Sustainable Development Goals


The SDGs and me - Professor Monica Lakhanpaul

Spotlight on Professor Monica Lakhanpaul - Professor of Integrated Community Child Health, Pro-Vice-Provost for South Asia, Honorary Consultant Paediatrician

An image of Professor Monica Lakhanpaul
What is your role and what does it involve?
I am Professor of Integrated Community Child Health, Pro-Vice-Provost for South Asia and Honorary Consultant Paediatrician.This means that I lead an interdisciplinary research program working mainly with marginalised communities in UK and globally, teach and support career researchers, have a leadership and ambassadorial role at UCL, representing the university to institutions in South Asia and building strategic partnerships with them. Finally, but also very importantly I continue to practice paediatrics, with a key role delivering services to children with Down Syndrome in North London.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I’ve been at UCL since 2012, during which time I have been head of the Population, Policy, and Practice department as well as Clinical Director at UCL Partners and Deputy Theme Lead (Child and Adolescent Health) for Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) North Thames. It was particularly through these roles that I became interested in working more closely with communities through using participatory methods. 

This element of citizen science has shaped much of my research career, as has the desire to find more effective ways of sharing findings and science messages with communities, which led me to engage with the creative arts and the media. I also became increasingly aware of the need for collaboration between different disciplines, not just with arts for giving back, but also with colleagues in environment and engineering to take holistic approaches to many challenges. As a result, I have undertaken a great deal of work alongside other departments and learnt much from them.

Before joining UCL, I was a Senior Lecturer in Community Child Health and a Consultant Paediatrician in Leicester. Leicester is a very diverse community, with large South Asian populations. I worked in the inner city, working with some of the area’s most deprived communities, where inequalities in health and education were evident.

Tell us about something you’re working on at UCL that is supporting the SDGs
There are several, it seems that I keep coming back to the SDGs because they are at the heart of everything I do! I lead the CHAMPIONS Project, on which we are partnered with De Montfort University Leicester, who are the hub for SDG 16 in the UK. CHAMPIONS is working towards SDGs 1 (No Poverty), 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 4 (Quality Education), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), and 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions). We are looking at how the disruptions of the pandemic have impacted children under 5, including those from conception onwards, living in temporary accommodation in England and are co-developing ways to help them recover and have the best start in life possible. We want to give them a voice, as they are so often overlooked and unheard, by understanding their lived experiences, which we have been enabling them to do through art.

I think that this project really showcases the importance of the SDGs, but also the need to discuss the SDGs not just in the context of low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) because although much of the conversation centres around LMIC, there are many inequalities in the UK that have only worsened during the pandemic. Children are often overlooked in these considerations, especially those who are most vulnerable in society.

Beyond work, which of your everyday activities contributes most to one or more of the SDGs?
Outside of work, my most SDG-friendly activity is probably my love of recycling clothes. I regularly reuse items from family and friends, including redesigning my mum’s sarees from 40 years ago into new, modern Indian outfits. Fast fashion is definitely not something I participate in – I’ve been wearing my favourite blue fleece for the past 20 years!

And what do you do that has the most detrimental impact on the Goals?
I travel quite a lot for work, and although I make sure to take public transport as much as possible and do not own a car msyelf, but I know that this is still contributing to climate change. In some ways, the increase in remote working that the pandemic has ushered in is actually quite beneficial, and enables me to virtually attend far more conferences and meetings than I would be able to otherwise. That said, travelling was a personal passion and I do miss seeing new places and the multiple in-person cups of tea that are needed when building relationships and partnerships.

In your opinion, which of the SDGs is the most important for humanity to address?
SDG 2 – Zero Hunger

If there was an 18th Goal, what should it be?
SDG 18 – No Discrimination

If you could bring in one law or societal shift to help the UK address the SDGs, what would it be?
I think that one of the greatest challenges in the UK is the divisions that result from politics and how they hinder progress on meeting the necessary goals. I would like to see a more cross-parliamentary approach that removes barriers between parties and helps them bridge divides. As an example of this, the Indian government has the POSHAN Abhiyaan, which introduces a convergence platform where different ministeries and departments that implement interventions related to nutrition can come together and effectively synergise in order to effectively combat undernutrition.

What is the biggest challenge to the world achieving the Goals by 2030?
Not enough collaboration between the major stakeholders. Throughout my career, I have seen the advantages of interdisciplinary, cross-sector working and it is something I have tried to champion as I believe it produces the best outcomes, especially if you work with communities as well. COVID has only highlighted the importance of collaboration and working together on a global (as well as local) scale, sharing expertise and resources.

We need real coordination: nations and organisations need to learn from each other and really work together towards shared and sustainable goals if we are to ensure we have a planet to live on and healthy humans to enjoy it. To do that we need collaboration, community, co-development and creativity.

What would it surprise people to know about you?
That I am a poet (or am trying to be)! For a while now I have written poems on a variety of topics. Perhaps one day I’ll get around to publishing them.