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How UCL’s Grand Challenges programme is connecting researchers with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals

By uccg04p, on 22 May 2019

Since 2009, the UCL Grand Challenges has set out to inspire, enable and support cross-disciplinary research, and research-related activities through teaching and public engagement. The programme works to facilitate new connections between researchers across the university, and support partnerships beyond it, including with other institutions, in industry and in the voluntary sector, including community groups. Grand Challenges was born of a belief that our university has a responsibility to address the biggest challenges facing humanity, and also the expertise to make a holistic, positive contribution to complex problems.

This year, Grand Challenges is focusing on the ways in which our cross-disciplinary research can address the objectives laid out in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through this, we aim to support the UCL community in developing cross-disciplinary responses to the challenges set out by the SDGs.

What are the UN Sustainable Development Goals?

The UN identified 17 goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the steps countries need to make towards eradicating poverty, tackling inequality, protecting the planet and delivering a just, peaceful society. By aligning the work of UCL Grand Challenges with the SDGs we are able to harness UCL’s expertise to contribute to the global conversation, and facilitate new partnerships, both within the university and beyond it. Over the past ten years, we have seen some truly inspiring research as a result of the partnerships fostered through UCL Grand Challenges, and we hope that by focusing on these themes, we will help to grow and develop UCL’s contribution to tackling global problems. We are also working with UCL’s Global Engagement Office, to ensure that the Grand Challenges and UCL’s Global Strategy work together to maximum effect. We must be more than the sum of our parts!

What we’ve done so far

Grand Challenges was conceived as a mechanism to help break down barriers to cross-disciplinary collaboration, support new partnerships, networks and projects, and bring academics together to share their expertise and find new solutions to complex problems. Among the projects we’ve supported are the Global Disability Hub, based at Here East, which seeks to pioneer new technologies and innovations for a more inclusive world. The Global Disability Hub has grown from a series of networking events and hackathons into an exciting new partnership involving academics from UCL, Loughborough University, and the University of the Arts London to focus on how technology and innovation can be more responsive and inclusive for the one billion people with disabilities across the world.

Through a Small Grant, the UCL Legal Advice Clinic was established, to partner UCL Laws students with a GP practice in East London, to enable people on low incomes to access legal advice and widen access to justice. The clinic has helped people through welfare benefits tribunals, provided housing advice and supported vulnerable people who would not have been able to access legal support. It also helps students gain valuable experience of casework and insight into professional practice, and strengthens UCL’s connection to our local community.

More examples of what the UCL community is doing with Grand Challenges can be found in our blog, and on the website.

How can you get involved?

The 2019-20 Small Grants Call has just opened; awards of up to £7,500 are available to support cross-disciplinary collaborations that develop new ideas and deliver impact for public benefit. We support collaborations across faculties, and also between researchers and professional services staff, and we also encourage collaboration with partners outside UCL, including local authorities, community groups and charitable organisations.

The application form encourages you to consider your proposed project in relation to the SDGs and their targets. You can read more about how to apply, who is eligible, the projects we fund on our website, and sign up for the Newsletter.