Leading experts from the UK and developing countries across the globe will tackle some of the most serious issues facing the world, in a new multi-disciplinary programme launching today.

In one of the most ambitious international research programmes ever set up, 37 projects will address a range a challenges in: health, humanitarian crises, conflict, the environment, the economy, domestic violence, society, and technology. 

Supporting projects in the range of £2-8 million over four years, the Research Councils UK Collective Fund, which is part of the wider Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), aims to build on research knowledge in the UK and strengthen research capacity overseas to try and help developing countries overcome systemic problems which they cannot solve on their own.

Twelve of the 37 projects, totalling £225 million, will receive funding directly from the ESRC, adding to our portfolio of research designed to influence public policies, make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective and shape wider society for the better. 

Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, said:

"From healthcare to green energy, the successful projects receiving funding highlight the strength of the UK's research base and our leadership in helping developing countries tackle some of the greatest global issues of our time.

"At a time when the pace of scientific discovery and innovation is quickening, we are placing science and research at the heart of our Industrial Strategy to build on our strengths and maintain our status as a science powerhouse."

Professor Jane Elliott, ESRC Chief Executive, said:

"I'm really proud that social science is at the heart of the Global Challenges Research Fund portfolio, demonstrating that our researchers have the vision and determination to address systemic problems which hold back developing countries. Tackling these problems will be an enormous task, but with our support and through strong collaborations UK researchers can make a real difference to these countries and indeed the rest of the world."

The 12 ESRC funded projects are:

  • Researching on the frontline: Supporting preparedness and response to humanitarian crises and epidemics
    In the thick of natural disasters or war, aid groups work through the chaos to bring basic services – and dignity – to the victims. In such a tough environment it’s hard to stand back and study what’s going on, collect data and assess whether and how aid could be better delivered. Yet it's vital to find a way of examining it critically, if responses are to improve and the health of those caught up in crises is to be protected.
    ‚ÄčLead: Dr Bayard Roberts - London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Making dams less damaging: Resilient and sustainable interventions in water-energy-food-environment mega-systems
    Large dams are often controversial, and with 3,700 of them planned or already under construction around the world, dam conflicts are likely to grow. Most new dams are in low and middle-income countries. DAMS 2.0 is a project that hopes to improve the thinking around the construction of dams by considering them as disturbances of an interacting system of water, energy, food and the environment.
    Lead: Professor David Hulme - The University of Manchester
  • Development Trade-offs: Social and environmental trade-offs in African agriculture
    A major challenge with the Sustainable Development Goals is that they are all interconnected – so pursuing one without taking the others into account could do more harm than good overall. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the need to cut hunger rates to zero (goal 2) whilst also keeping our ecosystems healthy so that they maintain the clean water, healthy soils and biodiversity essential for humanity’s long-term welfare (goal 15).
    Lead: Dr Barbara Adolph - International Institute for Environment and Development, London
  • High tech drugs for Thailand: Biopharmaceutical and animal vaccine production in Thailand and beyond
    A revolution in biotechnology is bringing us new types of drugs for diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer. In Thailand it is thought that only two per cent of cancer sufferers have access to medicines derived from this technology, even though the WHO lists them as 'minimum medicine needs for a basic health system'.
    Lead: Professor Colin Robinson - University of Kent
  • Encouraging sustainable growth: East African Growth Corridors and the China to Africa connection
    In sub-Saharan Africa, a host of grand 'development corridors', including roads, railroads, pipelines, and port facilities, are planned that will boost agricultural production, commodity exports, and economic integration. While the corridors have the potential to solve some of Africa's acute problems there are grave concerns that some will destroy wildlife corridors, release carbon from natural storage, and undermine biodiversity and ecosystems.
    Lead: Professor Neil Burgess – UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre
  • Beyond the slums: Sustainable, healthy, and learning cities
    Films like Slumdog Millionaire and Favela Rising have brought vivid images of the slums of big, developing world cities into the public imagination. But what about the other communities – they may be slightly less poor but they, too, can have plenty of problems, lacking services and all the other ingredients of a productive urban life.
    Lead: Professor Ya Ping Wang - University of Glasgow
  • Making cities fairer: Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality
    Cities are unequal places, home to immense prosperity but also extreme poverty that touches over a billion people. Many government and civil society networks have formed in recent years to try to do something about this. One challenge they all face in working towards more equal cities is to ensure that different kinds of disparities are recognised and measured, and then to develop locally-led strategies to address them.
    Lead: Professor Caren Levy - University College London
  • Refugees get cancer too: Research for health in conflict
    Across the Middle East, soaring numbers of refugees and displaced people carry with them problems one doesn't think to associate with conflict. Gone are the days when the only humanitarian needs flowing from a conflict related to clean water and vaccinations. These days the victims are suffering from non-communicable diseases too, such as cancer and mental health.
    Lead: Professor Richard Sullivan - King's College London
  • Dementia care where they can least afford it: Strengthening responses to dementia
    It is easy to imagine that dementia is only present in rich countries with ageing populations but in reality it affects more people in low and middle income countries than it does in their high income counterparts. And numbers are growing, creating a challenge that these countries are ill-equipped to deal with.
    Lead: Professor Martin Knapp - London School of Economics and Political Science
  • The science of the city: Building capacity for the future city in developing countries
    As people across the globe move to build new lives in the metropolis, cities are emerging as complex organisms that can only be understood by considering them through many lenses. Mathematics, medicine, transport, engineering, anthropology, geography, law and history all have a role to play – and therefore the science of the city must bring together humanities, science and social science.
    Lead: Professor Michael Keith - University of Oxford
  • Drug wars and wars on drugs: Building sustainable peacetime economies in the aftermath of war
    Wars on drugs have been declared by leaders across countries who are concerned about the impacts of illicit drugs on security, development and health. But fighting drugs production and trafficking can also inflict deep wounds – whether it's on the poor who were growing the drugs and lose their livelihoods or on public health campaigns to rehabilitate drug users. These policies are particularly contentious in countries recovering from war. They can threaten an uneasy peace and may lead to renewed conflict, when the lives and livelihoods of so many are tied to the drug economy.
    Lead: Professor Jonathan Goodhand - School of Oriental & African Studies
  • Research that locals want: Driving eco-innovation in Africa for a safe circular water economy
    When it comes to issues such as water use in West Africa, it's especially important to talk to local people who have first-hand experience of water problems and ask them to get involved in framing the questions the researchers need to answer.
    Lead: Professor Nigel Paul - Lancaster University