The origins of Okavango Research Institute (ORI) can be traced back to the mid 1980s when the University of Botswana realised the need to have a research facility in Maun focussed on the Okavango Delta. This resulted in the construction of Maun Field Research Station in 1986. However, the impetus for a fully fledged national Research Centre came about in 1991 when the government attempted a dredging project along the Boro River, a channel from the Okavango delta, for increased domestic water supply.
The dredging project was part of the larger Southern Okavango Integrated Water Development (SOIWD) Project initially proposed in the mid 1980s. The project was vehemently opposed locally, nationally and internationally. An independent review of the SOIWD project by the IUCN was commissioned by the government of Botswana. The review highlighted a number of deficiencies and environmental concerns regarding the project, leading to the abondment of the project by government in May 1992. Following the review, a consultancy was commissioned later in 1991 to investigate the potential of establishing a research center. The report recommended establishment of a facility in Maun under the University of Botswana concentrating on the development and conservation issues in the Okavango delta region, a proposal accepted by the government.
UB Council approved establishment of the Okavango Research Center (ORC) in 1993. Initial funding was provided by Debswana, DeBeers, the European Union and Dicobot in 1997 and administered by the Kalahari Conservation Society. The former DeBeers CEO Mr Harry Oppenheimer, after whom the Centre took its previous name – the Harry Oppenheimer Okavango Research Centre (HOORC), made a substantial personal contribution, which served as start-up funds. The Botswana Government continues to provide ongoing support for the Institute, through the University of Botswana. HOORC was officially opened in November 2001, by the State President, His Excellency Mr Festus Mogae.
In 2010 HOORC responded to the UB transformation process by undergoing a strategic planning process leading to a name change into the current ORI in October 2010, linked to the university’s quest to establishing centres and institutes. The ORI was officially launched by Assistant Minister of Education and Skills Development Hon. Keletso Rakhudu on February 11, 2011.