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PIRA Call for Proposals

Partnerships for Innovative Research in Africa (PIRA)


The 2020-2021 call is now closed.

Stay tuned for the announcement of our grant awardees.



The Alliance for African Partnership (AAP), a consortium of ten leading African universities and Michigan State University, is inviting proposals for its Partnerships for Innovative Research in Africa (PIRA) grants. As a consortium-wide initiative, the PIRA grants are a tiered funding opportunity designed to cultivate and support multidirectional and transregional research partnerships at any stage of their development, whether it be initiatives to explore and create new relationships or scale existing ones. One of the unique aspects to these grants is the expectation that organizations will establish and develop equitable partnerships from the conception to the closeout of the project among themselves and with relevant local stakeholders, involving them as appropriate throughout the project, respecting their knowledge and expertise, and taking an adaptive approach that is responsive to the local context. Proposals should outline processes to establish such partnerships. Proposed partnership activities may entail cooperative research, capacity building initiatives, outreach and/or other activities that align with AAP’s pillars (described below in SELECTION CRITERIA), and address at least one of AAP’s priority areas, which are: agri-food systems; water, energy and the environment; culture; youth empowerment; education; and, health and nutrition.

Priority Areas.PNG

Proposals are encouraged from diverse disciplinary perspectives and teams may apply to one of four funding categories at any funding tier.


Submitted proposals must include principal investigators (PI) from both MSU and at least one African AAP-member university, in addition to category-specific requirements detailed below. The project implementation timeframe will be 18 months.


The tiered funding structure is designed to support partnerships at different stages of maturity to create and strengthen relationships among institutions and act as a catalyst for research teams in securing external funding that will allow for long-term engagement. Applicants should submit proposals for the funding tier that best fits the level of engagement established among the PIs on the research team. However, AAP management reserves the right to relegate proposals to a different tier if deemed more appropriate during review. Proposed activities for each tier may include, but are not limited to:

  1. Small Grants (up to $50,000), inception and early-stage partnership research activities, travel support for co-developing joint proposals (in accordance with all MSU and partner COVID-19-related travel guidelines), short-term capacity building trainings, network development, research symposia, or other activities that align with AAP’s priority themes and strategic objectives.
  2. Planning Grants (up to $100,000), inception and early-stage research partnership  activities, projects that bring research into practice, larger research networking events or symposia, broader institutional capacity building projects, or other activities that align with AAP’s priority themes and strategic objectives.
  3. Scaling Grants (up to $200,000), continuation of ongoing partnerships that have the potential to significantly scale their research, capacity building, or outreach activities, broader institutional linkages, or other activities that align with AAP’s priority themes and strategic objectives.


Proposals submitted in each category must choose one of the four funding tiers. In addition to the requirement to have at least one faculty lead from MSU and one faculty lead from an African AAP university on the research team, each category has specific requirements as well. A description of each category and their specific requirements is as follows:

  1. Youth Transformation Grants: To advance the AAP / GYAN African Youth Transformation Platform’s mission to transform the lives of African youth (defined as 15-35 years old) and their communities by elevating youth voices and agency, co-creating an enabling environment for youth to thrive, and through entrepreneurship and community engaged scholarship that focuses on youth development outcomes, these PIRA grants are designed to support research and capacity building initiatives that create innovations and strengthen entrepreneurial resources for youth. As such, research teams submitting proposals for this category must include at least one PI from MSU, at least one PI from an African AAP university, and representation of youth-leaders and change makers from the local communities. Also, research proposed under this category must have an explicit focus on elevating youth voices and improving youth development outcomes.  
  2. Africa-Asia Transregional Grants: In partnership with the Asian Studies Center, AsiaNexus, and the African Studies Center at MSU, these PIRA grants are designed to create trans-regional research networks that will identify solutions to shared, global challenges. As such, research teams submitting proposals for this category must include at least one PI from MSU, one PI from an African AAP university, and at least one PI from an Asian university (from any Asian region: Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and West Asia). Teams are also welcome to include partners based at local research institutions as well. 
  3. Early Career Researcher Grants: To empower the next cadre of early-career researchers, these PIRA grants are designed to support partnerships led by early career researchers, defined as faculty members who received their PhD within the last ten years. As such, research teams submitting proposals for this category must include early-career PIs from both MSU and an African AAP university. Teams must also include senior researchers and graduate students. 
  4. Global African Diaspora Grants: In partnership with the African Studies Center and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) at MSU, these PIRA grants are designed to create networks for joint research relevant to Africa and the African diaspora, spur innovation and capacity building, and address shared challenges. As such, research teams submitting proposals for this category must include at least one PI from MSU, one PI from an African AAP member university, and at least one PI from a university in Latin America and/or the Caribbean. Teams are also welcome to include partners based at other institutions as well.


  1. The lead investigators for proposals must come from MSU, AAP African member universities, in the case of the transregional grants, Asian universities and in the case of the diaspora grants, Latin American and Caribbean universities. Proposals may also include partners from other institutions globally. Teams are encouraged to include partners from the private sector, governments, civil society organizations, and Pan-African/global institutions.
  2. Individuals who were PIs or co-PIs on grants under round 1 of AAP partnership grants are not eligible to lead proposals under this call but may participate as team members.
  3. MSU International Studies & Programs staff are not eligible to lead proposals.
  4. Potential applicants can only be lead PI on one submission, though they can be listed as a team member on multiple submissions.



All submissions must have a cover sheet and proposal narrative that includes the information listed below, a budget and budget narrative using the provided template, and letters of support. Please send all application material to material to aap(at) by Friday, November 27th at 11:59 PM EST.

  • A cover sheet with the project's title as well as names, institutional affiliations, and titles of all PIs
  • A proposal narrative, not to exceed 5,000 words with one appendix for references cited, that includes:
    • A description of the partnership, containing:
      • Capacity statements from each partner institution that outlines their respective strengths in relation to their proposed roles and responsibilities in the partnership
      • A brief description of the past or ongoing partnership, if applicable
      • The rationale for partnership and evidence that it will create or cultivate equitable, sustainable, and mutually beneficial partnerships
    • A problem statement that identifies the shared challenges to be addressed by the program activities, the theory of change, their relevance to AAP’s themes and pillars;
    • Clearly defined objectives of the proposed partnership
    • A description of program activities as well as a logical framework that connects the proposed activities with their intended outputs, outcomes, and programmatic objectives
    • A monitoring, evaluating, and learning plan that outlines proposed indicators and collection methods
    • Identification of potential sources of additional funding that the partnership will pursue during the program’s period of performance
    • A timeline of activities
  • A line-item budget and budget narrative using the template provided. Templates and more information on budgetary considerations are below in BUDGET.
  • A letter of support for each PI from their dean or head of department that signifies buy-in from each partner at the institutional level.  
  • A CV or resume of each PI (1-page max)



Program goals should align with at least one of AAP’s strategic objectives, which are:

  • Building bridges: Bringing people and organizations together to work toward common goals. Illustrative activities under this objective include: sponsoring thematic symposia or workshops that bring people together across sectors and disciplines or travel for preparation of proposals for larger grant applications. This also includes network development, communications among research groups or networks (e.g. digital innovations and digital forums), dissemination of knowledge through online journals and/or sharing of best practices among partners
  • Transforming institutions: Promoting sustainable and effective partnerships among institutions, enhancing resources, and increasing institutional capacity. Illustrative activities under this objective include: institutional capacity development at universities, NGOs, or in the public sector such as building financial management capacity, improving teaching and learning at universities, and/or increasing proposal development skills, among others.
  • Transforming lives: Supporting research with real-world impact that improves African lives and livelihoods. Illustrative activities under this objective include: putting research into action through evidence-based outreach and engagement, conducting early-stage research that has obvious potential to impact lives and livelihoods, improving dissemination of research outputs to practitioners and policy-makers, and/or designing innovative research-into-practice methodologies.



Submitted proposals will be evaluated according to the following 8 criteria:

  1. Evidence of a collaborative and equitable partnership that strengthens personal, professional, and/or institutional networks in a mutually beneficial and sustainable way. Other AAP principles that need to be demonstrated in the proposal and later in the implementation are mutual trust and respect, sustainability, innovativeness, co-creation, accountability, transparency, flexibility as well as multi-disciplinarity and trans-disciplinarity.
  2. Alignment of proposed activities and program goal(s) to AAP’s 3 strategic objectives and 6 thematic areas.
  3. Potential for program deliverables to significantly contribute to their respective academic, technical, or technological fields.
  4. Potential to create innovative models of community engagement and development that positively impact people’s lives.
  5. Potential for PIs to attract and or leverage additional external funding to sustain program’s impact.
  6. Well-designed contingency planning that outlines a plan to maintain progress and achieve results if COVID-19 pandemic prevents travel/original plan.
  7. A thorough monitoring, evaluating, and learning plan that links program activities to their intended outputs and outcomes and includes a clear description of the MEL tools that will be used, what indicators will be measured, and a timeline for evaluation and reporting.
  8. Gender equality, equity and inclusion are core values of AAP and are thus central to this call. All projects funded must demonstrate how they follow principles of gender and inclusion and should explain how applicants will integrate gender, equity, and inclusion issues in all stages of the project, including rationale, design, intended results, data collection, analysis, interpretation, and knowledge mobilization processes.





Using the templates provided above, applicants must submit a line-item budget and budget narrative for the life of the program that details each institution’s requested budget as well as an overall budget summary. Suggested line items are provided as guidelines but are not comprehensive or required. Proposed budgets should be co-created by the partnership teams and reflect an equitable distribution of funds, with each institution completing a separate tab within the budget template to show the anticipated disbursement of resources and cost sharing broken down by yearly expenditures. While there is no cost share requirement, proposals that embody AAP's values of equitable partnership by demonstrating institutional commitment through monetary or in-kind support will be given preference in the selection process. The budget narrative should clearly explain how the line items are calculated and for what purpose they will be used in achieving the program’s objectives.

Please note that the MSU PI and their home department will be responsible for the financial administration of the award. As such, it is highly recommended that the MSU PI involve their department’s fiscal officer in the development of the proposed budget to ensure all financial guidelines and reporting requirements are met. MSU salary expenses will not require fringe (total salary across all partner institutions cannot exceed 30% of total program budget). Please submit budgets using the provided template as an Excel file type or similar formatted version that allows the reviewers to view the formulas used in the calculations.


While funding may be used for a variety of activities, the following expenses are not eligible to be covered with the PIRA grants:

  • Indirect costs (expenses usually covered by indirect costs will be considered in-kind cost share)
  • Equipment exceeding $5,000
  • Construction-related costs
  • UPDATE: Salary is an allowable expense, but total salary across all institutions cannot exceed 30% of the total project budget. MSU salary does not require fringe.



Proposals will initially be reviewed by the AAP management team according to the guidelines and criteria above. Short-listed applications will be assessed by external peer reviewers for quality of technical content. Final selections will be made by the AAP management team in consultation with its internal partners and consortium members.



There will be a Q&A and a grant writing workshop for interested applicants on October 14 from 8 am – 11 am EST for addressing any questions, and providing guidance with developing competitive submissions, respectively. The submission deadline has been extended - full proposal packages are now due on Friday, December 4 at 11:59 PM EST and awards will be announced by Monday, February 22, 2021 COB. Successful applicants will have until Friday, March 5, 2021 to submit revised work plan and budget to AAP management for review. AAP management will work with awardees to finalize the plan and budget by March 12, 2021. Programs may begin according to their timeline but not before a final work plan and budget has been approved by AAP management. Programs must begin no later than June 14, 2021 and all program activities must be completed within 18 months of the start date. Mid-term and final reports will be due to AAP management 30 days after the reporting periods end date, in accordance with the program timeline. In addition, AAP will be conducting brief intermittent surveys of the awardees to evaluate the PIRA grant-making process and how successfully it embodies the AAP’s values of equity, transparency, and accountability.