About us

Open AIR is a unique collaborative network of researchers spread across 15 African countries, Canada, and elsewhere in the world answering two overarching questions:

  1. How can open collaborative innovation help businesses scale up and seize the new opportunities of a global knowledge economy?
  2. Which knowledge governance policies will best ensure that the social and economic benefits of innovation are shared inclusively?

Open AIR’s Goal

Open AIR’s primary goal is to uncover new insights to ease tensions between IP and access to knowledge. Specifically, we aim to solve a problem at the heart of IP and innovation policy: how to reconcile tensions between appropriation and access, excluding and sharing, and competing and collaborating.  In dealing with this problem, Open AIR’s research is showing how knowledge-based businesses can bypass outmoded, constrictive knowledge governance practices to capitalise on open collaborative innovation strategies.

Open AIR’s core aims are to improve our understanding of the ways in which knowledge-based businesses can scale up to take advantage of global opportunities, while simultaneously ensuring that the benefits of innovation are shared inclusively throughout society as a whole. Open AIR’s African-centered research calls attention to the importance and sensitivity of context in the making of IP and knowledge governance policy for sustainable development. This is one important aspect of finding innovative solutions to the world’s most significant policy changes, such as: population health, environmental sustainability, universal education, cultural participation, food security, poverty alleviation, and economic growth. Through improved intellectual property policies and practices, this research will lead to more innovation that benefits more people in both developing and developed countries.

To encourage such learning from Africa, Open AIR, in partnership with leading experts, institutions and funding organizations from Canada, is building sustainable, cross-regional relationships. Through mutually beneficial research partnerships, Open AIR is acknowledging Africa’s role in the global knowledge economy.

Who We Are

Our researchers come from law, economics, management, political science, public policy, and other disciplines. Open AIR is a partnership involving five leading universities—the University of Ottawa in Canada, the University of Cape Town in South Africa, Strathmore University in Kenya, the Nigerian Institute for Advanced Legal Studies, and the American University in Cairo, Egypt. For more information on our researchers, please see our Team page.

Open AIR has recently been awarded prestigious, multi-million dollar grants to support its work over the next 3-7 years. Our funding comes from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). This funding helps to ensure that the Open AIR network further strengthens its position as a sustainable, influential bridge of cooperation between the African continent, Canada, and the rest of the world.

Open AIR researchers are also building new and stronger connections amongst Canada and Africa’s rapidly emerging economies. The network already connects African and Canadian scholars and students, and by extension public and private sector decision makers. These relationships will deepen during the next phase of research, further solidifying relationships with countries widely acknowledged to be at the forefront of future economic growth. Open AIR also brings indigenous and local communities across Africa together with Aboriginal Peoples in Canada to share experiences in leveraging traditional knowledge to develop economic opportunities. This diverse set of co-operative linkages will integrate unique insights directly into national and international policy solutions, ensuring that they are applicable in local, regional, and global contexts.

Open AIR’s Research

We are now focused on three priority research themes. The first explores the nuances of innovation at high technology hubs, explaining how and why new business are likely to succeed or fail across Africa and in Canada. The second research theme, which dovetails with the first, is informal sector entrepreneurship, where resilience and innovative practices are often attributed to a shared spirit of openness and collaboration. Finally, the network is researching and collaborating with indigenous communities, which have a long history of collaborative knowledge production. In all of these areas, Open AIR is working to create new and improved intellectual property policies, performance metrics and management practices.

To generate research insights with real-world impacts, Open AIR researchers are using a three-pronged approach. First, we are conducting and comparing empirical case studies across industry sectors and global regions to identify best practices. Second, we are working to improve theoretical models of how proprietary, open, and blended business strategies operate in collaborative innovation systems. Third, we are designing new policies and governance strategies that are consistent with better evidence-based theories.

Looking to the Future

The Open AIR network is providing new and emerging researchers with international experiences, industry linkages, and promising careers. Our New & Emerging Researchers Group (NERG) receive training and mentoring to help develop the talent of these Fellows, creating immediate jobs and long-term career opportunities by building lasting international and interdisciplinary relationships. The group is composed of undergraduate and graduate students, including juris doctor (JD), Masters, and doctoral students, as well as other research associates.

NERG members are encouraged and supported to conduct their own original research, under the direction and mentorship of our Steering Commitee members and other collaborators, and where warranted will receive authorial or co-authorial credit. Fellows are also encouraged to study abroad either at one of our other hubs or with our researchers outside of hubs. Through these opportunities, Fellows increase their research and communications skills, as well as more generalizable skills like project management and peer mentoring. Additionally, through their involvement in this international partnership, our Fellows acquire invaluable contacts and unique perspectives that would otherwise be unattainable. These experiences and connections will not only shape student’s professional careers, but also touch their personal lives, preparing them as leaders in both academic and non-academic fields.

The Open African Innovation Research Partnership