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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

SDG Literacy and Relating Your Research to the Global Challenges

The World Academy of Sciences (
United Nations / Multilateral body

    Despite the increased discussion on issues under the umbrella of Sustainability and the Global Challenges, knowledge of the SDGs and related topics is still limited and fragmented across the scientific community especially in developing countries. Many scientists, young researchers in particular, can benefit from widening their views with knowledge of the SDGs and their targets. In this way, their research work can also be better connected to the SDGs and be placed in a context of Global Challenges, if and when appropriate. “SDG Literacy” can also benefit students’ formation and education at all levels.

    Implementation of the Project/Activity

    Through the implementation of the programmes of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS: during 2016, it became apparent that many scientists, especially in developing countries, had limited or no knowledge of the SDGs and little awareness of the Global Challenges. TWAS Programmes were going to provide opportunities to inform researchers about the UN 2030 Agenda. While recognizing that the pursuit of research means to focus on a narrow area with a high degree of specialization and an in-depth, detailed knowledge of a given topic, the plan was to remind scientists to consider the larger picture/wider context, as this is essential to a holistic approach to life. The initiative of “SDG Literacy” was planned with particular attention to young scientists, as these are often the most focused on their specific project as they need to get established. Yet, they are the scientists of the future, and some of them likely to become leaders in their field. It is therefore paramount to plan the initiative with a special consideration for the early-career researchers. Implementation of the initiative relied on incorporating activities into existing programmes or, where possible, taking advantage of the opportunity to have new activities dedicated to the purpose of “SDG Literacy”. The resources of TWAS and its Programmes were used in most cases. When starting a new project, a clear, explicit reference to Sustainability and SDG Literacy was made, if agreed upon by the donor. In-kind support was obtained through collaborating partners who joined in one or more activities related to the “SDG Literacy” initiative. Due to lack of human resources, limited monitoring has been possible; however, some data on outcome and impact is available.


    Over 20 presentations, lectures, interactive workshops were given to various groups of scientists in more than 12 countries, including 9 developing countries of which 2 are LDCs. In excess of two thirds of the participants committed to taking home not only the knowledge gained but also the inspiration and to start an SDG-related activity or to replicate the “SDG Literacy” initiative, or part of it. Between 10-20% of the participants sent feedback and updates of their own projects Examples include: - presentations and open lectures; - inclusion of explicit references to Sustainability, Global Challenges and SDGs in their teaching; - got students involved in workshops on the SDGs; - able to connect their research to the SDGs and to contextualize their scientific work in the framework of the Global Challenges; - refocused their research or some of their projects to tackle more explicitly an SDG-related issue. In addition, some students have taken a direct interest in SDG areas.

    Enabling factors and constraints

    Enabling conditions include the possibility of incorporating the practice into some of TWAS Programmes, such as the TWAS Research Grant Regional Conference, the TWAS Young Affiliate Network meetings/workshops, the TWAS Regional Partners events. Other enabling factors include the collaborations with ICTP, OWSD, COMSATS etc. which gave the possibility to incorporate the practice into some of the activities run by these organizations or to create new projects tailored to “SDG Literacy”. Given the above, the practice was cost efficient.

    Sustainability and replicability

    Given the experience gained with this activity over the past 4-5 years, the practice has been refined and improved. It has also been integrated into new programmes. The practice can therefore continue and be enhanced through new case studies and feedback from previous participants in regards to their follow on activities.

    COVID-19 Impact

    During 2020 the practice could not be carried out as much as previously done. However, it was still possible to include it in virtual meeting through shorter and more focused presentations. A recorded webinar/presentation has been made available to young scientists in the TWAS network. Finally, a new online presentation which is much more interactive in style has been prepared and delivered in an activity in collaboration with the ICTP.

    No progress reports have been submitted. Please sign in and click here to submit one.
    This initiative does not yet fulfil the SMART criteria.
    27 September 2016 (start date)
    31 December 2021 (date of completion)
    The World Academy of Sciences - UNESCO
    Other beneficiaries

    Beneficiaries include: scientists, young researchers, PhD students, postdoctoral fellows, various academic staff. Key stakeholders and partnerships include: some Members of TWAS, some TWAS Young Affiliates, some of TWAS Regional Partners, ICTP, OWSD, COMSATS.

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