The SDG Challenge 2022 is an opportunity for research teams to develop innovative solutions relating to challenges associated with climate, biodiversity and the environment. Under this call, in partnership with Irish Aid, applications are invited that contribute to the interconnected areas of SDG 13: Climate Action, SDG 14: Life Below Water and SDG 15: Life on Land.  

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

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.  Achieving the SDGs lies at the heart of Ireland’s international development policy, A Better World, as well as being part of SFI’s strategy, Shaping our Future, to deliver tangible benefits for society. With these common goals, Irish Aid (Department of Foreign Affairs) entered a partnership with SFI in 2021 to establish the SDG Challenge.

Please refer to the call document for full details. 

The SDG Challenge 2022 call will support solutions that contribute to SDG 13: Climate Action, and related goals and targets. Protection and restoration of nature will be essential in addressing climate change and ensuring future resilience. Recognising the interconnectedness between climate, biodiversity and the environment, the challenge theme also encompasses SDG 14: Life below water and SDG 15: Life on land.

Whilst three SDGs are highlighted, it is evident that climate change cross-cuts all SDGs. This challenge theme encompasses adaptation and resilience, climate mitigation, environmental protection and restoration, pollution of soil, water and air, biodiversity loss, blue economy, nature-based solutions, amongst others, but applicants are also encouraged to consider where STEM-led solutions could be impactful in areas such as climate justice, climate finance, and digital inclusion as relevant to climate action.

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, Tanzania, Zambia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone.

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

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 and equitable 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 relevant to the proposed solution and must be based in a SFI eligible research body
  • Partner Country Team Co-Lead (mandatory) – to provide technical leadership, bringing research expertise relevant to the application. 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 leadership and expertise to that of the Team Lead. The Team Co-Lead must be based in a SFI eligible research body
  • Societal Impact Champion (optional) - to provide non-technical leadership and support 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. They will play a crucial role in identifying barriers and developing strategies to overcome them. They may also play a key advocacy role and assist in maximising the societal impact of the solution. 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. 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 women researchers, as described in its Gender Strategy (Strand 2: Gender Balance in Research Teams). As such, women are strongly encouraged to apply to this funding call.

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.  


Funding (Direct)

Duration (Months)










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 SDG Challenge will be run within the challenge-funding framework of the SFI Future Innovator Prize Programme. As such, they share common objectives. Furthermore, the SDG Challenge have its own specific objectives, which are as follows: 

  • To provide opportunities for Ireland-based 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 responding to the identified challenges.
  • To promote sustainability and the important role that STEM plays in addressing global sustainability issues and the SDGs.

Challenge funding is a solution-focused approach to direct research activities at specific, often complex, problems.

SFI’s approach to challenge funding places strong emphasis on:  

  • Interdisciplinarity and teamwork, reflecting the need to bring together experts and innovators from different disciplines to address complex challenges
  • Engagement and validation with stakeholders, beneficiaries and end-users of research to understand the nature of specific problems, to test assumptions and to co-create solutions;
  • Acceleration through efficient adaptation of approaches based on iterative engagement with beneficiaries, innovators and stakeholders.

The deadline for submission of applications to this call will be 22nd September 2022 (13:00 Dublin Local Time).

Applications must be submitted through SFI’s Grants Management System, SESAME.  If accessing SESAME for the first time, researchers should contact their local Research Office to get access to the system.  

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.   

Please note that the Team Lead, Partner Country Team Co-Lead and Team Co-Lead must all use the CV Template provided below. The Societal Impact Champion may use a CV format of their choosing.

This information webinar outlines the SDG Challenge 2022 call.

View webinar below or download here.

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