The objective of the programme is to support early-stage entrepreneurship and increase understanding on what works in innovation ecosystems assisting entrepreneurs in the SADC region.



SAIS 2 Innovation Fund awards grants for locally implemented projects through a competitive Call for Proposals process issued three times during the duration of SAIS 2 programme.

The focus of SAIS 2 Innovation Fund is on projects seeking to demonstrate the feasibility of existing concept and/or prototype (proof-of-concept) before rolling them to the market. SAIS 2 funding is also available for projects looking to replicate an already established innovation within the SADC region.

SAIS 2 Innovation Fund does not take any equity on either the funded product or grantee organisation(s).



In the first phase (2011-2015), SAIS stimulated policy design, provided training, created networks and funded projects that piloted new models for innovation support mechanisms.

The second phase of SAIS (SAIS 2) will run from 2017-2021. The Programme arrives at the time when innovation processes are transforming from linear and closed to open and iterative. This shift provides new opportunities to students, technologists, start-ups and citizens to participate in employment and value creation everywhere in the world. The private sector and non-state actors - including special interest groups such as SMEs, women in business and young entrepreneurs are playing a growing role as drivers for growth in Southern Africa.

The renewed focus of SAIS as a programme and through the SAIS 2 Innovation Fund in particular, is on strengthening innovation ecosystems that work for early-stage entrepreneurs and inclusive innovation. The initiatives supported by the SAIS 2 Innovation Fund will be aligned with national policies and promotion of regional integration as outlined in SADC strategies industrialisation, innovation and youth empowerment.

The overall objective of SAIS 2 is thus, Enhanced Regional Innovation Cooperation and National Innovation Systems Contributing to Inclusive Business and Employment.



SAIS 2 Innovation Fund will support projects under three thematic areas, defined as funding windows:


Developing institutional Capacity for Regional Innovation Cooperation (Stronger Ecosystems)

Projects developing a better understanding of innovation ecosystems in the SADC region and building capacity in Innovation Support Organisations to better serve their various clients.

Target Beneficiaries: Innovation support organisations advising policy makers, actors in innovation policy, entrepreneurship and ecosystems development, academia and research organisations with a track record of improving the design, implementation and evaluation of innovation activities.


Scaling Enterprises through stronger Innovation Support Organisations

Projects that (1) help early-stage entrepreneurs to validate, pilot and roll-out their concepts and prototypes on the market, and (2) strengthen Innovation Support Organisations ability to assist entrepreneurs and to support their role as orchestrators of joint activities between innovation role players within and across different ecosystems.

Target Beneficiaries: Innovation support organisations (incubators, accelerators, hubs, labs, tech transfer offices that host early stage start-ups, growth companies, and provide them with technical and/or financial support.


 Improved Enabling Environment for Inclusive Innovation Activities in the Region

Projects that develop a better understanding of technologies and methods facilitating collaborative development of innovations with socially and economically excluded communities. Projects can generate new or improved knowledge through tools, methodologies or programmes that can be used by organisations working with disadvantaged groups.

Target Beneficiaries: Innovation support organisations (Incubators, research, academia and NGOs) that host and train social entrepreneurs in developing innovations which serve excluded communities or under-served markets.



The projects receiving funding under each thematic area need to contribute to the SAIS 2 objective of regional collaboration and learning, and should thus:

  • be thematically aligned with innovation and, more specifically, support young entrepreneurs (less than three years old) and enhance entrepreneurship;
  • be transnational in scope, i.e. satisfy needs in a minimum of two partner countries;
  • include a minimum of one organisation from SAIS partner country and two countries in the SADC region;
  • address physical and cultural connectivity and issues/obstacles for cross-border collaboration or cooperation within specific innovation ecosystem;
  • address Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and trust/confidence issues by putting in place appropriate mechanisms for knowledge sharing;
  • commit to regularly share project progress through SAIS platforms (on-line and annual event).

SAIS Innovation Fund provides grants for early-stage projects that seek to validate the feasibility of innovations at the market. Alternatively, the project proposed for SAIS funding is based on an already existing, well-functioning product/service/process but seeks to replicate it in a new market and/or in another SADC country.

For early-stage projects, the product/service/process model should at least exist as a concept or prototype already and should be intended for use in at least one SAIS partner country to seek a proof-of-concept. Information content on the proposed concept must be available. If the project entails a mature innovation seeking replication in new markets, the intended market(s) should be located in at least one SAIS partner country or SADC member state outside those where the service is already in use, must be included as intended markets.

The application process is digital. The SmartME platform is completely secure and allows you to work on your proposal online, save it and return back to it again if you need to, and finally submit the proposal.  You can save your application and come back to it as long as you are within the application deadline. 





Pre-registration and Concept Note Submission


Evaluation of Concept Notes and Shortlisting of Concept Notes


Invitation to Submit Full Proposal, Submission of Full Proposal


Evaluation of Full Proposal and Shortlisting of Full Proposal


Projects Approved and Applicants Notified, Negotiations and Contracting


Projects Launched



SAIS 2 Innovation Fund Call for Proposals  2018/2 for Concept Notes opened on 29 November 2018 and closed on 31 January 2019.  The Call for Proposals is now closed. Download an infographic about the process and results below.



The Southern African Innovation Support (SAIS 2) Programme is a regional innovation support initiative that was set up in 2011 by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (MFA) with support from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and national governments from the SADC region.  The objective of SAIS is to improve cooperation amongst innovators in the Southern Africa region by strengthening existing innovation systems and platforms.

 The Innovation Fund acts as an instrument to provide these grants to projects aiming to demonstrate, pilot and replicate new and/or improved products, services, and processes to the market.  Approximately EUR4 million will be distributed through the SAIS Innovation Fund for projects in Southern Africa. The Programmes focus is on practical innovation activities will be highlighted through innovation grants and capacity building.

There will be two Calls for Proposals issued for the duration of the Programme.  Both calls will open in 2018 – the first Call will open in the first quarter of the year at the beginning of March 2018 and the 2nd Call for Proposals opens from 29 November 2018-24 January 2019.

The main aim of the SAIS 2 Calls for Proposals is to support entrepreneurship at a local level, as well as to improve and increase cooperation amongst innovation actors and organisations across the SADC region.  The Call aims to share knowledge, create partnerships and support projects that will have a positive impact on the creation of employment, the inclusion of excluded communities, as well as in creating stronger enterprises by strengthening their products, services or processes.

The Funding Call Windows refer to the different tracks that projects can apply to under the Call for Proposals.  The three Call Windows are:

  • Window 1 – Institutional Capacity (Stronger Ecosystems). This involves the sharing of best practices and improving cooperation across borders to strengthen the ability and expertise of innovation-support organisations to promote entrepreneurship and business development.
  • Window 2 – Innovation in Enterprises.  This includes enhancing the abilities of young entrepreneurs and small businesses to innovate and enter new markets through guidance, advice and finance provided for practical projects.

  • Window 3 – Inclusive Innovation. This includes assisting innovation support organizations and enterprises to adopt open approaches in developing and delivering services to and with communities excluded due to social and/or economic reasons. 

There are no specific sectors targeted by the call – your project can be part of any sector as long as it meets the eligibility criteria. 

Yes, even though the SAIS grants are only open to legal entities from the five SAIS partner countries of Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia, projects from one of the five SAIS partner countries can have other legal entities from other SADC member states as part of their funding proposal as long as they are not the primary beneficiaries and as long as they are not coordinating the Project Consortium.  You can form a partnership with a legal entity in a SAIS partner country and be a secondary beneficiary under their proposal.

A consortium is an association of two or more companies or organizations (or any number combination of these entities) that will participate together in the Call for Proposals.The Lead Partner or Coordinator of the consortium must be a legal entity from one of the five SAIS partner countries, and should be one of at least two legal entities from two different SADC member states.  The other members of the consortium can consist of members, or sub-contractors, who are organisations that assist in the implementation of the project and derive benefits from it, and support partners, who have a mutual interest in the objectives of the project – providing expertise, knowledge and in some cases, financing

SAIS 2 has Focal Points in each partner country (Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia) who may be able to help with identifying potential partners  to form a consortia for your project. The contact details of the national  Focal Points are available on the website under the  About SAIS page.

Yes. A legal entity from a country outside SADC can apply to participate, but only as long as the Lead Partner of the Consortium is from one of the five SAIS partner countries, and as long as your participation ensures a more efficient roll-out of products, services and or applications. 

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is an inter-governmental organization headquartered in Gaborone, Botswana, whose goal is to enhance socio-economic cooperation and political and security cooperation among its 15 southern African states.  The 15 members states are; Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

SAIS 2 focuses on projects that will support the practical implementation of products, services or processes, it will not support projects that have a main focus on research, market surveys, policy development, training or capacity building – even if these activities are closely related to the roll-out of the said products, services or processes.  While individual enterprises and startups are not eligible to apply for funding for eg. product development, through Innovation Fund, SAIS 2 can fund projects that support startups through incubators, accelerators and other innovation activities.

Projects eligible for funding should have a focus on enhancing regional collaboration between innovation actors and organisations, creating employment and income generating opportunities in SAIS 2 member countries, and should be able to demonstrate that the product, service or process that is being proposed will create a positive impact in their community of choice.  The project also needs to be in line with any national development plans, strategies or policies addressing innovation and entrepreneurship in its country of implementation.

No, if you are already a beneficiary of SAIS 2 Innovation Funding as the Project Coordinator of the consortium from the first Call for Proposals, you are not eligible to apply again. Partners of the consortium may apply.

As a stand-alone project, events such as conferences, forums and other information/networking events will not be eligible for funding.  However, they are eligible for funding if they are built into a project as part of the projects activities.

The application to the Call is done via an online application portal using a tool called SmartME.  The SmartME system is also an online system for managing the SAIS 2 Innovation Fund. The link to this tool is available on the SAIS website ( 

Applicants can log onto the system during the time when the call is open and apply directly online. SmartME will enable you to draft, complete and submit an application during each stage of the application process online without having to store any documentation or lose any work.  All supporting documents can be uploaded to the system and the information on the application will remain saved on the system and is  available to you as long as it is needed.  

The SmartME online system is equipped with a helpdesk support function.  The function is accessible on the applicant’s page once you are logged into the system.  The helpdesk will respond to your query in 48 hours.

All the data that is entered into the SmartME system is secure.  The operations and practices regarding the collection, storage and processing of personal information are in accordance with the EU data protection directive 95/46/EC and the Finnish law 22.4.1999/523 that implements the directive.

No. Pre-registration is the first step in the application process and is for information only and is therefore not subject to approval or rejection. Once completed you will receive a confirmation of the pre-registration and can proceed to drafting and submitting the Concept Note. The pre-registration continues throughout the application timeframe. 


Yes pre-registration is the first part of the application process and continues until the deadline of the submission of Concept Notes  which is 31 January 2019.

Once you are logged onto the SmartME  system with the username and password created during Pre-registration, proceed to  1) click "My applications", 2) select your (draft) application, and 3) click "Concept Note Application form". You can now start to work on the Concept Note application and submit once completed. 

The application form must be signed by the Lead Partner of the Consortium. The Lead Partner coordinates the life of the whole project and is responsible for ensuring that the implementation of the project occurs in a timely manner. The Lead Partner must be a registered legal entity with the signing power, or authority to enter into a legal agreement. 

The annexes can be found in the SmartME online system when drafting the Concept Note. The annexes appear as separate tabs next to the Application tab.

Results based monitoring and reporting will be done on a quarterly basis by the projects - this will include both a financial report and a narrative report.  The SmartME platform can also be used by projects to communicate with the SAIS PMO, communicate between members of the project consortium and ask for guidance from the SAIS PMO when and if required.

Otherwise known as RBM, this type of monitoring focuses on the higher-level objectives or outcomes of the project rather than focusing on the lower level implementation activities.   These outcomes will then be tied to specific defined targets and indicators that the project needs to complete to achieve its goals - these will be used to measure the progress of a project. 

Yes.  The Call for Proposals is as much a funding instrument as it is a knowledge sharing platform, and sharing results and project achievements is an important feature for SAIS.  As this information will be shared widely throughout the SAIS network, it will provide you with a platform to create awareness on your project as well. You will be required to share information in the form of articles, blogs or videos that highlight your project, as well as to present your project results at the SAIS Annual Event (of which information and your participation will be communicated to you by the SAIS PMO).  

The funding available differs, depending on which Window you are applying under:

Window 1- The amount of funding available will not exceed 100 000 Euros and will not be less than 70 000 Euros.

Window 2 – The amount of funding available will not exceed 250 000 Euros and will not be less than 180 000 Euros.

Window 3 – The amount of funding available will not exceed 150 000 Euros and will not be less than 100 000 Euros.

Results based funding will apply to the payment of the SAIS financial grant to your project.  Once implementation of your project begins, funding will only be provided to you after your project milestones are delivered - and verified by the SAIS PMO.

Yes.  Projects can request that they need the funding to get started on project activities, and therefore advance payments can be provided after the grant agreement has been signed.  The advance payment however, cannot exceed 25% of the total SAIS grant that the project will be receiving and should not cover the full costs of a milestone – only 50% of the payment needed to achieve a milestone can be covered by an advance payment.

Once your application is approved, your first payment will be submitted once the grant agreement is signed.  The project will receive funding in three payment schedules - The first payment percentage that will be paid out to you will be 35%, followed by a payment of 40%, and ending with a final payment of 25%.

The SAIS grant will only be used for costs eligible for funding that are accumulated by the partners during the implementation of the project.  Costs that are eligible for reimbursement include:

  • Personnel costs, Overhead costs, Audit fees of project, Office premises, Telecommunication resources, Internet, Small scale infrastructure and equipment acquisition, Technical assistance, Travelling and accommodation and Stipends and Per-diems.

Costs that are considered to be unreasonable and/or not directly related to project activities will be ineligible for reimbursement. These include:

  • Interest or debt owed to any party, expenditure that has not been approved in the approved project plan, purchase of land or buildings - including renovating existing infrastructure, expenditure that provides for possible future losses or debts, merit pay, bonus and fringe benefits, staff training not approved or related to the implementation of the project, tuition fees for project team members for tertiary education, long-term accommodation expenses and other travel not related to the project activities, purchase of vehicles and other moving/construction equipment, entertainment and hospitality expenses, recruitment, relocation or subscription costs, financing fees(such as interest on loans, currency exchange etc.), and payment for items that are already financed by another donor or institution.

No. All applications must be submitted in the English language.  Applicants submitted in another language will automatically be disqualified.

Yes, matching funding is the same as co-financing.  This means that a matching contribution (both in cash and in-kind) will be required from the project consortium that will apply to the Call for Proposals.  The reason that this is requested is to demonstrate your commitment, ownership and risk-sharing promise to the project and its success.  

Yes, matching funding is a requirement. The ratio of matching funding depends on Call Window. In Windows 1 and 3, the SAIS 2 projects are supported on an 80/20 basis, where 80% of funding is from SAIS 2, matched with 20% cash and/or in-kind contributions from the Project Coordinator and Project Members. In Window 2, the SAIS 2 projects are supported on an 80/10/10 basis, where 80% of funding is from SAIS 2, matched with 10% cash and 10% in-kind contributions from the Project Coordinator and Project Members. 

The 10% in-cash contribution will have to be provided in the form of a bank guarantee or a bank statement upon the signing of the grant agreement, while the 10% in-kind contribution can be provided during the implementation of the project and should be included in all submitted financial reports.

Yes.  The Lead Partner can submit concept note proposal applications to each of the SAIS Call Windows, but, however, only one concept note proposal from the same Lead Partner in each Call Window can be selected to advance to the full proposal stage – and only one project can be selected for financing from this Call.   

No.  It is your responsibility to make sure that all the information and all the attachments requested during the application process has been entered and submitted to the best of your ability in accordance with the project implementation requirements of the call.  The implementation requirements are available in detail in the SAIS 2 Innovation Fund Manual.

All applicants who submitted a proposal within the submission time period and who received acknowledgement of receipt from SmartME system, will be notified of the outcome of the application. The tentative time frame can be found in the Innovation Fund Manual.

If  unsuccessful, you are welcome to re-apply for funding from SAIS again, however no applications will automatically be considered for future calls without a submission of a new application. 

There is no appeal process. Applicants that are not successfully funded under one call for proposal can submit another application in a future call.  Applicants are strongly encouraged to refer to the Project Implementation Guidelines for details on the project eligibility criteria that will demonstrate attributes that strong projects should emulate.

A project can start immediately after the Grant Agreement has been signed.

The duration of the grant and supported project is between 12-24 months from the date of signing the Grant Agreement. The duration varies depending on the Call Window.

All applicants will receive an email confirming that their application has been received. Please check your email spam folder if you do not receive the notification after completing the submission, as it might have been classified as spam by your email server. If you do not receive an email notification within 24 hours of submitting your application please contact the SAIS PMO at immediately. 

The  2ndCall Opens 29 November 2018 and deadline for submission of Concept Notes (Proposals) is 31 January 2019 at 23:59 (CAT) 

The tentative time frame is presented in the Innovation Fund Manual.

For more information, send an email to