Target Population:

With a focus on youth in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, Verengai Mabika is developing an array of innovative educational, information gathering, advocacy, and experience enhancing initiatives to expand awareness and understanding of the challenges posed by global climate change and to facilitate the development of effective strategies for enabling adversely affected communities to contend with those challenges.

This profile below was prepared when Verengai Mabika was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.


With a focus on youth in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, Verengai Mabika is developing an array of innovative educational, information gathering, advocacy, and experience enhancing initiatives to expand awareness and understanding of the challenges posed by global climate change and to facilitate the development of effective strategies for enabling adversely affected communities to contend with those challenges.


In sub-Saharan Africa, and in Zimbabwe in particular, public awareness of global climate change and its implications for the well-being and livelihoods of the region’s burgeoning population is very limited, at best. Moreover, in a region that is already contending with a host of development issues, including alarming rates of youth unemployment exacerbated by unusually severe droughts, the few government officials and university-based scholars who are attempting to understand and address climate change problems have very limited information on time-tested adaptive strategies in drought-affected communities and are thus at risk of designing adaptation and mitigation strategies that are ill-suited for the communities for which they are prescribed.

In mid 2009, with the twin aims of addressing the major awareness, information, community response and public policy needs relating to climate change and engaging young people in responding to those needs, Verengai created the Harare-based Development Reality Institute (DRI). Using a “virtual school” approach, DRI offers a basic on-line course that examines the Earth's climate system and explores the science and politics of climate change, and it has recently introduced an advanced, diploma-level course that draws on the expertise of climate change researchers from many parts of the world. Paralleling those course offerings, the DRI website also contains a knowledge management initiative (a K-hub), with a rapidly expanding array of documentary materials on climate change—including research reports, position papers, and journal articles on climate change, and documentary videos of community efforts to respond to adverse climate change. 

Drawing on the expanding array of materials in Institute’s K-hub, Verengai and other members of DRI’s staff are also increasingly engaged in advocacy roles in domestic and international debates concerning appropriate policy responses to the many challenges posed by global climate change. In a related activity deploying a powerful combination of its webcasting and skype conferencing facilities, DRI is also enabling substantial numbers of Zimbabweans working on climate change issues in government agencies or in relevant university departments and COs to participate in international conferences relating to climate change. In addition, in an effort to engage a younger generation of school-age youth in environmental protection and climate change-related activities, Verengai and his colleagues have promoted the creation and are assisting the development of  “Cool Clubs” in secondary schools in Zimbabwe to stimulate student interest and in environmental quality issues and their engagement in community-based efforts to address those issues.


The African continent has warmed about half a degree (centigrade) over the last century and the mean annual temperature in Africa is likely to rise an average of 1.5-4°C (34-39°F) by 2099, according to the most recent estimates from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In the view of most climate change experts, Africa is more likely, over the remainder of this century, to experience the adverse to impacts of climate change than any other heavily inhabited region. In Sub-Saharan Africa, extreme weather conditions are already causing dry areas to become drier and wet areas wetter, with attendant declines in agriculture yields and the spread of several endemic diseases—including malaria—to parts of the region where, until very recently, they have not posed major health threats.

According to recent World Bank studies, the environmental consequences of climate change will thus have particularly adverse effects on the economic development of many sub-Saharan African countries. Credible projections suggest that some nine to twenty percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s arable land will become much less suitable for farming by 2080, and that rain-fed agriculture is likely to reduced by up to 50 percent by 2020 in the region’s (currently) semi-arid and arid regions. Unfortunately, however, although many governments and several inter-governmental organizations are formally committed to addressing the consequences of adverse climate change in African settings, very little has yet been accomplished toward that end. The development of African capacities for such work has been severely neglected, particularly in countries (including Zimbabwe) in which civic participation has long met with political resistance, and very few serious attempts to come to grips with the problem have carefully explored what location-specific indigenous knowledge can contribute to a better understanding of the adverse consequences of current and prospective adverse climate changes. Accordingly, in spite of the fact that Africa being the continent that is most likely to suffer from the effects of climate change, African people—and African youth in particular—have had very few opportunities for effective engagement in the process of analyzing and tackling the problem.

Fortunately, however, the need for urgent action to combat and minimize the adverse impacts of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly recognized in well-informed global analyses of the development implications of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is thus not unreasonable to hope and expect that the important role of institutions with strong roots in African settings will be increasingly recognized and that a similar priority will be attached to engaging younger generations of Africans in that process.


In 2009, Verengai created the Harare-based Development Reality Institute (DRI) to raise awareness of issues and needs relating to global climate change and to inform and assist efforts, informed by local knowledge, to mitigate its adverse effects in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa. The Institute’s pursuit of that mission is also heavily focused on equipping a burgeoning new generation of young people in that region, and future leaders in particular, with the knowledge, skills, and technical expertise required to respond effectively to the challenges posed by climate change.

Over the three years that have elapsed since the Institute’s founding, Verengai and his DRI colleagues have pursued and refined five inter-related strategies: (1) the creation of a “virtual school” with a growing array of courses on climate change and appropriate responses to the challenges that it poses; (2) a “knowledge management” initiative with a rapidly increasing inventory of materials relating to climate change and appropriate responses thereto; (3) an increasingly vigorous array of policy advocacy initiatives; (4) a related ICT initiative that enables Zimbabweans who are professionally engaged in addressing climate change issues to participate and contribute to discussions in major international gatherings addressing climate change concerns and appropriate policy responses, including the Conference of Parties (COP) meetings organized under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol; and (5) the creation of  “Cool Clubs” in secondary schools in Zimbabwe to stimulate students’ interest in environmental issues and their engagement in community-based efforts to address those concerns.

The virtual school is an e-learning platform aimed at “mainstreaming” climate change in development planning and implementation in Zimbabwe and in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The school offers four-week short term courses endorsed by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment and targeted primarily at young people who are engaged in various relevant activities including program managers, policy makers, planners, community based leaders, opinion leaders and researchers. It has also recently introduced a five-month diploma course, accredited by the University of Zimbabwe, which draws on experts from all around the world in partnership with the United Nations Volunteer program. Other implementation partners in that initiative include the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and the Ministry of Tertiary Education, as well as African Capacity Building Foundation.

The virtual school’s courses pay special heed to the linkages between climate change and health, water and sanitation, population, energy, disaster risk reduction, and agriculture and food security concerns. Efforts are also well advanced to enlist the support and collaboration of several strategic partners—including (including Zimbabwe’s Department of Meteorological Services, UNESCO, FAO, Oxfam, Practical Action, and WHO—for the school’s offerings. DRI currently accepts five student intakes per year in its basic, four-week course and two student intakes per year in the advanced program. Thus far, the Virtual School has enrolled participants from 28 countries, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and participants who have completed the school’s courses are increasingly called upon to contribute to the development of further learning tools.

DRI’s knowledge management initiative (its K-hub), the broad mission of which is described above, is making special efforts to identify and tap into information on practices at the community level (in Zimbabwe and elsewhere) that offer helpful guidance for the development of promising approaches for contending with droughts and other consequences of global climate change. In that regard, two videos that portray particularly instructive initiatives in have been produced by DRI staff, with collaboration and financial support from Oxfam GB, the Swedish Cooperative Centre, and Zimbabwe’s Meteorological Services Office.

In its efforts to enable larger numbers of Zimbabwean’s to participate in and learn from important international gatherings relating to climate change, DRI uses a combination of live streaming and video conferencing facilities to share the conferences in real time. It also sends a participant to the meetings that it covers who serves as a key correspondent, relays relevant documents to the DRI server, and, on occasion, makes the necessary arrangements for a “conference participant” in Harare to contribute to the discussion in a break-out session from DRI’s conference facility.

Over the past three years, DRI’s Cool Clubs initiative has been successfully implemented in several secondary schools in Harare, and, over the past twelve months, in two such schools in each of Zimbabwe’s ten provinces.  By the end of this year, it is anticipated that more than 800 young people will be active participants in such clubs and taking full advantage of the opportunities that they provide to design, launch, and operate community-based responses to environmental problems, some of which also include income-generating opportunities.

In just over three years, DRI’s pursuit of these several initiatives has produce a significant and rapidly expanding impact. The Virtual School has enrolled students from most countries in sub-Saharan Africa in which English is widely used), and more than 800 participants have directly benefited from the School’s offerings since 2010. (Testimonies from the alumni of the Virtual School also suggest that there are also some 40,000 “indirect beneficiaries” of the School’s offerings, including government officials, researchers, and opinion leaders throughout the region.) The Institute’s “knowledge hub’s” short documentaries are also reaching wider audiences, including marginalized youth in the rural areas. Finally, DRI’s video conferencing facility has enabled some 150 young people from Zimbabwe to attend regional and international conferences during the past 12 months DRI records a traffic volume of an average 1,000 visitors on the knowledge hub per day.

The impact of the Institute’s labors is also starting to be felt at the national policy level as the Zimbabwe government has recently called for a climate change policy formulation process after lengthy discussions of that possibility in which Verengai’s Virtual School initiative has received frequent mention. Looking toward the future, Verengai now wants to broaden the scope of DRI’s activities, placing added emphasis on resource mobilization and on seeking to collaborating with universities to obtain formal accreditation for DRI’s current course offerings and help launch a virtual Master’s degree course in Climate Change and the policy changes and community-level adaptations that it will require. In order to reach wider audiences in sub-Saharn Africa with DRI’s current course offerings, he is also planning to introduce French and Portuguese versions of those well-tested and well-accepted ventures.


Verengai was born in 1980 in the high-density Harare suburb of Gweru, where he lived for 20 years in a two-room house with his parents and brothers and sisters. Motivated to pursue a better life, he moved to Harare in 2000 to attend the University of Zimbabwe, where, in his first year of studies, he co-founded the Integrated Students/Planners Network, a student-run association that links professionals and students in the field of social development. In 2004, he graduated from the University with Honors in Rural and Urban Planning and completed a post-graduate diploma in Water and Sanitation Development. He then worked for five years as a researcher in the University’s Institute of Development Studies and for several COs concerned with development issues (including the United States-based Urban Institute). In 2009, persuaded that he had accumulated the knowledge and skills required to found and develop his own organization, he established the youth-oriented Development Reality Institute (DRI). In 2010, he designed and launched the first virtual, web-based school for youth in Africa, which, in its initial year of operation received five international and national awards for innovation and creativity, including the World Youth Summit Award, the Stockholm Challenge, and the Top Young ICT Innovator of the Year Award in Zimbabwe.