ACTS is noted for being the first African independent think-tank on the application of science and technology to development. The founders of ACTS had the vision of an organization that would steer Africa from the depths of poverty and dependence on the West to ideas-based development, focusing mainly on development and influencing of policies that would help Africa assert itself in the various fora that discussed emerging new technologies and issues to do with Biotechnology, Biosafety, Climate Change and the Environment. At the time of its formation, the global economic and geopolitical systems were becoming increasingly complex and were subject to unpredictable change--particularly as a result of rapid technological change and the beginning of the end to the political cold war.
ACTS was founded in 1988 as a Non-governmental Organization based in Nairobi, Kenya. The Centre changed its status in 1997 to an international intergovernmental policy research and outreach institution. According to Article 3 of the Charter of ACTS, the objectives of setting up the Centre were to undertake capacity building, conduct research, provide advisory services and disseminate information on the policy aspects of the application of science and technology to sustainable development and on ways of implementing recommendations of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) and Agenda 21, and existing international instruments on environmental governance with specific emphasis on the needs of the African and other developing countries.
The founding objectives also included but not limited to the following objectives:
- Develop information systems and other analytical tools for the development and management of policy.
- Promote capacity building in the developing countries in the field of policy analysis related to sustainable development.
- Promote, encourage, inspire and undertake technical cooperation activities between and within nations.
- Monitor international trends in science and technology, undertake technology assessment and forecasting and analyze the impacts of new technologies for purposes of providing policy options to African and other developing country governments.
- Promote, enhance, inspire, study and conduct the building of the institutional framework requisite for the management, assessment, sustainable utilization and conservation of natural resources.
- Organize, support or otherwise participate in conferences, seminars, commissions, symposia, workshops, lectures, consultations, show exhibitions, reviews and appraisals in all aspects of research.
- Foster the exchange of information and networking between the Centre and other governmental and private institutions and individuals that have similar or related interests at the local, national, regional and international levels, with particular emphasis on policy matters.
Since its formations ACTS has worked with like-minded institutions and partners in Africa and the world. These include academic and research institutions, national governments, UN bodies, regional and international processes and NGOs. Several governments have signed the ACTS charter: Kenya, Malawi, Malta, Uganda and Ghana. The World Agro forestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Third World Academy of Sciences are founding organizations of ACTS.
Midway after its inception, ACTS set up structures of governance that were reflective of its international character and mandate. A framework was put in place that included a General Assembly, a Governing Council, Committees of the Council, the Secretariat, a College of Scholars, programmes, projects and divisions or departments. The Governing Council has eventually developed to become the main organ of the administration for the Centre.
The secretariat administers the day-to-day functions of the Centre and co-ordinates all the activities and programmes at the Centre. The secretariat consists of the office of the executive director and such other offices as the executive committee, with advice from the Governing Council may deem appropriate and necessary.
Throughout the Centre's existence, it has been important to have flexibility to adapt and respond to emerging scientific, technological and environmental developments crucial to Africa's development. With such flexibility, the Centre has been able to over the years develop certain niches of competence while establishing numerous collaborative partnerships and wide networks of individuals and organizations of important stakeholders and contributors working for policies to protect the environment while also improving the standards of living conditions in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The vision of the centre is knowledge for better livelihoods and the mission is to strengthen the capacity and policies of African countries and institutions to harness science and technology for sustainable development.
The research activities of the Centre rotate around the core issues of Biodiversity and Environmental Governance, Energy and Water Security; Agriculture and Food Security and Science and Technology Literacy. Human Health is a cross cutting issue.