Next Urban Champions*

RISE Africa: Inspiring Action for Sustainable Cities

RISE Africa is ICLEI Africa’s new annual event that will inspire impactful actions for enhanced sustainability and resilience in Africa’s urban areas. Exposure to forward-thinking ideas from different disciplines through a range of curated interactions will provide an antidote to outdated “silo” thinking that is well recognised to inhibit innovation. Instead of being another ‘talk shop’ amongst like-minded individuals, RISE Africa will bring a diversity of city role players together in innovative sessions to identify new opportunities for collaborative action.



 In 2009, Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie presented a memorable TED talk entitled “The danger of a single story”. In it she spoke about the risk of reducing people and places to a single narrative and lens and the tangible impacts this can have on the futures they imagine, and the futures we imagine for them.

In her view, by reducing a person or place to a single story we lose the richness and complexity of the unique stories held by a space and its people. In this moment we also lose the opportunity to empower and humanise these individuals and groups to become change agents. We see this regularly in depictions of Africa and the African city, where the citizens of these spaces are represented only by the extremity and scale of problems faced in their daily lived experiences, and not by their capacity to overcome them.

Exalting the single story makes no space for those who work across disciplines, limiting people to their particular field or sector and purposefully excluding the voices of the informal trader, bus driver, healthcare worker and others as sources of knowledge for innovative African-driven solutions. Without cultivating the kinds of spaces that welcome multiple stories, we risk losing connections and collaborations that could be critical to the future of Africa’s cities

Africa’s urban age has arrived and it is estimated that an additional 1 billion people will join the urban areas on the continent in the coming 3 decades. There can be no question about the urgency of collective action needed to make cities sustainable, resilient and livable, as embodied by AU Agenda 2063, the Paris Agreement, the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda. Yet, there is no guarantee that these urgent sustainability concerns will be enough to inspire the continent’s leadership and youth into tangible action, nor to galvanise in them the bold brand of leadership that is needed in order to build lasting and large-scale urban change.

Inequality continues to grow in many cities, amplified by the COVID-19 global pandemic which has made these realities apparent for all to see. Some best-intentioned new urban transport infrastructure projects are not nearly as viable as once thought. The impact of smart technology ideas and the smart city concepts are not making real inroads in poverty reduction or food security, and they have failed to meaningfully mitigate the impacts of climate change.

We need to write a new story for our cities, and we believe that building new, meaningful connections is now more important to this new story than ever before.

RISE Africa 2021 aims to be a platform for change-makers, disruptors and advocates from across the African continent to drive innovation in their own unique and powerful way. Through these multiple and diverse stories, the event aims to spark new initiatives and build a community of actors committed to positive and substantive change in the continent’s cities.

We want to discuss ways to actively dismantle barriers created by siloed-thinking, and explore the possibilities of reimagining collaboration systems in order to enable African local governments to partner swiftly and effectively with business, civil society and academia. Why do geographic and cultural barriers persist in this modern age? Which incentives and resources are absent in fostering and sustaining connections? What is the missing link in forming unusual but powerful collaborations, and how can they be deployed elsewhere?

RISE Africa 2021 seeks to bring urban champions together through a creative, interactive and immersive festival which will include performances, dialogue sessions, workshops, training, provocations and field trips.

By reaching for a collection of stories and accomplishments it will aim to catalyse and inspire new initiatives, projects, proposals, ideas and commitments. It will dare to set an African agenda for collective and individual action within this new-Normal world but will not steer clear from some of the tough conversations necessary to move towards sustainable, future cities.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic shaken or clarified our priorities and visions? Can we drive new energy into addressing the climate crisis? How can traditional knowledge be incorporated into city-making? Can “smarter cities” really improve wellbeing for the majority? What role does art, media and literature have in reframing the African city? How will future infrastructure and services be financed? How might improving urban food, water, energy and waste systems contribute to achieving other Sustainable Development Goals? What are we doing to regenerate the relationships between cities and nature? How might we make a case demonstrating the business value in improving the wellbeing of urban-dwellers?

We are trying to identify and accelerate a new generation of impactful actions rooted in their unique stories across the continent which will bring forth our new sustainable future city. This event has been conceived in the hope that the small and large actions of these African change-makers will contribute to writing a sustainable story of cities on our continent.

RISE-Africa 2021 is calling all urban champions*, advocates and actors for African-driven innovation, whose work builds on wide themes of sustainable, future African cities to submit session proposals or provocations to the Open Call.


*Champion (noun)

a champion of change: advocate, proponent, promoter, proposer, supporter, torch-bearer, defender, protector, upholder, entrepreneur, backer, exponent, patron, sponsor, prime mover, campaigner for, lobbyist for, activist.


RISE-Africa welcomed a diversity of session types in addition to those listed below. We encouraged sessions and hosts to push the boundaries on the format, creativity and interactivity of the session where it would be valuable to forming new connections and inspiring actions from participants.

Open Call entries are now closed and being vetted by the curatorial team.


Dialogue & Performance Sessions: These are considered to be more passive sessions comprising panel discussions, 1-1 dialogues or interviews and artistic performances, be it film screening, music, poetry, multimedia showcases or other forms of creative expression.

Action Sessions: These are active workshop-style sessions which aim to develop an idea; to draw people together (matchmaking); to produce something or shape an idea/project; to bring people together to produce a piece of art or creative output; to launch a programme or initiative and so forth.

Trainings: A focused training session on a specific idea/concept/methodology which can improve an aspect of urban development. All training sessions must have a contextual awareness of African cities  and provide participants with a clear indication of what they will gain or learn.

Field Trips or Tours: These sessions will aim to give participants a city life in various contexts and places. This session leader may provide a live Instagram tour, lead a walking tour on a digital platform with narration, take participants through a project, building or place.

Provocation: A 3 to 6 minute pre-recorded talk that aims is to share ideas/work and provoke viewers with a new idea, or a way of doing things.