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THE SDG CHALLENGE: SFI/Irish Aid Future Innovator Prize 2021

Apply for the SDG Challenge: SFU/Irish Aid Future Innovator Prize 2021

Deadline: 06 October 2021

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a call to action for all countries, in partnership, to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice. 

Achieving the SDGs lies at the heart of Ireland’s international development policy, A Better World, as well as being part of SFI’s new strategy, Shaping our Future, to deliver tangible benefits for society. With these common goals, Irish Aid (Department of Foreign Affairs)are partnering with SFI to the launch the SDG Challenge.  

The SDG Challenge seeks to support diverse, transdisciplinary teams to develop transformative, sustainable solutions that will contribute to addressing development challenges under the UN SDGs in countries where Irish Aid works.  

Funding is available for collaborative research teams based in eligible research institutions in Ireland and partner countries. Successful teams will be awarded up to €300k and will work through a series of phases to develop their idea. An overall prize award of €1M will be available to the team that demonstrates the highest potential for transformative impact.

In this initial call, SFI and Irish Aid are seeking solutions that contribute to SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, and related goals and targets. Solutions must demonstrate context-specific impact in one of the eligible partner countries, but applicants are also encouraged to consider shared challenges where solutions may have wider impact.  

Please refer to the call document for details on the Challenge Theme and Eligible Partner Countries. 

What is Challenge Funding?

Challenge funding differs in two important ways from more traditional forms of research funding:  

  • Challenge funding sets out a specific issue to be addressed at the outset – the challenge. Challenges should be visionary, inspirational but achievable and have transformative potential if successfully addressed. Challenges are identified/defined through collaboration between innovators, stakeholders, beneficiaries and end-users.  
  • Challenge funding focuses on delivering solutions. To find the most innovative and impactful solutions, challenge funding uses a highly competitive process to incentivize innovators including stage gated release of funding, tight delivery timeframes and a final prize.  

SFI’s approach to challenge funding places strong emphasis on (i) Interdisciplinarity and teamwork, reflecting the need to bring together experts and innovators from different disciplines to address complex challenges; (ii) Engagement & Validation with stakeholders, beneficiaries and end-users of research to understand the nature of specific problems, to test assumptions and to co-create solutions; and (iii) Acceleration through efficient adaptation of approaches based on iterative engagement with beneficiaries and stakeholders. 

Challenge Theme

The SDG Challenge 2021 call will support solutions that contribute to SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, and related goals and targets.  

This theme encompasses areas directly relevant to health and well-being, including infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, health systems strengthening, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and mental health amongst others, as well as related areas such as malnutrition, water sanitation, education and sustainable cities and consumption, where a clear impact on health and well-being can be demonstrated. 

Solutions must demonstrate context-specific impact in one of the eligible partner countries where Ireland’s ODA is directed, but applicants are also encouraged to consider shared challenges where solutions may have wider impact. 

Eligible partner countries for this SDG Challenge Call are: South Africa, Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda, Vietnam, and Tanzania.  

Please see the call document for more information on the Challenge Theme and eligibility criteria.  

What are the objectives of the SDG Challenge?

The overarching purpose of the SDG Challenge is to develop transformative, sustainable solutions that will contribute to addressing development challenges under the UN SDGs in Irish Aid’s partner countries. 

The objectives of the SDG Challenge are: 

  • To promote sustainability and the important role that STEM plays in addressing global sustainability issues and the SDGs; 
  • To provide opportunities for Ireland-based STEM-researchers to form diverse teams to identify key development challenges where technology can deliver transformative impact with a focus on southern partner countries; 
  • To enable the development of collaborations between researchers in Ireland and researchers in partner countries where Irish Aid works; 
  • To support the development, deployment and demonstration of sustainable technologies across a range of application areas. 

The SDG Challenge will be run within the challenge-funding framework of the SFI Future Innovator Prize Programme, whose specific objectives are as follows: 

  • To support development of novel, potentially disruptive, technologies to address significant national and global challenges.  
  • To support the formation of high-performance interdisciplinary teams based on integration of diverse STEM disciplines and complementary skillsets.  
  • To promote convergence of knowledge, practice and methods from different disciplines and sectors.  
  • To promote engagement between researchers and stakeholders/beneficiaries of research.  
  • To accelerate societal impact from publicly funded research.  

Who can apply?

The SDG Challenge is intended to support highly motivated, transdisciplinary teams committed to developing transformative, sustainable solutions that will contribute to addressing development challenges under the UN SDGs in Irish Aid’s partner countries. It is expected that teams will encompass a range of technical and non-technical skills to address barriers associated with challenge definition and solution deployment, and that they will represent collaborative partnerships between researchers in Ireland and the partner country.  

Teams must include expertise in the STEM research area underpinning the proposed solution, but should also include knowledge or experience in areas such as, for example, international development, development economics, or behavioural or social sciences, in order to inform the adoption and impact of novel interventions.  

Applications to the prize must identify a core applicant/leadership team comprising a minimum of three or maximum of four members: 

  • Team Lead (mandatory) – to provide technical leadership and to have overall responsibility for delivery of research programme objectives. It is expected that the Team Lead has a demonstrable track record in the STEM area of the primary innovation and must be based in a SFI eligible research body
  • Partner Country Team Co-Lead (mandatory) – to provide technical leadership, bringing research expertise in the STEM area of the application or in relevant areas related to international development or sustainability. The Partner Country Team Co-Lead must be based in an eligible HEI or RPO in the partner country  
  • Team Co-Lead (optional) – to provide complementary technical leadership in a different area to that of the Team Lead. This expertise may be in the area of STEM or in relevant areas related to international development or sustainability. The Team Co-Lead must be based in a SFI eligible research body
  • Societal Impact Champion (optional) – to play a key advocacy role and assist in maximising the societal impact of the solution. They will provide non-technical leadership and support Team to identify and validate challenges in addition to advising on solution development. It is envisaged that the Societal Impact Champion will come from a non-academic sector and have appropriate experience in areas relevant to the societal impact and international development focus of the application. The Societal Impact Champion may come from, for example: public sector/government, non-governmental organisations, charities, patient advocacy, philanthropy or civil society. Where a Societal Impact Champion is not included at the application stage, applicant teams should indicate how they will access relevant end-users, stakeholders, etc. to inform the non-technical aspects of the project. 

Applicants should refer to the call document for detailed eligibility information for each team member. 

  • Following successful application, selected core teams will have the opportunity to build a broader challenge team, including identification and recruitment of additional collaborators. In addition, funded teams will be assigned a liaison in Irish Aid or one of their overseas missions to further inform the development and deployment of their solution, facilitate access to stakeholder networks and to provide relevant policy context.   

SFI is committed to increasing the number of SFI grants held by female researchers, as described in its Gender Strategy (Strand 2: Gender Balance in Research Teams). As such, female candidates are strongly encouraged to apply to this funding call.  

Phase Funding & Duration

The SFI Future Innovator Prize consists of three phases: Concept, Seed and Prize Award, as summarised below. Funding should be allocated to the Team Lead/Team Co-Lead based in an eligible HEI in Ireland and also the Partner Country Team Co-Lead based in the partner country. Information on eligible costs and funding levels is available in the call document.  

PhaseFunding (Direct)Duration (Months)

Call documentation and how to apply?

Applications must be submitted through SFI’s Grants Management System SESAME. The deadline for submission of applications to this call will be 6th October 2021 (13:00 Dublin Local Time). Full details of this application procedure can be found in the SDG Challenge SESAME Guide which will be available below shortly.  

Please note that SESAME will not be open for submission of applications until the end of July 2021. An eAlert will be issued when it is open. You can subscribe to SFI Alerts here.

Applicants should carefully review the following call documentation including eligibility information before preparing an application. Applicants must use the templates provided below and adhere to all guidelines.   

Visit the official website to know more about the SDG Challenge: SFU/Irish Aid Future Innovator Prize 2021


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