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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Game Changer Innovation Programme

Durham University (
Academic institution

    Durham University is ambitious to contribute to the SDGs having signed the UN SDG Accord in 2018. We are enabling students to be global citizens & leaders who will ensure delivery of the SDGs either through their career choices or entrepreneurial ventures that will contribute to economic growth. We have developed Game Changer: a fast-paced, extra-curricular innovation programme using Design Thinking to find solutions to the SDGs. Its purpose is to foster ingenuity, creativity & innovative design to deliver environmentally, socially & economically sustainable solutions. Students work in teams to research SDGs, ideate, develop prototypes & compete in a pitching challenge.

    Implementation of the Project/Activity

    Game Changer can be delivered in person or online, and has a flexible delivery model that fits into students’ busy academic timetables, allowing more people to participate and allowing for growth. We run sprints (1, 2 or 5 days) and 1 – 3 hour workshops over a number of weeks. In all iterations of Game Changer, the most important aspect is the time we give for students to gain an understanding of the SDGs before moving into ideation of potential solutions. This ensures that solutions are carefully considered, and that they fit the problem that has been identified. We use business modelling tools such as the Value Proposition and Business Model canvasses to help students consider how their solutions could be implemented in the real world. We measure impact through evaluation surveys, and analyse the skills students develop. We encourage students to participate in entrepreneurship activities to further pursue their solutions. As well as the number of students engaging with Game Changer steadily increasing we also see impact through legacy activities such as: • students creating the Durham Environment and Sustainability Association, promoting careers in sustainable industries (SDG17) – events regularly attract over 100 online participants and speakers have included Richenda Van Leewen, who built the UN's Energy Access Practitioner Network delivering clean power to developing countries • a group of students developed an intelligent food waste app (SDG12) with integrated AI technology to monitor food consumption Game Changer is a low cost activity to deliver and moving it online reduces costs further. This makes it highly sustainable within the University, and easily replicable across other institutions.


    To date, 380 Durham University students (UG, PGT & PGR) have participated in Game Changer. This number exceeded initial expectations of take-up, and it is the most popular activity in the Careers Centre. We have delivered workshops over 6-weeks and 2–5 days. Many students had not previously engaged with, or heard of, the SDGs. We were invited to present Game Changer at an international conference for entrepreneurship educators (GCEC) and created a toolkit so that it can be replicated in other institutions. We have shared this with over 35 universities including Princeton and Yale, with the ambition to collaborate on activity to increase engagement with the SDGs in higher education. We wish to embed Game Changer in the curriculum at Durham University, and piloted this with 200 first-year Engineering students in February 2021. Testimonials: “I liked the idea of innovating for a sustainable cause” “Changed my perspective and pushed me to be more optimistic to tackle the problem”

    Enabling factors and constraints

    We developed Game Changer to provide a platform to engage students with the SDGs on a mass scale. The pilot saw 174 students from all disciplines, international & home, under- & post-graduate taking part. An observer stated that looking at the room “it was like the UN”! We are using online tools to make sure the student experience is as enjoyable & interactive as it would be in person, using platforms such as Mural. We trialled various iterations & found that a 2-day sprint is the most exciting & engaging format. Students quickly work through tasks & the sprint provides the right level of complexity for students to find solutions to the SDGs.

    Sustainability and replicability

    Game Changer is a low cost activity to deliver, making it highly sustainable within the University. We have created a toolkit to enable other institutions to replicate the activity, predominantly within entrepreneurship centres. The aim is to promote more innovative, socially responsible student ventures. The toolkit was presented at the international Global Consortium of Entrepreneurships Centres Conference in October 2020. Over 30 institutions requested a copy following the conference, including Yale & Princeton. We have been contacted by the University of Iowa in the United States who are trialling Game Changer in March 2021. We are now rolling out the toolkit for academics at Durham University to explore delivering within their curriculum. This presents an opportunity to explore a Global Game Changer model, with students on both sides of the Atlantic participating in activity that will encourage them to find solutions to action and implement the SDGs.

    Other sources of information

    Our ambition for the future is to widen engagement with our international partners from the global south in order to address the global citizenship aspects of DU strategy and to ensure students continue to learn from each other’s differing perspectives, knowledge and skillsets. Working with the University SDG group we inspired them to use a similar method of engagement where students furthered their understanding of the interconnectedness of the SDGs and produced 5 animations on SDGs for use by all our international partners.

    COVID-19 Impact

    COVID-19 has not impacted our ability to deliver Game Changer and in fact, we saw an increase in engagement with students when we moved to online delivery. For example – the live Game Changer sprint in February 2020 engaged 25 students: the online version in June 2020 engaged 65 students and the online version in October 2020 engaged 83 students. We were encouraged by the opportunities that were highlighted by the pandemic, such as a healing environment, and as such, set the themes of the Game Changer challenges to highlight these opportunities. The theme for the summer sprint in 2020 was “how might we make a more sustainable return to normality following the pandemic” highlighting goals 3, 6, 7, 11, 12 and 13 as inspiration for innovative solutions.

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    This initiative does not yet fulfil the SMART criteria.
    28 October 2019 (start date)
    23 July 2021 (date of completion)
    Durham University
    Other beneficiaries

    The key beneficiaries are students at Durham University. The Enterprise Team worked with academics and students with expertise in Design Thinking and knowledge of the SDGs to develop the programme. These included Durham University Business School and GCRF Centre for Doctoral Training. Resources to develop the course materials were sourced from Stanford University and IDEO. We use the UN website to highlight the SDGs and set challenges.

    More information
    United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
    United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
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