to be implemented through collaborative research of young researchers from African and Asian universities.