In the 1970s, Rupert International raised the possibility of creating a facility for Futures Studies at Stellenbosch University, and in 1974 the Unit for Futures Research (UFR) was established as part of the Bureau for Economic Research at the university. In 1976 the UFR published the first strategic overview of the South African business environment for its associates. This was titled A Review of Some Long-term Trends in South Africa. In 1980 the UFR changed focus from strategic planning to strategic management. During 1984 the unit was reconstituted into the fully-fledged Institute for Futures Research (IFR), and published its first Business Futures publication.

The IFR is also the first and only Futures Institute of its kind on the African continent. Under new leadership, it was restructured in 2016, which resulted in the refocus of its research environments and service offering, and the rebranding of the institute.​​