Understanding Research at AFD

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Understanding Research at AFD


Inequalities Conference AFD 2018, Understanding Research at AFD

Research is a vital aspect of French development policy and one of the pillars of our activity. Its purpose is to help guide developing countries in their economic, ecological, and social transition. Our research provides integrated support that rounds out the financing provided by AFD Group. 

We co-design and conduct this research along with our partners in the countries and territories where we operate. Our research findings help us closely analyze the interactions between major global issues and the economic, financial, and social spheres, with a view to promoting strong sustainability trajectories. 

The environments in which AFD operates are undergoing rapid transformation. In a world full of uncertainty, research is therefore crucial in helping to understand and anticipate socio-economic changes in our partner countries. Thanks to this research, AFD can better take into account the emerging risks in the changing contexts of our partner countries.

AFD Group’s Research, Innovation & Knowledge Strategy
“Research, Innovation & Knowledge” strategy

The “Research, Innovation & Knowledge” strategy was adopted in April 2019 and covers the period 2019-2022. Its goal is to help better guide AFD Group’s partner countries in their trajectories towards more sustainable development. It is based on four commitments:

  • giving priority to research with local roots in the regions and countries where AFD Group operates;
  • focusing the research agenda on the interactions among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): growth, climate and biodiversity, inequalities, and social link;
  • strengthening support for innovation and experimentation;
  • better evaluating the effectiveness of the Group’s projects, publishing its evaluations, and striving to be a learning organization.


GEMMES world temperatures map,Understanding Research at AFD

Our applied research is inspired by the “think-and-do tank” approach. It’s conducted by multidisciplinary teams made up of academic partners from the South and the North. Its objective? To co-design development trajectories along with our partners, and to identify the public policies best suited for the situations and locations under study, in order to reach that goal.

AFD research blends several disciplines, such as economics, environmental science, sociology, demography, anthropology, and political science. Our research approach is similar to that of “sustainability science” (or “sustainable development science”), by which all disciplines are mobilized to transform development models to reach sustainability.

What does our research focus on?

Uganda, Understanding Research at AFD

AFD research is in line with its main financing strategies. Accordingly, 80% of our resources dedicated to studies and research focus on the following themes:

  • “100% Paris Agreement” and biodiversity: AFD Group is the first development institution to be “100% Paris Agreement.” This means that AFD Group always makes sure that its financing in each country is consistent with low-carbon and resilient development. AFD has implemented a framework for systematic analysis of projects, thereby giving research a crucial role in guiding the Group’s partner countries in their transition toward resilient development models.
  • “100% social link”: In response to the many threats to humankind’s capacity to live together in harmony, AFD research delves into the causes of inequalities in the countries where it operates. The question of living together in harmony is also researched from the angle of the local, national, and global commons. Our research also looks at new, more experimental approaches—for example, by combining culture or sports to better understand the notion of social link. The research findings help identify and share solutions so that AFD Group’s support to public policies and to coalitions of stakeholders can restore and strengthen social link on a regional basis.
  • 3D (Defense-Diplomacy-Development): There can be no development without peace and stability. That’s why AFD operates in the Sahel and in the Eastern Mediterranean in coordination with French defense and diplomacy authorities. The goal is to mobilize all the actors working for peace, based on a crisis-exit strategy. Our studies and research focus on security and development issues and help support this process by providing better understanding of the background to our actions, the local dynamics at work, and the strategies of the local players (development operators, armed forces, States, and civilian populations) within a regional approach.

More specifically, AFD’s research is focused on five signature programs, giving us an original and innovative positioning: 

  • Macroeconomic analyses: AFD carries out country assessments using a methodology adapted to developing economies. This helps take into account the specific fundamentals of these countries and to consider development over the long term.
  • Commons: A long-term research program is dedicated to the contribution of the commons approach to development issues. For governance issues, this approach offers an original perspective that is neither from a State angle nor from a private-sector angle. It enables an appropriate analysis of the issues of managing common resources, be it at the global, national, or local level. 
  • Inequalities: The Research Facility on Inequalities, financée par la Commission européenne, a permis de positionner l’AFD comme bailleur européen de référence sur la question des inégalités multidimensionnelles, incluant les inégalités d’accès et de revenus tant au niveau local, national qu’entre pays. 
  • Ecological transitions: AFD leads research programs on ecological transitions in the countries where it operates. They’re based on the main principles of strong sustainability and backed up by modeling tools, specific indicators, and methods for analyzing transition risks. There is also a program dedicated to the topic of financing this transition, focused on the role of public development banks and conducted in coalition with the Finance in Common Summit
  • Sahel : AFD possesses in-depth knowledge of the Sahel and of the stakeholders operating there nationally and locally. A large-scale research program has been set up to better understand the contexts of the Sahel countries (phase 1), and the stakeholders (phase 2). This program is conducted in close coordination with researchers and stakeholders in the Sahel.

The remaining 20% of research resources are dedicated to subjects that help anticipate the world of tomorrow.


How do we conduct the research?

discussion, Burundi, Understanding Research at AFD
A collaborative approach

To promote the co-building of solutions and the sharing of knowledge, AFD is increasing its joint research with partners based in the regions where it operates. These partners include research centers, universities, think tanks, national statistics institutes, regional institutions such as WAEMU, and continental bodies such as UNECA. From 2022, 90% of our research projects have to involve at least one partner from the region under study.

We are maximizing work synergy with partners in the network of French research centers operating in the same countries as we do (e.g.,IRD, Cirad, réseau des UMIFRE), We also work with the international institutions involved in research and innovation in development policies (national and multilateral development banks, the European Union, universities and research centers, think tanks, and others).

But that’s not all... We are also developing collaborative work with French research laboratories within the CIFRE system, making it possible for some PhD students to join AFD when preparing their thesis.

Research to facilitate dialog on public policies

AFD promotes strategic dialog on public policies in the countries with which France maintains privileged relationships. This new form of partnership creates interaction and discussion between the research world and decision-makers that in turn help develop public policies. For example, we finance research activities on topics of interest chosen by the authorities of the partner country and on which we have proven expertise. The research findings are then put to discussion at the ministry level and shared with civil society.

Strategic dialog memorandums currently exist with five countries:

  • Côte d’Ivoire, with an initial successful experience (2016-2018) followed by a second memorandum (2020-2022)
  • In Tunisia since 2018
  • In Morocco since 2019
  • In Lebanon since 2021

In addition, research in a number of AFD’s partner countries is fueling dialog on sustainable development trajectories as well as on the relationship between environmental and social issues in a “just transition approach”. These countries include South Africa, Colombia, Mexico, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan.

Support and networking for researchers in French-speaking Africa

We pay special attention to promoting research by countries in French-speaking Africa, which suffer from a lack of connections with international research networks – while being open to research in all the countries where we operate, including English-and Spanish-speaking countries.


Inequalities Conference AFD 2018, Understanding Research at AFD

The findings of our various research projects are used as a basis for research and analysis publications, as well as for macro-economic modeling tools. They also provide material for conference cycles, which create opportunities for discussing the issues.

Modeling and analysis tools

How can development trajectories be designed without studying the impact of ecological disturbances and their interactions with financial and monetary risks? Over the last few years, AFD has been developing two macro-economic modeling tools to answer that question and thereby facilitate the political decision-making made necessary by the Paris Agreement:

  • GEMMES (General Monetary and Multisectoral Macrodynamics for the Ecological Shift) is a macro-economic model that helps to assess the socio-economic impacts of climate change and the adaptation strategies to cope with it. Various versions of GEMMES are currently under development with partners in several countries (Brazil, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Tunisia, and Vietnam). 
  • ESTEEM (Exposure to Structural Transition in an Economic-Ecological Model) is a more recent model that analyzes the macro-structural vulnerabilities that a low-carbon transition can generate in developing countries. It assesses the country’s external, fiscal and socio-economic dependence on declining industries.

AFD also works on tools for a better comprehension of inequalities, such as:  

  • An inequality diagnostic tool to provide in-depth analysis of the inequalities in a given country and to identify the priorities and public policy options to be set up in order to reduce them.
  • Fiscal incidence analyses to assess the impact of fiscal policy on inequalities and poverty. The aim is to help establish effective and well-informed redistributive fiscal policies to protect poor and vulnerable families.
Research and analysis publications

The findings of studies and research projects conducted or financed by AFD may be published as scientific articles in academic journals or in one of the collections of Editions Agence Française de Développement.

A broader readership can also be reached by co-publishing studies with publishers or partner institutions. These publications make it possible to:

  • •    share the expertise of our researchers;
    •    contribute to discussions on development issues significant for AFD; and 
    •    fuel strategic dialog on public policies.

All of our research publications — including studies, research papers, and macro-economic analyses — can be found in a dedicated library on our website. More than 1,000 publications are freely available (in open source).

AFD Group’s research findings can be found not just in publications: they are also disseminated and promoted through events to promote exchanges among decision-makers, practitioners, and the academic world. These include the following:

  • “Research Conversations”, a bimonthly webinar cycle in which the findings of recent studies funded by AFD are presented by the researchers involved. These webinars promote discussion of the findings for the benefit of a broad French-speaking and English-speaking audience.
  • AFD’s international research conferences on development, held every two years, look in depth at innovative research topics and then lead to original recommendations to promote sustainable development trajectories. Past conferences: “Commons and Development” (2016), “Inequalities and Social Cohesion” (2018), “The Visible Hand: Development Banks in Transition” (2020), et “Strong Sustainability: How sustainable are Net Zero development trajectories?” (2022).
  • The AFD-CEROM conference, held about every two years, sheds light on the economic and development issues of the French overseas territories. Using an original format, it brings together institutional and academic actors from those territories. The 2019 AFD-CEROM conference was dedicated  to research and innovation for sustainable development. The 2022 edition was dedicated to transitions in French overseas territories.
AFD signature programs, with an original and innovative positioning
million dedicated to research activities in 2022
of the amount for studies and research contracted in 2022 focused on Africa