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The Nile Project University Program - Engaging Youth in Nile Stewardship

We inspire and empower students to collaboratively address environmental and cultural challenges at the root of the Nile conflict.

Photo of Steffen Schwörer
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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

We are setting up a University Program to connect, inspire and empower young people across the Nile Basin to come up with innovative solutions that can address the environmental and cultural challenges that lie at the root of the Nile conflict. The program combines cross-cultural dialogue, environmental awareness, social engagement and personal leadership skills for students from the Nile countries, and is expected to contribute to the emergence of a new generation of young leaders with a deep sense of Nile Citizenship and Stewardship. The program uses a radically new approach to foster peace and environmental sustainability along an international river shared by eleven nations (Egypt, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo). It is is based on a model of change through which we engage participants and equip them with the knowledge, skills and tools they need to act as interlocutors (see figure attached). The Program includes:
- Nile Fellows: A unique 12-month fellowship designed to provide exceptional students with transformative opportunities and learning experiences at the intersection of environmental sustainability, community development, citizen diplomacy and conflict transformation.
- Nile Project University Clubs: Nile Fellows establish a Nile Project University Chapter on their respective campuses to offering a suite of student activities that inspire Nile learning, explore environmental innovation opportunities, and showcase the potential of transboundary initiatives. The chapters will work with neighboring communities on delivering tangible improvements to the lives of citizens.
- Nile Project Communities: The Nile Project works with faculty advisors and local partners to identify communities where fellows and students can design and implement local projects focusing on Nile sustainability. These community-based projects will provide the opportunity to develop innovative and scalable solutions.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The direct beneficiaries of the Program are: Nile Fellows, members of the Nile Project University Chapters and citizens living in the Nile Project Communities. Fellows and students gain the necessary knowledge, skills, and tools to effectively assume their respective roles in the Nile sustainability process. They will be enabled to act as interlocutors in the region and as multipliers in their home communities. The local Nile Project Communities will directly benefit from the results of community projects, such as increased environmental health, food sustainability or water quality (depending on priority needs identified and addressed).
Overall, our engagement benefits the people living in the Nile Basin. Today, more than 260 million people live in the region, and nine out of the eleven countries that share the river are among the world’s poorest nations. The Nile Basin communities will benefit from a more sustainable river ecosystem, and sustained peace.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

The Nile Project is the only citizen-centered hydro-diplomacy initiative that inspires non-state actors to become curious about the Nile and each other. We use a unique combination of cross-cultural musical collaborations, youth engagement and professional networks to instigate transboundary citizen-based dialogues and cooperation that lead to concrete projects. The student engagement is one piece of a larger puzzle and is closely linked to the other actors that we work with (musicians, professionals, etc.). The Program is in itself unique as the only Nile Basin wide program for youth that combines key elements of cross-cultural dialogue, conflict prevention and environmental sustainability.
The Nile Project offers a unique grassroots strategy to effectively mobilize thousands of people across the Nile Basin in constructive cross-cultural dialogue on environmental and cultural sustainability and in the generation of innovative solutions to Nile River challenges.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

We inspire, inform, and connect Nile citizens to help them collaborate on cultivating the sustainability of their river. Through a unique approach integrating cross-cultural musical collaborations, youth leadership development, community engagement and an innovation platform, the Nile Project seeks to address the cultural and environmental challenges at the root of the Nile conflict to shift the Nile discourse from a divisive hydro-political argument to a uniting conversation.

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

The Nile Project was founded in 2011 with the conviction that cross-cultural music collaborations in can contribute to building the regional connectedness among Nile citizens that is necessary to overcome the Nile water conflict. From the beginning, the Nile Project was about much more than music. The success of our music program encouraged us to launch a wider set of programs, to complement the "heart" (music) with a "head" (professional network) and "hands" (youth and community engagements).

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Being a conflict rooted in cultural and environmental challenges, ecosystem sustainability and conflict resolution in the Nile region are closely intertwined. This is why we need to bridge peace and planet. One of the primary obstacles to productive dialogue is that the Nile has historically not been conceptualized as a shared ecosystem that connects its inhabitants with each other and with their natural environment. Furthermore, the media tends to portray the Nile conflict as a zero-sum game, with clear winners and losers, rather than an opportunity to develop solutions that are mutually beneficial for both upstream and downstream countries.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

- Partner Universities: Nile Fellows, members of Nile Project Clubs and Faculty Advisors at each partner university will be closely involved in the design of the program, and will lead the implementation of local actions.
- Nile Project Communities: Citizens of local communities will be engaged by students in the implementation of local community projects that test and demonstrate innovations for a peaceful and sustainable Nile Basin.
- Partners: Other partners such as local NGOs, associations, private sector companies, researchers and other professionals will be involved in the implementation of community projects as required. On regional and global levels, the Nile Project seeks to expands its network of likeminded organizations and engage them in program implementation wherever they can add value.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

We believe in the creative potential of youth in the Nile Basin countries and their ability to be leading change-makers. University students are natural partners for the Nile Project, offering fresh perspectives, a willingness to learn, and the idealism to change the world. Through our university program, we seek to harness the energy and creativity of youth to catalyze transformational thinking and action for a peaceful and sustainable Nile Basin.

Geographic Focus

The 11 countries that share the Nile Basin (BUR, DRC, EGY, ETH, ETR, KEN, RWA, SUD, SSD, TAN, UG).

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The program can be implemented in a scalable manner from 12 to 36 months (12 months per fellowship period).

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • Yes

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

The University Program was submitted last year as a part of our broader approach to citizen-centred hydro-diplomacy in the Nile Basin. During last year's challenge, we already geared the focus on the University Program during the challenge, however with limited direct involvement of the students in the challenge process itself, due to resource and time constraints.
This year, we are participating in the challenge in a truly collaborative manner together with our Nile Project student chapters from Cairo, Aswan, Nairobi and Kampala. The fellows and members of the chapters will directly contribute and apply the provided human-centred design toolkits and methodologies to identify and design their community projects. At the end of the challenge process, we expect not only to have a refined overall Program design and strategy, but also concrete ideas from our students for their local community projects.


Join the conversation:

Photo of James Patton


Thanks for your sharing your idea. Shared environmental resources provide a positive basis for cross-cultural exchange. Are there sensitivities built into the program for ongoing tensions between Nile countries? I'm thinking particularly about tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia and how participants might meaningfully engage around these issues in a sensitive and respectful manner.

Photo of Steffen Schwörer

Hi James Patton 
thanks for your interest in the Nile Project.
Our work seeks to address the cultural and environmental challenges at the root of the Nile conflict and shift the Nile discourse from a divisive hydro-political argument to a uniting conversation and an opportunity for transboundary cooperation. The tensions and sensitivities you mention are at the heart of the Nile conflict, which we directly address as a citizen-centred hydro-diplomacy initiative (our participants are not the official representatives of their countries).
In order to transform the Nile conflict, we need to address the behaviors of Nile citizens and their governments. And in order to address these behaviors, we need to revisit their attitudes and beliefs, which are rooted in national, racial and cultural identities. In the Nile Project, we believe that we cannot transform such attitudes by tackling watershed politics directly without establishing a culture of trust and goodwill among riparian interlocutors.
Our work contributes to a future in which citizens of the Nile see the basin as one region, and have the capacity to effectively engage in citizen-based hydro-diplomacy. For these actors to play a bigger and more influential role in the transformation process towards transboundary water cooperation, they need to be inspired to collaborate, to be curious about one another and about what connects them. We envision a wider “solution space” where government and non-government actors can work in tandem towards a coordinated effort to respond to our increasing water demands and sustainability challenges, while at the same implementing the best-practices in terms of cooperative management of shared water resources. We believe that civil society can and will contribute greatly to expand the dialogue and trust needed to make this possible.

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