Serving in New Local and Global Contexts: ZEF's new strategy 2021-2030

October 27, 2020.  

Excerpts from the new ZEF strategy

About this strategy

ZEF has evolved over the past two and a half decades, and its strategic orientation has been continuously adjusted due to changing global contexts and innovation opportunities. This strategic adjustment and scientific reorientation of ZEF coincides with a key period in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a changed landscape at the University of Bonn. A look towards the future is also the right moment to critically assess ZEF’s past achievements: Between 2010 and 2019, 998 peer-reviewed publications, 204 accomplished doctoral dissertations, and € 103 million external funds raised.

Past achievements

During the evolution of ZEF, a set of assets were built up which need to be considered in our new strategy update. These assets – internal to and affiliated with ZEF – are:

  • A strong set of diverse research teams that cooperate multi- and interdisciplinarily across the three areas of disciplinary core expertise at ZEF, i.e. economics, social and natural sciences and that conduct basic empirical research in all world regions.
  • A network with more than 100 active and significant partnerships with universities and research institutions around the world, in both high-income and emerging economy countries.
  • A growing alumni network of presently around 400 established researchers world-wide who used to work at ZEF as junior or senior researchers and have moved on to research institutes or other organizations, but remain in touch with ZEF, often engaging in joint research, capacity building, and policy advisory activities.
  • A considerable portfolio of agencies which fund ZEF’s research and capacity building programs that has facilitated the considerable non-core funding of the institute, presently standing at approximately 80% of ZEF’s budget.
  • A cadre of about 50 affiliated Senior Fellows who are partly engaged as research partners.
  • An international Advisory Board composed of eminent researchers, policy makers, and representatives from the private sector and civil society.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, ZEF has built up considerable expertise in key research areas related to development, and this will continue with innovative research methodologies and with impact orientation in areas including: Agriculture and land use with links to climate change; Water resources and their management; Biodiversity; Food and nutrition; Health (including One Health); Gender; Migration, mobility and urbanization; Governance and conflict; Markets and services; Innovation and science policy

New goals

We anticipate ZEF, in the coming years, to intensify its research activities in the following areas: Digitization and the future of work, business, and social services; Bio- and circular economy; Sustainable diets; Climate change and Inequalities.

To successfully carry out trans-, inter- or multidisciplinary, but when necessary also disciplinary research in these areas, additional methodological tools and novel conceptual approaches will be required. Such as Development of advanced transdisciplinary research approaches; Big data-based analyses applying artificial intelligence and machine learning; Advanced research data management and Engagement with critical debates on development and postcolonial approaches.

ZEF and University of Bonn

Successful implementation of ZEF's research areas and crosscutting methods, theories, concepts and measures will only be possible in close cooperation with the Faculties of the University of Bonn and their respective research centers and institutes. Accordingly, ZEF will continue to actively engage with the Faculty of Agriculture, the Faculty of Arts as well as the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. Part of ZEF’s research interests and those of the Faculties are mutually reflected in the Transdisciplinary Research Areas of the University of Bonn. This new strategic and organizational landscape offers tremendous synergies, especially for an internationally focused transdisciplinary research and development center like ZEF.

ZEF’s Vision and Mission

ZEF's vision – in innovation and excellence – is to conduct in-depth empirical and inter- and transdisciplinary research and foster academic education for improved and more sustainable livelihoods and environments of rural and urban communities in low-income and emerging economy regions. In a globalized world, ZEF engages not only with and in developing regions but also addresses development experiences and problems in high income countries. As inequalities widen both globally and locally, ZEF’s research and education programs contribute to a better understanding of complex cause-effect relationships in sustainable development.

ZEF's mission as part of the University of Bonn and its partners and alliances includes activities in the fields of transdisciplinary research, teaching and knowledge exchange and transfer. Accordingly, ZEF works with partners around the world to:

  • Understand, anticipate and enable ecological, economic and socio-cultural development through basic research and knowledge exchange.
  • Strengthen academic teaching and capacities for sustainable development in low-income and emerging economy countries and regions as well as in Germany, and
  • support policy and practice through research-based advisory services.


You can download and read the full paper here.




Christian Borgemeister

Prof. Dr. Christian Borgemeister


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