January 16, Nairobi, Kenya — The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) held its first regional meeting in Africa on Monday with a ceremony attended by 250 high profile guests from government, the private sector, civil society and the academic world. His Excellency Mwai Kibaki, President of the Republic of Kenya and His Excellency Haile Mariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, joined Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute, Columbia University and Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University, in inaugurating the network’s first Africa chapter.

Launched in August of 2012, the Solutions Network mobilizes scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector for sustainable-development problem solving at local, national, and global scales.

Operating under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to foster global action and cooperation on sustainable development, SDSN will support governments, NGOs and UN agencies in their work towards achieving practical solutions to the greatest development challenges.

Considering that Africa shoulders a disproportionate share of barriers to growth, including a high disease burden, poor infrastructure and relatively weak public institution, it is essential that the SDSN network has a firm local presence to draw on African perspectives in global problem-solving.

“Kenya and Ethiopia should be able to achieve 10% economic growth or more, a rapid rate needed to overcome extreme poverty and address the economic challenges that lie ahead,” said Sachs. “From its regional base in Nairobi, the SDSN will act as a resource for East African Governments to fast track development planning, and support practical solutions to the greatest challenges facing this region, including the fight against poverty.”

“The network will mobilize new technologies to create breakthroughs in health, agriculture, energy, and governance,” said Sachs, following a demonstration to the audience of a water metering system that uses pre-paid phone cards. The hope is that these and other technologies can quickly be scaled, diffused and revolutionize the provision of life-saving necessities to the poorest and most remote communities in rural Africa. This water system called Quench, deploys a mobile-phone based pay-as-you go model which allows communities to pay a minimal fee for water that they need, when they need it, over and above a free quota, and will be rolled out to rural communities in Africa over the coming year.

The East Africa launch of the SDSN was part of the opening of the Columbia Global Centers | Africa, which will be a co-host of the solutions network in the East Africa region, together with local universities. The Columbia Global Center is committed to playing its role as a leading scientific, research and development institution in Africa.

“We highly welcome the establishment of the Columbia Global Centers | Africa in Nairobi, and are confident that the Center will contribute positively to the achievement of Kenya’s Vision 2030, particularly through the dissemination of objective and research –based advice to the Government and relevant stakeholders,” said his His Excellency President Kibaki.

“It is our hope that the center will achieve its noble goal of fostering international collaboration and research across a wide range of disciplines by bringing together private enterprise, public officials, scholars and students to collaboratively address issues of global importance.”