UCL Grand Challenges


UCL Sustainable Development Goal Consultancy Challenge

UCL Students team up with London charities to address UN Sustainable Development Goals

Looking up at a very high tree

1 September 2022


Grant: Grand Challenges Special Initiatives—UN SDGs: Pathways to Achievement
Year awarded: 2022-23
Amount awarded: £9,625


  • Mr Oliver Peachey, UCL Volunteering Services
  • Dr Jana Dankovicova, UCL Careers

UCL SDGs Consultancy Challenge Week was delivered on 12-16 June 2023 and involved 61 students  (UGs, PGTs and PGRs) across 8 London-based community projects. Students deployed project management and consultancy skills they developed at training sessions that were organised ahead of the week to find innovative and sustainable ways for their host organisation to overcome a particular business-problem in-line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.   

Host organisations this year include The Ramblers, The Museum of the Home, Coachbright, Bankside Open Spaces Trust, Refugee Therapy Centre, Share Community, and Starfish Greathearts Foundation and are Volunteering Service’s community partners. Each host agreed to allocate sufficient staff time and resources in-kind ahead of and during the Challenge Week, and received a small grant of £250 to enact solutions that student volunteers would come up with.

The Challenge Week  

  • Monday: Icebreaker session led by each host organisation – outlining their project in full, timings for the week, connecting their projects to the UN SDGs and clarifying reporting expectations. Student teams were sent Project Briefs and background materials in advance so were able to hit the ground running.
  • Tuesday – Thursday: Student teams work on the projects with their host organisations
  • Friday: Teams reconvene at UCL with a morning reflection session on learning, skills development and impact. Project teams report on findings in the afternoon to all participants, hosts, and a judging panel.  

At the end of the plenary presentations the group judged to have delivered the best project were allocated an additional £500 for their host organisation to enact their solutions. The event concluded with a formal announcement of the winning group at a reception and a wrap-up of the week. 

The winning team! The Rambers project team received an additional £500 grant for the charity to implement their solutions. The Ramblers project team worked up a solution to source footpath data from all UK Local Authorities" 

All student volunteers were sent a certificate recognising their participation in the challenge and will receive a follow-up email in Term One 2023-24 that outlines what their host organisation has done to enact the solutions they came up with as part of the Challenge Week.  

Host organisations have responded favorably so far to the students' solutions, with plans to incorporate them into their operations

"We’ll be integrating what they’ve made into our digital evaluation app, and rolling out things into other programming"
“We got tangible insights and benefits from the collaboration, not just the final report and presentation, but the high level of interrogation and questioning posed by the students challenged us as an organisation to think about our work in new ways.”

The UCL SDGs Consultancy Challenge was made possible this year by funding received from the UN SDGs: Pathways to Achievement fund from UCL Grand Challenges and additional funding received to support PGR student engagement from UCL Organisational Development.  The Challenge was delivered in collaboration between UCL Careers and Students' Union UCL – with a fortnightly working group January-June 2023 and wider staff support with training, preparation and event delivery. This initiative builds on the success of the pilot project in 2021-22.

Impacts and Outputs

  • Strengthened ties with community partners through high-impact activities
  • Built on collaboration between the Students’ Union and UCL Careers 
  • Student engagement in real-world challenges and solutions 
  • More on UCL’s 2023 Consultancy Challenge Week 

(Photo by Meg Nielson on Unsplash)