Supercharging solutions for people and the planet

- October 5, 2020

The UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals.

End poverty in all its forms. Ensure healthy lives and education for all. Take urgent action on climate change. Achieve gender equality.

In 2015, 193 member states of the United Nations made a universal promise to leave no one behind through the adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals outline a path forward for our planet that leads directly through some of the most pressing challenges our society faces. Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called them “a social contract between the world’s leaders and its people” and “a blueprint for success.”

One year later, Project Everyone, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Foundation came together to honour that promise by launching Global Goals Week, an annual week of action, awareness, and accountability for the SDGs.

“The Goals include a commitment to leave no one behind, but we know that around the world too many people are being forgotten,” says Edward Ndopu, a UN-appointed SDG Advocate in a press release. “Marginalized communities have been hit hard by the pandemic, climate change and in-equality. […] Global Goals must be an opportunity for everyone – leaders, citizens and businesses – to commit to put the goals at the centre of the recovery.”

This year, Global Goals Week took place from September 18-26. Communities were mobilized, and there was a demand for urgency and supercharged solutions for the Global Goals.

Dalhousie’s global impact

Many references to the SDGs can be found throughout Dal’s Strategic Direction for Research and Innovation, entitled Impact Together. Each of the University’s five identified signature research clusters and two cross-cutting themes are linked to particular Goals. This has allowed the university to maximize the effectiveness of its research and innovation efforts, by leveraging its greatest research strengths to partner with others globally, and work towards solving some of the most complex issues facing humanity.

During Global Goals Week, Alice Aiken, Dal’s vice-president research and innovation, had the opportunity to share her experience of incorporating the SDGs into a research and innovation strategy at the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD), held online on September 21-22. This conference is co-sponsored by the UN-sponsored Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), of which Dalhousie became a member of last year.

Her presentation focused on how Dal is monitoring its institutional progress towards achieving the SDGs, and the strategies being employed to encourage faculty members to align their research, teaching and outreach efforts with the Goals, while collaborating locally, nationally and internationally.

“The world-class researchers that call Dalhousie home have made — and are continuing to make — significant contributions that are not only impacting our province, but our country and the world,” says Dr. Aiken. “These goals are ambitious, but are now more important than ever, with the current COVID-19 pandemic, presenting an opportunity for us to act in global solidarity and help change the world.”

Dr. Aiken and Jennifer Morawiecki, chief of staff for the Office of the Vice-President Research and Innovation, won Best Paper in their theme at the ICSD for this case study.

Leveraging our research strengths

The SDGs also play a critical role with two important international rankings exercises in which Dalhousie participates.

The Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings launched last year, and are the only global rankings to document evidence of universities’ impact on society, rather than just research and teaching performance. They include metrics based on all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals across three broad areas: research, outreach and stewardship.
In April 2020, it was announced that Dalhousie ranked 85 among the 767 institutions from 85 countries that participated. There were 19 institutions in Canada that took part, and Dalhousie was the only university in Atlantic Canada to be recognized. A university’s final score in the Impact Rankings is a measure of how well they are addressing the world’s most pressing issues in these areas. The top performance areas for Dalhousie included SDG 14 (Life Below Water); SDG 3 (Good Health and Wellbeing); SDG10 (Reduced Inequalities); and SDG 17 (Partnership for the Goals).

Additionally, every three years, Dalhousie submits information to the Association for Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) for its Sustainability Tracking Assessment Rating System (STARS) program. Hundreds of universities and colleges participate in STARS, which has mapped many SDGs to their criteria. Information is gathered on 67 credits that cover academics, engagement, operations, planning and administration, and innovation and leadership. In 2018, Dalhousie received a Gold rating.  

Data are currently being collected for both of these ranking exercises by the Office of the Vice-President Research and Innovation, the Office of Sustainability, and Dalhousie Analytics.


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