Online urban-development training by and for African professionals

The Swiss government is sponsoring the African Cities Lab initiative to provide online training for urban-development professionals in Africa. EPFL is spearheading this initiative – which has received funding from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) – through its Excellence in Africa Centre, and has already signed up six partner organizations. 

The African Cities Lab aims to develop training programs in Africa, for Africa.

The initiative comes in response to the extremely rapid growth of African cities and the ensuing need for urban planners trained in the challenges specific to those regions, especially in the areas of urban mobility, resource availability, energy management, water supply and sanitation, and the effects of climate change. The goal is to give urban planners the tools and insight to develop African cities as sustainably as possible.

To that end, EPFL will develop a training platform with massive open online courses (MOOCs) that is intended specifically for urban-development practitioners in Africa; in a second phase of the project, the platform will be extended to students. The platform will be hosted at Sèmè City in Benin. Known as “the International Knowledge and Innovation City,” Sèmè City through its training programs, research projects and support for entrepreneurial ventures, aims to be a catalyst of innovative solutions for resilient and sustainable urban development.

The platform will be run by local project managers across the continent with the assistance of EPFL. Five other universities have already agreed to take part in the initiative: Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Morocco, the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the University of Carthage in Tunisia, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana and the University of Rwanda. These universities were carefully selected so as to span the entire African continent, and will provide the skills needed to develop the MOOCs in French and English.

EPFL is a pioneer in developing MOOCs for Europe, and its MOOCs for Africa program is already widely known on that continent. The School will receive CHF 2.65 million in funding from SECO for the first phase of the project, which is scheduled to run for two-and-a-half years.

“Our goal with the African Cities Lab is to promote sustainable urban development through a combination of online courses and continuing education programs,” says Silvio Giroud, the project manager at SECO. “We are pleased to see this initiative come to fruition, as urban development is a strategic priority for SECO.”

In addition to providing technical resources, EPFL will also train local teachers to help them adapt their classes to an online format. The MOOCs resulting from the initiative will create a knowledge network spanning the African continent, making it easier to share best practices – including between French-speaking and English-speaking countries. “We plan to build not just an online platform, but an entire educational ecosystem comprised of universities and urban-development professionals, in order to teach and implement methods that are more holistic than what we are currently seeing,” says Jérôme Chenal, the academic director of EPFL’s Excellence in Africa Centre.


The project has received funding from the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).