The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is one of several new funds that provide significant opportunities for social science research. The funding landscape is going through a period of rapid change and social scientists must be suitably prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that funds such as GCRF provide.

We have provided further information about the changing funding landscape and how you can prepare yourself for applying for the new funds:

Opportunities for social science

The challenges facing people and societies around the world are often complex and multi-faceted. For this reason, GCRF is multidisciplinary - it encourages different types of researchers to work together. The GCRF harnesses the expertise of the UK and the world’s leading researchers to:

  • fund challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research
  • contribute to the socioeconomic growth of developing countries through partnership with excellent UK research and researchers
  • strengthen capability for research, innovation and knowledge exchange in the UK 
  • provide an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need.

Social science is a key component of these goals, and ESRC plays an integral role in developing and delivering GCRF, working alongside other research councils and partners. Some of the current and future GCRF opportunities for social science revolve around the following areas: 

  • protracted conflict and forced displacement
  • global health
  • education
  • gender
  • energy 
  • environmental resilience 
  • cities and sustainable infrastructure
  • food systems.

    About GCRF

    The Global Challenges Research Fund was announced by the UK government in 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. It is highly multidisciplinary and has social science research at its core.

    The aim of GCRF is “to ensure UK science takes the lead in addressing the problems faced by developing countries, whilst developing our ability to deliver cutting-edge research”. The ambition is to generate innovative solutions to development problems and to contribute to healthier and safer lives, sustainable development and prosperity for all, equal and effective education, and social justice and human rights. 

    GCRF aims to contribute to the internationally agreed 17 Sustainable Development Goals, aiming to stimulate action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. 

    A key aim of GCRF is capacity-building, seeking to increase the ability of both the UK and the Global South to conduct high-quality research to tackle global challenges. This is being achieved by forging strong and enduring partnerships between academic communities in the UK and Global South, and providing opportunities for researchers to network across regions.

    GCRF also encourages building partnerships between researchers, practitioners and policymakers to ensure that research evidence is relevant, understood and acted on to create meaningful change. GCRF projects have a strong focus on equitable partnerships with the Global South. 

    GCRF is a five-year fund (2016-2021). It is delivered by a number of organisations, including ESRC and the other UKRI councils, and being part of the government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment its research must primarily benefit a developing country

      Funding and successes to date

      Our GCRF funding successes to date include:

      • 22 Strategic Networks to build towards future GCRF research agendas
      • two Research Centres to enable major advances in social science for development
      • support for ESRC Impact Acceleration Accounts to enhance the impact potential of ODA research within institutions.

      We have funded research projects across a range of challenges including:

      • antimicrobial resistance in developing countries (in partnership with NIHR, MRC, AHRC, DEFRA, VMD)
      • forced displacement (in partnership with AHRC)
      • building resilience (in partnership with NERC and AHRC)
      • mental health (in partnership with AHRC)
      • inequalities and skills acquisition
      • new models of sustainable development.

      The ESRC has directly allocated £45 million to research activities under GCRF to date. Additionally, social science has played a substantial role in UKRI-wide GCRF funding activities such as the Growing Research Capability projects and the Interdisciplinary Research Hubs call. Through Growing Research Capability alone, the social sciences have received over £70 million.

      The impact of ESRC-commissioned research is noticeable across social sciences. For example: 

      • the Centre for Public Authority and International Development (CPAID) is developing new insights on governance in fragile, conflict-affected and impoverished areas in Africa
      • the ESRC GCRF Impact Acceleration Accounts funded a training programme for female and young male teachers from rural Ethiopia so they could take leading roles in improving science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects. 

      Case studies

      See some more examples of how social science research has made an impact through GCRF:

      How much funding is available?

      GCRF is a £1.5 billion fund which is split across the delivery partners. 

      Current GCRF opportunities

      Current funding opportunities include:

      We will publish links to ESRC GCRF funding opportunities as they are announced. We publish the most relevant opportunities for social science in the funding opportunities section of our website:

      Funding opportunities led by other UKRI councils are listed on the UKRI website:

      Who can apply?

      Applications for GCRF funding are welcome from all research disciplines. GCRF promotes disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, including the participation of researchers who may not previously have considered how their work can apply to development issues.

      See also our guidance on who can apply for GCRF funding:

      How to apply

      ESRC GCRF opportunities and details of how to apply for them are published in the funding opportunities section of our website:

      Further information

      If you have any questions, please email our International Development team: idr@esrc.ukri.org.