12 July 2021: Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, in partnership with the Minister for Overseas Development, Colm Brophy TD, has today announced a new €3.2m Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Challenge Prize. The new Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) programme, which is run in partnership with Irish Aid, aims to support academic researchers to develop solutions that contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a call to action for all countries, to come together, to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. The current SDG Challenge will focus on addressing global challenges related to SDG 3: ‘Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.’

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, said: “I am delighted to announce the new Science Foundation Ireland SDG Challenge here today in collaboration with my colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs through Irish Aid. This is a challenge-based prize funding programme that seeks to support Ireland's best and brightest to develop novel technologies to address significant societal challenges. Today it is about addressing development challenges under the UN SDGs in Irish Aid’s partner countries. Achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals lies at the heart of Ireland’s international development policy, A Better World, and our aim with this challenge is not to solve but to reduce the challenges we face in every country, by working together.”

Supporting the launch of the new challenge, Minister for Overseas Development Colm Brophy TD, said: “Innovation and research in healthcare saves millions of lives each year, based on science.  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 calls on the research teams to develop innovative solutions 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. It will also support solutions in related areas such as malnutrition and water sanitation, where a clear impact on health and well-being can be demonstrated.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland, said: “Challenge‐based funding is of high strategic importance to Ireland, enabling publicly‐funded research to be applied to address significant national and global societal challenges. As part of our strategy, ‘Shaping our Future’, we are committed to supporting researchers to deliver tangible benefits for society in all aspects of life. The SDG Challenge aims to support the advancement and demonstration of sustainable technologies that will address development challenges under the UN SDGs in Irish Aid's partner countries. SFI is delighted to launch this new challenge in partnership with Irish Aid, and I look forward to seeing the high calibre of innovative thinking and solutions that are presented in the areas of health and well-being as a result of this SDG Challenge Programme.”

The programme will support research groups to develop sustainable solutions that will address challenges in selected countries where Irish Aid works; in this call, they are South Africa, Ethiopia, Malawi, Uganda, Vietnam, and Tanzania. The solutions developed by the teams under the programme must demonstrate tangible impact in one of the partner countries, but applications are encouraged to consider shared challenges where solutions may have a wider impact.

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. Earlier this month, the SFI-Defence Organisation Innovation Challenge fund of €1.7m was announced which aims to develop disruptive solutions to key Defence Organisation challenges, for use across the Irish Defence Forces.