Driving Change in Lusaka: The EPIC Model’s Role in Transforming the City


Natalie Montecino


Dr. Gilbert Siame, Dorothy Ndhlovu, Bwalya Funga


Community Size
3.61 million
University of Zambia
Case Type
Partnership Stories
School Size
Focus Areas
Climate Adaptation
Sustainable Development Goals
13 Climate Action

Lusaka’s first international EPIC team began training in 2016-2018, and shortly thereafter, they embarked on a series of experimental projects at the University of Zambia on a range of city-wide issues including climate adaptation, pandemic risk-reduction, and city planning. The overarching objective was to ensure the alignment of new EPIC programs with the existing university courses, thereby facilitating the seamless integration of the EPIC framework into the university’s internal systems.

Training continued to take place both domestically and internationally, and it was during a training session held in Cape Town that the EPIC concept truly began to gain substantial traction in Zambia. As the team’s expertise grew, a significant milestone was achieved with the drafting of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the university, city council, and the mayor. Building upon the foundation laid by these trainings, a clear platform emerged, allowing the city council to actively participate in program planning and implementation in direct collaboration with the university and its students. Additionally, the mayor of Lusaka underwent direct training under the EPIC model, which proved to be an invaluable resource in guiding city plans, development initiatives, climate change mitigation, and sustainability efforts.

Thanks to the fruitful partnership forged between the city and the university, students had the opportunity to actively participate in numerous ongoing projects. Their involvement in activities such as mapping and Geographic Information System (GIS) technology not only broadened their career prospects, but also equipped them with valuable real-life experience. The projects themselves encompassed various areas of focus, including harm risk reduction through COVID-19 programs, food system planning, and the cultivation of an international profile for Lusaka, thereby fostering beneficial partnerships with influential global entities such as the United Nations.

University of Zambia program coordinators noted that one of the notable strengths of the EPIC model lies in its ability to facilitate capacity building at multiple levels, including management, community, and political spheres. By adopting a bottom-up development approach, the EPIC model empowers local stakeholders to identify and address issues specific to their communities, while also fostering collaborative efforts in developing and implementing solutions. This inclusive process has significantly influenced the city’s broader approaches to development, thereby enhancing overall equity in the Zambia development process.

During a meeting with Bwalya Funga, an employee of the City of Lusaka actively involved with the EPIC framework, the discussion revolved around the development of local area plans, a human rights-based approach, and the formulation of a gender and social inclusion policy. The main challenge that was highlighted during the meeting was the daunting task of initiation, given the constraints of limited funding in the initial phases. Despite the challenges, the project has thrived in terms of its ability to collaborate with diverse partners such as UN Habitat and various local ministries, in addition to effectively mobilizing both human and financial resources. Capacity building has been a critical focus, with emphasis placed on training in local area planning and climate change, all within the framework of a human rights-based approach. Notably, students have wholeheartedly embraced the EPIC model as a valuable learning tool, enabling them to provide insightful advice and research that informs decision-making processes. As a result of this inclusive approach, community trust has been fostered, residents now have a voice in the development process, and resources can be allocated more effectively to benefit community members.

The presence of an existing MOU and the EPIC framework in Lusaka has not only provided a solid foundation, but has also facilitated the seamless entry of new international partners, who have been instrumental in the development and support of additional programs. The EPIC framework has provided a robust knowledge framework that has facilitated the creation of numerous local area plans. Moreover, university students who actively engaged in EPIC program activities are now well-positioned to excel in their careers and continue making positive contributions to their communities. The establishment of trust between the university and the city has further solidified the success of the EPIC model, as it has fostered collaboration and synergy between key domestic and international stakeholders.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2023, Lusaka has outlined several ambitious goals. These include the development of projects focused on informal settlement development, additional EPIC training sessions for city council members and newly appointed government leaders, intensified documentation and dissemination of the EPIC story to expand programming, active involvement of new students in future projects, and raising awareness about the EPIC framework within the local community. While resource mobilization remains a significant challenge, there is an unwavering sense of optimism that the momentum will persist and the necessary resources will be secured. Program leaders underscored that the EPIC framework’s greatest impact in Lusaka lies in improved team strategizing, the establishment of a shared language, the cultivation of trust between the university and the city, and increased student confidence. By addressing the growing collaboration deficit within the city, the EPIC model has proven its efficacy in fostering a collaborative environment and facilitating sustainable development.

Additionally, Lusaka anticipates a change in government and local authorities, which adds a layer of complexity to the ongoing and upcoming projects. In response to this anticipated change, an updated training session was scheduled for mid-September. The session aimed to ensure that all stakeholders were well-informed, to foster the creation of additional local area plans, and to secure increased funding for projects. The prominent role of the university partnership in these endeavors cannot be overstated, as it forms the foundation upon which the projects are built. The deep-rooted relationship between the university and the projects has endured since its inception in 2016 and continues to flourish. Notably, the mayor has the privilege of accessing the university’s expertise, which extends beyond the boundaries of the established MOU. The collaboration between the university and the city has been instrumental in creating a conducive environment for students to actively engage in the entire project lifecycle, from design to implementation. Their involvement in various aspects of the projects, including community engagement, map drawing, and the seamless transition into working for the city, further solidifies the success of the EPIC model in Lusaka.

In conclusion, the EPIC model has proven to be a transformative force in Lusaka, driving sustainable development through capacity building, strategic planning, and the establishment of a shared language. By fostering collaboration between the university and the city, the model has successfully addressed the collaboration deficit that was once a pressing concern. Looking ahead, Lusaka remains steadfast in its commitment to achieving its ambitious goals, overcoming challenges, and leveraging the EPIC framework to foster inclusive and sustainable development for the benefit of the entire community.