Lessons drawn from past experience show that Centres of excellence such as the Regional Designated Centres (RDCs) in the case of AFRA can play a useful and cost-effective role by complementing and supporting the activities of national institutions operating in similar fields, thus fostering national and collective self-reliance. Effective regional institutions of this kind can in fact make a unique contribution to the progress of developing countries by helping to spearhead innovative approaches to development problems and by adapting and disseminating new methods for the mobilization of scientific and technical knowledge and skills. Such institutions are particularly well-placed to deal with major development problems of groups of countries in a given area; to promote and exchange knowledge and experience through supporting and strengthening national institutions; to contribute to economic integration efforts and to play a practical role in the context of the promotion of Technical Co-operation among Developing Countries (TCDC) modality.
RDCs in a particular field of competence can also make possible the direct provision of services, otherwise too costly or difficult to obtain, such as specialized training of small numbers of highly qualified specialists or instructors needed at the national level, or the provision of consultancy services; they can also facilitate exchanges of experiences and information through networks of national and sub-regional services operating in the same substantive field.
In order to fulfil these functions, the institutions must not only be adequately resourced with funds, staff and equipment, but must also be properly structured. In the latter case, the major pre-requisite for their effective functioning is that they are identified, selected and appointed on the basis of a clear, specific agreement among the participating governments, as a reflection of their willingness to pursue common goals.
Other important conditions required for these RDCs include an appropriate legal framework; qualified, independent management in full control of the institution’s resources and an agreed, clearly-specified programme of activities reflecting the policies and objectives set out by the participating countries. The host countries of RDCs naturally play an especially important role in providing a domicile and focus of operation for the institutions. The contributions of other participating countries towards the costs of services are also a critical feature.