SFI and Irish Aid announce sustainable development goals challenge

12 Jul 2021

Image: © lovelyday12/Stock.adobe.com

Science Foundation Ireland and Irish Aid will spend €3.2m on international challenge-based sustainable development research.

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) has announced a new €3.2m sustainable development goals challenge prize in partnership with Irish Aid.

The announcement was made today (12 July) by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris, TD, and Minister for Overseas Development Colm Brophy, TD.

The partnership supports academic researchers as they develop solutions that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) programme. The current SDG challenge will focus on addressing global challenges and promoting health and wellbeing for all age levels.

Researchers are being challenged to develop sustainable solutions that will address public health challenges in countries where Irish Aid works, such as South Africa, Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda, Vietnam, and Tanzania.

Harris said that addressing the development challenges faced by these countries was a key part of Ireland’s international development policy, and that the Government’s aim with the initiative is to “reduce the challenges we face in every country, by working together”.

The researchers’ work will cover areas including infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, health system strengthening, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and mental health.

Brophy praised scientists’ track record in healthcare innovation and research throughout the pandemic: “We have seen over the past year, with the roll-out of Covid vaccines, a very tangible example of the power of scientific research in the healthcare space. I am delighted that the SDG challenge fund will support Irish researchers to work with researchers in Irish Aid partner countries to develop new, innovative technologies which can help people live safer, healthier lives.”

The SDG challenge is modelled on SFI’s Future Innovator programme which aims to tackle societal problems through challenge-based funding. The programme has been successful in recent years tackling issues such as plastic pollution, carbon emissions, food waste and chronic pain.

The solutions developed by the teams for the SDG challenge must demonstrate a tangible impact in one of the countries Irish Aid works in. However, applicants are encouraged to consider challenges where solutions may have a wider impact, too. There will also be a focus on malnutrition and improving sanitation facilities to improve public health.

Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of SFI and chief scientific adviser to the Government of Ireland, said that challenge‐based funding is of high strategic importance to Ireland, as it enables publicly funded research to address global development issues.

The SDG challenge will consist of three phases spanning the concept, seed and prize awards. Following application review, five successful teams will be awarded concept funding of €50,000 to undertake team-building, scoping and concept validation activities.

After six months, they will undergo further review and successful teams will be provided with funding of €250,000 to validate and prototype their proposed solutions.

Finalists will then compete for the overall prize award of €1m.

The deadline for submission of applications to the SDG challenge will be 6 October 2021, and more information is available here.

Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.