Over the coming decades we will face many challenges and transformations in the way we live. The University of Wollongong's (UOW), Global Challenges Program recognises the interconnected nature of these transformations.
The Program is designed to encourage and develop creative and community-engaged research that will help drive social, economic and cultural change in our region, with the potential to be translatable across the globe. Our researchers want to make a difference in the world – and they are not afraid to take risks.
Now in our sixth year, the Global Challenges Program has learned key lessons in what it means to fund and support transformative interdisciplinary research. This type of research can help tackle the world’s challenges and has the potential to transform lives and regions. We know this because the research we funded five years ago is now revealing true impact in ways which continue to inspire us on our journey.
This year we solidified a set of values for our program to guide us in the decisions we make from recruitment through to the teams we support and how we promote their research. Our goal was to promote a culture representative of the change we would like to see in the wider community, the region and the world. Those values are Adventurous, Collegial, Inclusive and Supportive.
As a program, we aim to cultivate research excellence while improving equality & diversity, and supporting the next generation of research leaders. This year, 54 per cent of our Project grants are led by women researchers & 50 per cent of Seed projects are led by Early Career Researchers. These are statistics we actively work to improve year to year because diversity and inclusivity are essential in order to see complex global problems from multiple perspectives in order to find holistic solutions.
With our new Keystone funding initiative launching in 2018, we supported two more Keystone project teams in 2019 drawing on the expertise of 50 UOW researchers and external partners. This year, external investigators are present on 42 per cent of projects supported by Global Challenges, a reflection of our dedication to work with community, government and industry to ensure relevant research and practical solutions.
The project to develop a “blue economy” on the NSW South Coast called Blue Futures, and another to promote the responsible use of antibiotics, have been awarded $750,000 in combined funding. They will see UOW researchers working alongside Illawarra and South Coast communities, government agencies and other organisations to tackle two issues with both local and global significance.
The Blue Carbon Horizons team received a 2019 NSW Environment, Energy and Science Eureka Prize for Environmental Research. Their paper ‘Wetland Carbon storage controlled by millennial-scale variation in relative seas-level rise’ was published in Nature.
Professor Sharon Robinson, Sustaining and Coastal Marine Zones Leader also had a paper published in Nature ‘Ozone depletion, ultraviolet radiation, climate change and prospects for a sustainable future’. As did Dr Michelle Voyer from the Blue Economies team, ‘Towards a sustainable and equitable blue economy’.
The new UOW Makerspace was piloted, providing a public creative space open to a diverse range of ‘makers’, of all ages and abilities, from creatives through to engineers and the Antimicrobial Resistance team is part of a UTS led consortium that was awarded $1 million grant from the federal Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Frontiers initiative.
118 children participated in Koori Kids after school workshops across three communities. Spinning Worlds exhibition incorporating art and science opened at the University of Wollongong after being viewed by thousands at the Powerhouse Museum and Openability is working to change policy in hospitals to remove plastics.
United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals
Global Challenges Projects continue to work toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Global Challenges Program is now taking a lead role in UOW’s contribution to the SDGs and is now a central point of engagement for national and international SDG agencies.
The goals provide a shared global framework of development priorities including alleviating poverty, protecting the environment and ensuring a peaceful and prosperous world to live in. With the target of 2030 steadily approaching, achieving these goals requires action to be taken on a number of levels.
In 2019, the Program facilitated two main initiatives, one was the Vice-Chancellor’s signing a university-wide commitment to meet and address the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, recognising the vital role universities play in addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges.
The Program also took the lead in the University of Wollongong’s successful application to join the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) mobilises scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society, and the private sector to support sustainable development problem solving at local, national, and global scales.
Membership of the SDSN aligns with UOW’s longstanding commitment to research that tackles the world’s most pressing challenges, both locally and globally and to share best practice with a community of likeminded institutions.
Olivier Ferrer Fund
The Global Challenges Program and the Office of Advancement are close to finalising a gift of over $400,000 to establish the Olivier Ferrer Fund.
Two very generous young philanthropists wishing to make a distinct difference in the world have given the University of Wollongong the brief to ‘shake the global tree’. This fund will operate under the Building Resilient Communities Challenge, supporting ground-breaking, action-orientated impactful research in the areas of social vulnerability, sustainability and community transformation.
The Olivier Ferrer Fund also seeks to promote internationalisation, with a commitment to fund projects with international collaboration, and a strong focus to align research efforts with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals targets and indicators.
The model that has been established also has the potential to be translated to other philanthropic gifts in support of Global Challenges.
Now we are well into our second five-year term, we remain strongly committed to solving global problems through innovative projects, ideas, and teams. 2019 has seen Global Challenges develop stronger and more diverse collaborations between researchers and external partners including community, government and industry.
As we look forward to 2020, we eagerly anticipate the next round of McKinnon-Walker Fellowships and our conference ‘Towards 2030: The defining decade’ and are energised by the possibilities that our new external partnerships and networks will unleash.
This year we made a commitment to look at the bigger picture and develop connections with global movements and like-minded industry partners on a global scale. Aligning with our values of adventurous, collegial, inclusive and supportive, we will continue this in 2020 and beyond.