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.   

A graphic depicting a food bowl with the title: 2 Zero Hunger

In this call, SFI and Irish Aid are seeking solutions that contribute to SDG 2: Zero Hunger, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. Applications will be considered that contribute towards one or more of the five SDG 2 outcome targets; improving access to food, ending all forms of malnutrition, enhancing agricultural productivity, sustainable food production and resilient agricultural practices, and maintaining genetic diversity of food production. 

Solutions must demonstrate context-specific expected impact in one of Irish Aid's partner countries but applicants are also encouraged to consider broader opportunities where solutions may have wider impact and may foster learning for regional and sub-regional use.   

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 

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 global challenges, 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 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 2024 will support solutions that contribute to SDG 2: Zero Hunger, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. Applications will be considered that contribute towards one or more of the five SDG 2 outcome targets; improving access to food, ending all forms of malnutrition, enhancing agricultural productivity, sustainable food production and resilient agricultural practices, and maintaining genetic diversity of food production. Recognising the opportunities for innovation within this challenge theme, applicants are encouraged to consider where innovations could be impactful in areas including, but not limited to;  

  • Advancing sustainable, resilient, equitable and healthy food systems;  
  • Strengthening the use of technology (including digital) and data in food systems transformations, with particular consideration of gender-responsive interventions;   
  • Encouraging nutrition-sensitive agriculture interventions that advances nutritionally rich foods and dietary diversity and that recognises the importance of genetic diversity in food production;  
  • Fostering climate resilient and nature-positive production systems;  
  • Harnessing the role of blue foods for sustainable, resilient, equitable and healthy food systems.   

In line with the SFI Future Innovator Prize framework, solutions must be underpinned by a credible and robust pathway to impact, built on primary evidence gathered through direct engagement with stakeholders. Solutions must demonstrate context-specific expected impact in one of Irish Aid's partner countries (see below), but applicants are also encouraged to consider broader opportunities where solutions may have wider impact and may foster learning for regional and sub-regional use.   

Eligible partner countries for this SDG Challenge Call are: Cambodia; Laos; Palestine; Vietnam; ODA-eligible country on the African continent; ODA-eligible Small Island Developing State (SIDS) 

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 relevant knowledge or experience in complementary areas such as, for example, international development, economics, behavioural science or others, in order to inform the development, translation (incl. adoption) and impact of solutions. As part of an application, two academic researchers (at least one from a relevant STEM discipline) must be identified as part of the core-team.  Funding should be allocated appropriately to reflect the various contributions to the team. 

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.    

In SFI’s External Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Strategy 2023-2028, increasing the number of women and members of Historically Underserved Communities* in Applicant Teams are key objectives. As such, women and members of Historically Underserved Communities are strongly encouraged to apply to this programme.  

* For the purposes of this Strategy, Historically Underserved Community encompasses a broad and diverse range of historically marginalised groups including but not limited to the nine protected grounds established in the Equal Status Acts 2000-2018 and socioeconomic status.

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.   

Phase

Funding (Direct)

Duration (Months)

Concept

€50k

6

Seed

€250k

12

Prize

€1M

24

 

Workshop Support Grants of up to €5k are available to potential applicants to facilitate team formation and seed idea generation before submitting an application (see call document for further details on this support). 

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 generate impact through advancement of sustainable solutions in addressing global sustainability issues and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);  
  • To support the mobilisation of transdisciplinary teams, comprising academic researchers and societal stakeholders to identify key development challenges where sustainable solutions 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 development, deployment and demonstration of sustainable solutions across a range of application areas.

  • 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:  
  • Inter and Transdisciplinary Teams, reflecting the need to bring together experts and innovators from different disciplines to address complex challenges 
  • 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;  
  • 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 8 October 2024 (13:00 Dublin Local Time).  

Applications must be submitted through SFI’s Grants Management System SESAME. The SESAME system will open for applications in June 2024. Full details of the application procedure can be found in the SDG Challenge SESAME Guide available in the Downloads section.   

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.