Open AIR celebrated at SSHRC Impact Awards

Centre for Law, Technology and Society
Awards and recognition
Aerial view of the University of Ottawa and the Rideau Canal.
The Centre of Law, Technology and Society is delighted to announce that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has awarded the 2023 Impact Award for Partnerships to the Open AIR Network led by CLTS Faculty members Prof. Jeremy de Beer and Prof. Chidi Oguamanam.
Logo for OpenAIR African Innovation Research over a background of Earth.

The Centre of Law, Technology and Society is delighted to announce that the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) has awarded the 2023 Impact Award for Partnerships to the Open AIR Network led by CLTS Faculty members Prof. Jeremy de Beer and Prof. Chidi Oguamanam.

Solutions to some of society’s most important challenges require the right regulatory environment to drive innovation. Examples include pioneering models for access to educational materials, reimagining collaborative ways to transfer technology to fight climate change, and laying the groundwork for equitable access to life-saving medicines.

But in solving these challenges, how do we balance the need to collaborate on ideas with the pressure to claim ownership? Where is the line between access and appropriation? How do we overcome the divide between sharing and competing?

Driven by a vision of knowledge as a shared resource, the Open African Innovation Research Network, known as Open AIR, has, since 2006, pioneered groundbreaking solutions to the tensions surrounding the ownership of knowledge. The network has now been named the winner of the 2023 SSHRC Impact Award in the Partnership Award category, a prestigious recognition of its extraordinary work in advancing Africa's pivotal role in the ever-expanding global knowledge economy.

Learning from boots-on-ground research into what is happening and what works in Africa, a team of world-class leaders from across disciplines and regions is bringing insights and perspectives on intellectual property and innovation policy to the rest of the world. Leading by example, Open AIR’s strength lies in its commitment to learning from Africa rather than teaching to Africa. This is how researchers are enriching Canada and the world with insights from a continent widely regarded as an emerging economic powerhouse and centre of geopolitical power yet marginalized in much research and policy discourse.

Following years of combined support from SSHRC, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and other funders, Open AIR’s prolific research collaboration has greatly advanced the goal of creating a world where the benefits of knowledge and innovation are distributed equitably and inclusively. Specifically, Open AIR has guided and developed laws, policies, and practices leading to more sustainable and inclusive innovation, benefiting people in high- and low- income countries alike. The research network now engages dozens of researchers in Canada, South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Egypt and roughly 20 other African countries.

Hosted at the University of Ottawa Centre for Law, Technology and Society, the partnership is led by a truly international group of exceptional leaders. Hailing from the University of Ottawa, and representing Open AIR as co-directors and recipients of the Impact Award, are Professors Jeremy de Beer and Chidi Oguamanam. Professor de Beer has been described by his colleagues as the compass of the partnership, directing both its intellectual and operational aspects. Dr. Oguamanam, meanwhile, is recognized as one of the world’s foremost legal authorities on the global governance of Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge.

The two Ottawa-based representatives are joined by their colleague Dr. Florian Martin-Bariteau, who is building bridges between Ottawa’s Centre for Law, Technology, and Society and African partners, especially in French-speaking African countries. On the African continent, Dr. Nagla Rizk, from her base of operations at the School of Business of the American University in Cairo, connects Open AIR's presence in North and sub-Saharan Africa. The leadership team is further enriched by the expertise of Dr. Melissa Omino in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dr. Tobias Schonwetter in Cape Town, South Africa, both distinguished figures in the realms of information technology and intellectual property. Dr. Caroline Ncube and Dr. Erika Kraemer-Mbula, both renowned holders of prestigious South African Research Chairs at the Universities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, respectively, complete the team of co-leaders honoured by this esteemed award.

For nearly two decades, Open AIR has been leading the way in innovation policy and intellectual property reform by deeply integrating topics previously studied only in isolation. Through their dedication to action and participatory research, Open AIR has given stakeholders not only insights but also the tools to carry forward and amplify changes in peoples’ lives. In this way, Open AIR and its members exemplify the meaning of the word “partnership”. They are forging relationships built on mutual respect and reciprocity and promoting open collaborative innovation strategies that ultimately lead to more equitable and inclusive benefit sharing.

The annual SSHRC Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements from outstanding researchers and students in social sciences and humanities research, research training, knowledge mobilization and outreach activities funded partially or fully by SSHRC. The winners are selected by a jury composed of renowned experts from academia, as well as the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors.

Professors de Beer and Oguamanam are accepting the Impact Award on behalf of the Open AIR team, and have been invited by the Honourable Greg Fergus, Speaker of the House of Commons, to be recognized during Question Period in the House of Commons, in front of Members of Parliament and alongside the other Impact Award winners.

Congratulations to the entire Open AIR team on this exceptional achievement!