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Short Initiatives (SI)

Short Initiative (SI) are short-term projects that aim to explore, build and deepen academic/scientific collaborations among diverse teams. SI projects focus on a specific sustainable development challenge. In addition to strengthening research and educational capacities of higher education and science institutions, Short Initiatives create the conditions for uptake of new and relevant knowledge, applications and/or services by all development actors.

Why are Short Initiatives important?

In Flanders and elsewhere, higher education institutions are increasingly acknowledging their pivotal role in contributing to the necessary changes for the global goal of sustainable development. Through research, HEIs play a unique role as drivers of change, producing new knowledge and innovation to address global challenges, transferring knowledge through training, providing evidence for informed (public) policy and implementation, and mobilising knowledge. HEIs have also taken up a central role in providing education in global citizenship to foster global understanding, intercultural awareness and values that enable students to play an active role in solving global challenges. Through service delivery and community engagement, HEIs work with a wide range of stakeholders - including governments, the private sector and civil society - to achieve local, national, regional and global impacts. As such, higher education has a direct impact on the development of any country. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will not be achieved without partnerships with and contributions from HEIs.

Globally, however, Higher Education Institutes and their stakeholders (i.e. staff, students and alumni) still face challenges including access, capacity and uptake to unlock the full potential of higher education for sustainable development. Scholarship programmes and global partnerships in the field of higher education are considered essential in mitigating several of these challenges. They offer opportunities to enhance the quality of teaching and research, strengthen the organisational capacities of higher education institutions, foster political and economic relations through their scholars, mitigate financial and capacity constraints and accommodate the growing demand for equitable access to higher education services.  

How do Short Initiatives connect with the SDG principles?

The SDG principles serve as a compass in VLIR-UOS endeavour of sharing minds, changing lives. They are transversally integrated to render the activities and change processes SDG-proof.  VLIR-UOS considers global engagement for higher education as a goal (SDG 4: Quality Education) and a means for attaining other SDGs through knowledge co-creation, transfer and valorisation.

Additionally, VLIR-UOS uses the SDG principles as a compass to integrate the principles of “synergy and complementarity” and the integration of transversal and priority themes of the Belgian Development Cooperation into its operations. Integration of these principles is an important element in the selection of projects.

SDG principles

Interconnectedness: VLIR-UOS recognises that given the complexity, scale and interconnectedness of current societal challenges, meaningful social, economic and ecological transformations can only be realised by approaching the SDGs from a holistic and integrated viewpoint. More precisely, VLIR-UOS strives for holistic transformations by encouraging projects to reflect on their position in the interplay of global challenges and national needs, and to bring together the different types of expertise that are necessary to successfully implement the project. As an essential first step in considering the complexity of societal change, all VLIR-UOS supported projects develop a holistic context analysis that moves beyond sectoral and disciplinary borders and should analyse the positive as well as negative interlinkages between the SDG goals. This also includes attention for the transversal themes gender equality and environment sustainability. With regard to gender, VLIR-UOS and its partners engage in fixing the numbers, fixing the knowledge and fixing the organisation in line with the theoretical three-fixes model of Londa Schiebinger (See VLIR-UOS gender policy document). Projects are expected to align with this threefold gender strategy in their proposal. With regard to environment, project applicants are invited to consider the environment and environmental sustainability during the project identification & formulation phase, as well as to monitor and reflect upon the project’s effects on the environment and the risks posed by the environment on their project. Thereby, projects should be guided by the ‘do no harm’ principle to prevent, reduce, and control the risk of environmental harm. Besides integration of gender equality and environmental sustainability concerns within project management, the transversal themes can also feature in the projects’ content.

Coherence, interinstitutional collaboration and Multi-stakeholder partnerships (MSP): The complexity, scale, and interconnectedness of the current societal challenges that the SDG framework is seeking to address, requires a concerted effort or collaboration by a wide variety of actors. This need for concertation/collaboration is translated to 3 potential approaches . Proposals are invited to explore these.

Coherence: The Agenda 2030 urges actions to be coherent with the actions and networks of other actors and/or other HES4SD initiatives. An analysis of complementary actions by academic and non-academic actors is essential for each partnership (to ensure coherence). VLIR-UOS wants to facilitate coherence and connections between different actors and projects present in each country and across borders. With these objectives in mind, Country Reference Framework (CRF) documents support teams of academics when identifying and formulating project proposals, by providing a context analysis per country, focused on Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development and the higher education sector, and by providing an overview of Belgian development actors active in the country and of their ongoing projects and partners, in view of exploration of opportunities to connect and assure coherence.  

Interinstitutional collaboration: This concerns a structural collaboration between several higher education institutions at Flemish and/or partner level within the framework of a project, pooling available expertise, with the aim of obtaining better results.   

Multistakeholder partnership (MSP): This concerns a structural collaboration with at least 1 non-academic actor (= multi-stakeholder; civil society, private sector, governmental actors, etc.) in which this actor plays an active role in the project implementation. VLIR-UOS takes into account the MSP principle by promoting collaboration between different actors (beyond HEIs) to co-create, share, and mobilise knowledge and expertise across disciplines, sectors, interest groups, and borders. More precisely, VLIR-UOS explicitly puts forward the science-society interface and knowledge uptake, and the importance of strengthening it.  

Leave no one behind: VLIR-UOS recognises the need for pro-active strategies to ensure that vulnerable and marginalised populations are included and benefit from higher education partnerships for sustainable development. The LNOB principle is taken into account by looking at partners with whom we work, at beneficiaries for whom we work, and at what we focus on in projects. VLIR-UOS encourages projects to take gender and vulnerable groups into account, by putting forward partnerships with mid-range or small-scale institutions, by awarding scholarships to a diversified group of beneficiaries and by promoting transformative or community-based types of research. More precisely, international top higher education institutions are only considered when they participate as supporting partners in projects, scholarship attribution is not only based on academic excellence in terms of scientific output, and mainstreaming approaches are put in place to consider inclusion and (gender) equality in each project. Short Initiatives, in particular, aim to be accessible for academics/researchers at the early stages of their academic career interested to explore the potential for higher education for sustainable development. As mentioned earlier, with regards to gender, VLIR-UOS and its partners engage in fixing the numbers, fixing the knowledge and fixing the organisation for gender equality. This is also an important dimension of the Leave No One Behind principle.

Short Initiatives and Theory of Change

Theory of change

VLIR-UOS proposes a Theory of Change (ToC) approach that outlines how and why VLIR-UOS can be expected to achieve its intended societal impact through changes by and in higher education institutes (HEIs), local communities/civil society, governments, and the private sector. All projects should fit in the generic Theory of Change for SI and TEAM projects. In the long run, Short Initiatives and TEAM projects are expected to contribute to more sustainable and equitable development by fostering application of solutions and evidence-based policies, a global community of skilled individuals who act as global citizens in relevant sectors, and knowledge-driven global partnerships.

By relying upon the SDG Principles of leaving no one behind, interconnectedness and multi-stakeholder partnerships as our compass, VLIR-UOS envisions that contributions to these impact areas will foster equality and inclusion in higher education systems and society at large. Moreover, depending on the thematic focus of the supported projects and resultant knowledge, the impact areas may reflect contributions to all global goals covered by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Strategic axes & 6 outcomes

To effectively contribute to these generic objectives, VLIR-UOS focuses on two strategic axes that mutually reinforce each other: (1) enabling HE&SIs to strengthen and take up their role as Drivers of Change and (2) enabling individuals to act as Agents of Change. Along these strategic axes, VLIR-UOS identifies six outcomes of which 2, 4 and 5 are the most important for SI and TEAM projects. Iindividual projects may choose to focus on a subset of outcomes depending on the priorities and needs of local stakeholders, but it must be noted that all SI and TEAM projects are mandated to ensure that their change process contributes to outcome 5. Each project is required to document their choices in their project-specific Theory of Change to ensure that they are consistent with the programme's vision for change. The six outcomes are:

1.       Individuals apply relevant co-created knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

2.       HE&SIs provide higher quality and more inclusive education.

3.       HE&SIs make use of improved organisational systems, processes, and structures.

4.       HE&SIs conduct higher quality and needs-oriented research.

5.       HE&SIs create enhanced conditions for uptake of new knowledge, applications or services.

6.       HE&SIs and their stakeholders engage in knowledge driven science-society interactions.

Domains of change

In general, SI and TEAM projects are expected to bring about outputs in six (project) domains of intermediate change: (1) Research programmes and methods, (2) Education programmes and methods, (3) Outreach and policy support, (4) People, (5) Systems, policies and infrastructure, (6) Networks and partnerships. Individual projects should undertake deliverables and activities that fit within the six domains through partnerships between HE&SIs and other local, national or global stakeholders. The deliverables, processes and changes in these domains are interlinked and not mutually exclusive. Thereby, it is important to keep in mind that expectations concerning these domains should vary for TEAM projects in view of their distinct scope (in terms of time and budget). It is important to state that the TEAM projects will document their choices and envisaged changes through a project-specific ToC.

What are the eligible project partner countries?

Higher education and science institutions located in 17 project partner countries:

Benin, Bolivia, Burundi, Cuba, DR Congo, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam

What is the maximum budget and duration of a SI?

  • Project budgets amount to a maximum of 70.000 EUR for two years.

  • Overall budget for the SI 2022 Call amounts to 2.030.000 EUR (approx. 29 projects).




Information Session SI 2023

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Our new Theory of Change

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Short Initiatives are easy entry projects, ideal for young academics, lecturers and specialists looking for a first experience as project promoter, exploring innovative project ideas with counterparts in a partner country in the global South.

Peter De Lannoy, Programmes Coordinator VLIR-UOS

Other call types

TEAM projects

TEAM projects are medium-term projects that aim to explore, build and deepen academic/scientific collaborations among diverse teams. TEAM projects focus on a specific sustainable development challenge. In addition to strengthening research and educational capacities of higher education and science institutions, TEAM projects create the conditions for uptake of new and relevant knowledge, applications and/or services by all academic, civil society, private and public actors.

More info Call open

Scholarships for Masters (ICP Connect)

ICP Connect study programmes are accredited international study programmes organised at one or more Flemish universities. The programmes focus on subjects aligned with the Agenda 2030 and SDG principles. VLIR-UOS supports a selection of 15 ICPs and provides an annual intake of 10 new first-year scholarships for each ICP.

More info Call open