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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

About RVI

Local roots, global reach

The Rift Valley Institute (RVI) is an independent, non-profit organization, founded in Sudan in 2001, currently working in eastern and central Africa. The aim of the Institute is to advance useful knowledge of the region and its diverse communities, bringing a better understanding of local realities to bear on social and political action. The RVI works with institutions in the region to develop and implement long-term programmes that combine action-oriented research with education and public information.

Practical research and action

The first RVI project, during the 1983-2005 civil war in Sudan, was a field investigation of war-related abduction and enslavement in the north-south borderlands. In subsequent years, the Institute, with partner organizations, has pursued research into peace processes, judicial systems and elections in the two Sudans and other countries in eastern and central Africa. It has developed training courses across the region and pioneered field-based digitization of endangered archives and the creation of open-access digital libraries. The RVI is a leader in practical research and policy analysis in the areas of human security, cultural conservation and social development.

Partnership in post-conflict environments

The Rift Valley Institute operates in Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Somaliland, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). In those countries where government structures are intact and educational institutions remain functional, the Institute offers specialist services to development agencies, universities and research organizations. Where war has disrupted government and eroded civic life, the Institute aligns itself with researchers and community activists—from the region and its diasporas—in the effort to sustain local institutions and restore standards of research and public information. The RVI’s partners include activists, writers and artists, civil society organizations, government ministries, museums, universities and cultural associations.

Long-term impact

RVI programmes are designed for long-term impact: shaping aid interventions, expanding space for public participation in policy, supporting local research capacity, preserving communal histories, and promoting social justice. Past and current programmes include the Usalama Project, which documents armed groups in the DRC, and the Rift Valley Forum—previously the Nairobi Forum—which sponsors a continuing series of seminars and public meetings designed to facilitate discussion between policy-makers, researchers and community leaders. The Institute is implementing justice and security projects in Somalia and Somaliland, and a programme for the conservation and digitisation of the National Archive of South Sudan. The RVI is a signatory of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2001); all RVI publications are free for download from under Creative Commons licences.

Governance and representation

The Rift Valley Institute was co-founded in 2001 by John Ryle, Philip Winter and Jok Madut Jok. John Ryle was Executive Director of the Institute until 2017. The staff and fellows of the Rift Valley Institute are drawn from eastern and central Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. The body of fellows includes practitioners and researchers in human rights, government, history, anthropology, political science, development economics, conservation, news media and law. There are RVI offices in the UK, Kenya, South Sudan and Somaliland, and RVI representatives in Sudan and the DRC. The Institute is registered as a charity in the United Kingdom.

Funders and partners

The RVI is supported by grants, course fees, publishing income, consultancies and individual donations. Funders include private philanthropic organizations, governments, and intergovernmental organizations. The Institute seeks continuing support for open access publication, for collaboration with schools and universities in eastern and central Africa, and for scholarships to enable outstanding local researchers and activists to expand their skills and deepen their knowledge of the region.

Organisational strategy

In June 2020 RVI published its 4-year development strategy, which was the outcome of a collective process involving staff, trustees, Fellows of the Institute, partners and key external stakeholders. The strategy reaffirms the values that drive our work, incorporates feedback from supporters and associates and summarises our approach to achieving our development ambitions.

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