• Authored By: Sarah Ssewanyana
11 Mar 2024

This year, the Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) celebrates 30 years of impactful research in Uganda. In the past three decades, the Centre has had its mark on the policy processes in the country and some of the research done at EPRC has had life-changing impact on Ugandans.

In this slightly abridged speech, the EPRC Executive Director Dr. Sarah N. Ssewanyana tells us the EPRC story. The speech was given at the EPRC Open Day at Makerere University on February 15, 2024.

The idea to start EPRC was conceived in 1993 and the Centre was launched in 1994 as an autonomous not-for-profit institution limited by guarantee. Before its establishment, policy formulation was driven by outside institutions that had analytical capacity and therefore set much of the policy agenda. This had implications for policy dialogue and ownership of what was proposed by the foreign institutions.

The Centre is jointly owned by the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MoFPED) and Makerere University (MAK). In 30 years, EPRC has grown into a credible and reputable think tank on economic management and development policy with strong outreach and policy networks.

A screengrab of the former and current EPRC Executive Directors and Board of Directors

In the 1990s, our focus was to do research to inform the structural adjustment policies (SAPs) at time. We did a decent job then. Towards the year 2000, we went into work that informed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – we are proud to have been part of that.

In 2000, EPRC started doing poverty analysis which was previously done by the World Bank, and in 2003, the World Bank decided that local capacity was needed for the same and they decided to develop that capacity at EPRC. We thank them for that wise decision.

In 2009, research departments were created: Macro, Micro, Sectoral; and Trade and regional integration. The trade and regional integration department was particularly out because trade is important for the country’s progress.

In 2015, the Centre ventured into conducting large surveys (household and firms/businesses). This was a big project brought to us by the World Bank in 2015. Research at EPRC has been demand-driven rather than supply driven. Our flagship publications include the Business Climate Index (BCI) published since 2012 and the Agricultural Finance Yearbook.

We have been active in terms of designing govt programmes. Our role is to design, we are not implementors. The Centre was prominently involved in the design of the Plan for Modernization of Agriculture (PMA), the SAGE project focusing on the elderly was also born at EPRC. When government-imposed VAT on agricultural inputs worried everyone, EPRC acted quickly, got stakeholders to discuss the issue and the tax was scrapped.

We have also evolved in our research approach. We used to sit here and think about the research agenda. Now we engage the stakeholders, especially those in government and more so at the Ministry of Finance, to ensure that we remain relevant to the government’s needs. We walk with them from the inception of the study up to the end to ensure uptake of our research.

The Uganda Development Information Centre (UDIC)

The EPRC has a library that is accessible to the public where one can get access to all our publications, those of our partners, and much more material relating to Uganda’s development journey. In 2023, we started developing a digital library that will enable you to access all these materials wherever you want.

What have we done in terms of informing, advising, and influencing? Since 1994, EPRC widened the range of research services. We now have research series, occasional papers, and research reports, among others. Previously, people used to complain that our papers were technical and could not be understood [by an ordinary person]. With the help of the board, we broke them down into policy briefs, policy notes, and factsheets that can be easily consumed by anyone.

In 2014, we moved away from hard publications to e-publications due to funding shortfalls. All our publications can be accessed for free on our website.

In 2009, with support from the think tank initiative and African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF), we managed to create a communications department, the Information Management Department (IMD), and this has done an excellent job in terms of policy engagement and communication. When you look at other think tanks in Africa, we are proud to say we are the only one with a strong communication department much as it is still small. It has increased our visibility, and we see our research informing policy.  We can also follow through to see where our research has been used.

EPRC home at Makerere University

Knowledge brokering

We have also done knowledge brokering with Makerere University to develop the fertilizer policy, strategy, and regulation. When we researched the policy, we were not aware that the College of Agriculture was doing a lot of work. We were looking for soil testing kits and we were to import them for $100 each. We then found out that Makerere had a lot of work it was sitting on. We used their soil-testing kits and works to get the policy running.

We have convening power. I will give an example of recent research on sugarcane where we have managed to bring different stakeholders together to discuss key issues. We have been able to bring sugarcane players together to be able to discuss the sub-sector’s future.

In the earlier years of EPRC, we had limited engagement with parliament. We have recently managed as much as possible to link up with parliament. We have engaged staff at the research department of parliament as well as the cabinet office. Our researchers go there to train them, and we invite them to participate in our dissemination events. And these in turn use our research and our studies to prepare policy documents. We receive requests to provide technical support to government agencies, private sector, as well as donor partners.

Capacity Building

We have a Young Professional programme as well as a volunteer programme. YP is to provide economics young graduates in School of Economics with practical experience.

Under this programme, EPRC awards the best students in master’s in economics. We also have a volunteer programme which started in 2018. It admits both research and non-staff. You must have a degree but if you want to become a researcher you must have a master’s degree.  When you come, we will give you a little money – but the main goal of this arrangement is for talent identification. We can pick somebody to join us as researchers.

We also have an internship programme. We take undergraduates and post-graduates. We also have a fellowship programme that targets people from outside institutions. We have recently hosted fellows from the African Economic Research Consortium and the Ministry of Finance.

A section of the EPRC library

Partnerships and networks.

One constant funder has been the Government of Uganda through the Ministry of Finance. We thank you for that continuous funding for EPRC.

Between 1994 to 2000, we had two core funders – the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) and Ministry of Finance. The building where we are was built under ACBF. It was only EPRC that benefited from a building otherwise it was not allowed to benefit from such.

In 2009 and 2014, we had three CORE funders – ACBF, Ministry of Finance, and the International Development Research Centre Think Tank Initiative.

Between 2014-19, ACBF ended support and we remained with two CORE funders – the Ministry of Finance and IDRC. At that time when ACBF left, it was hard for us in terms of how we move forward. The Ministry of Finance was good to us they added to our grant Shs 1bn which helped us to move forward.

From 2019 to date, EPRC has only CORE funder and that is the Government of Uganda through Ministry of Finance. We are incredibly grateful to our board chair and who doubles as the PSST Mr. Ramathan Ggoobi for having doubled our funding in 2023.

Apart from CORE funding, we still get restricted funding from other institutions but with different models where they give you money based on projects. We do hope we will be able to get more funding from the Government of Uganda. This also demonstrates that the GOU appreciates and understands the relevance of supporting evidence generation and using it form policy.

As we embark on the journey to the future, we invite you to celebrate with us the last three decades of impactful research and we look forward to your support as we walk the journey to our next chapter.

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