United NationsДепартамент по экономическим и социальным вопросам Sustainable Development

Game Changer Innovation Programme


    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.


    Game Changer has made a step-change in engagement with students across all disciplines to ensure Durham University is helping deliver the SDGs. Working together, students inspire each other and learn to recognise the impact they can achieve through co-developing solutions to significant problems. Students can be intimidated by the scope of the SDGs, or feel that as individuals they cannot make a difference. By bringing them together in teams, and breaking down the tasks into research, ideation and pitching, they have excelled at developing viable solutions. We can directly measure our impact on SDG delivery in Game Changer in two ways; through the numbers of students we work with (SDG4); and through the innovative entrepreneurial activity which arises after engagement that directly contributes to one or more of any of the SDGs.

    Contribution to SDG Implementation

    Game Changer has so far engaged over 300 students with the SDGs, increasing their understanding of the world’s most significant problems. The programme inspires Generation Z, providing the knowledge that from diversity comes innovation. We are working with academics to embed Game Changer into curriculum-based learning, to increase student engagement with the SDGs as compulsory parts of their degrees. Durham teaches c.14,000 undergraduates every year and is proud to be developing a future workforce with the necessary knowledge and skills to address the global challenges.

    Implementation methodologies

    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”

    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.

    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.

    Contact Name
    Durham University
    Geographical coverage
    28 October 2019 (start date)
    23 July 2021 (date of completion)
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