UCL Department of Geography


UCL Geography Alumnus appointed to lead the UCL Grand Challenges programme

16 January 2024

Sam Balch, who studied with us for both his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, will develop and lead an evolved programme growing in scope and scale.

Sam Balch

Sam Balch will take up the post of Director of Grand Challenges on 19 February 2024.

The UCL Grand Challenges programme was established in 2008, with the aim of bringing a cross-disciplinary, thematic approach to tackling some of the most pressing social problems. The UCL Strategic Plan 2022–2027 sets out the university’s commitment to grow the scope and scale of the programme, covering not only research and knowledge exchange but also UCL’s approach to education and its institutional operations. The programme will develop an integral approach to how UCL understands and responds to the biggest issues facing humanity, inform and enable our partnerships, and offer context and critique for how universities can make a positive impact on the world.

The Strategic Plan identifies five new Grand Challenges Themes: Mental Health & Wellbeing, Climate Crisis, Data-Empowered Societies, Inequalities and Intercultural Communication, to be launched sequentially over the next four years. Pro-Vice-Provosts have been appointed to provide academic leadership to first two Themes, Mental Health & Wellbeing and Climate Crisis.

Sam joins UCL from Business in the Community, where he was Executive Director of Campaigns & Content. His experience includes more than 12 years at the governnment’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and Department of Energy & Climate Change, as well as five years in the third sector. He holds a BA (Geography & Anthropology) and MSc (Environment, Science & Society) from UCL.

Sam commented: 

As a UCL graduate, I understand our university’s potential to spearhead solutions to the some of the most pressing societal and environmental challenges we face today. I am eager to bring my experience and enthusiasm to this role, leading a team that draws on and interconnects UCL’s rich breadth of expertise for the benefit of humanity.”

Professor Geraint Rees, Vice-Provost (Research, Innovation & Global Engagement), said:

“I’m delighted to welcome Sam back to UCL to take up this key leadership position, working closely with the Pro-Vice-Provosts and professional services staff. The evolved Grand Challenges programme presents an unprecedented opportunity for UCL to make a difference to critical issues facing humanity through our research, education and partnerships. The programme is also charged with identifying ways in which our collective expertise can improve the ways in which UCL operates.”

Find out more

Originally posted on the UCL Grand Challenges website