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Call for SDG Labs Africa

The Seedbeds of Transformation conference has announced related calls for session proposals and for applications for travel grants. Find those calls here.

Do you have an idea for how to spark sustainable transformations in Africa and around the world? The organisers of the upcoming “Seedbeds of Transformation: the role of science with society and the SDGs in Africa” conference in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, are seeking applications for SDG Labs. These creative projects bring together participants from diverse research disciplines and from across society to develop prototype solutions to complex challenges.

Future Earth and its partners will fund up to 20 labs led by innovators at African instutions. The deadline for applications is 16 February.

To learn more about SDG Labs, see a list of labs sponsored through the 7th International Conference on Sustainability Science (ICSS 2017), which took place in Stockholm in August 2017.

For more information about this call, contact Erik Pihl, Research Liaison Officer at Future Earth.

See the official announcement below:

Call for SDG Labs Africa

We invite researchers, innovators and change-makers to propose SDG Labs Africa for the Seedbeds conference.

In short:

  • Up to 20 SDG Labs will be funded
  • Each lab will receive up to €7000 to run a lab/workshop/hack and present their initial findings at the Seedbeds conference
  • The 3 themes for SDG Labs are: oceans and coasts, urban sustainability and digital technology for transformation
  • Deadline: 16 February 2018 (midnight Pacific time)
  • Proposals must be led by African institutions

Describing SDG Labs

SDG Labs are intended to bring together participants from a range of research disciplines and sectors of society to develop solutions to complex problems that help to make progress towards implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDG Labs concept aims to initiate processes towards sustainability transformations through developing prototype solutions.

We want to encourage innovative approaches that help to shift systems towards more sustainable trajectories. These are multi-stakeholder processes and the changes they seek to catalyse may be in institutions, systems or sectors of society, for example in food systems and food security, risk governance, inequality and poverty or ecosystem health. The innovations may be social, ecological, technological, in business models or policy or a combination of several of these. The aspiration of the SDG labs is that they plant seeds of change that can grow and spread, inspire and provide knowledge for transformation on a greater scale.

In practice, a lab is a short series of solutions-focused workshops aimed at delivering a specific innovation. This is how a lab works: You put together a team of people with different backgrounds and ideas for how to find solutions to a very specific sustainability challenge. The “idea” in this case could be, for instance, a certain process, activity, bringing together of specific stakeholder groups, a technical solution, design activity, etc. The solutions should be evidence-based, have legitimacy within the stakeholder groups you are engaging, include some element(s) of innovation, include local or indigenous knowledge as relevant and provide culturally appropriate meeting formats. You design a process to explore the idea on the relevant scale and you try it out. That is the lab.

SDG Labs are based on the social innovation lab concept developed by Frances Wesley and colleagues at the University of Waterloo for the Rockefeller Foundation, and based on earlier lab concepts. Social Innovation Labs have been used around the world to catalyse change. Future Earth has further evolved the concept with the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and together we funded 21 SDG Labs as part of the 2017 International Conference on Sustainability Science. You can learn more about these labs on the conference website.

SDG Labs Africa: solutions for change

The Seedbeds conference has a specific focus on Africa. The labs can take place anywhere in Africa, or anywhere in the world if a majority of the participants are from Africa and the focus is highly relevant for sustainability in Africa.

We will allocate up to 7,000 EUR to each SDG Lab, which will consist of 5,000 to 6,000 EUR for lab activities and 1,000 to 2,000 EUR for travel support to attend the conference, present your results and receive feedback.

We have three focus areas for the labs:

  • Sustainable oceans and coasts: Addressing any of the targets of SDG 14 on Oceans.
  • Urban sustainability: Addressing any of the targets of SDG 11 on Cities, or related goals, such as energy access, biodiversity and climate adaptation in urban areas.
  • Digital technology for transformation: Addressing rapid spread and improvement of technology as catalysts or drivers of social and environmental change, such as: artificial intelligence, machine learning, data visualisation, ICT and mobile apps.

Addressing one or more of these focus areas will increase the chance that your lab proposal will be funded. It is also recommended that your lab proposal demonstrates how it will address one or more of the overall conference themes.

The SDG Labs-Africa process would be expected to follow four phases:

  • Initiate: Start pre-conference activities through research and preparation. Activities in this phase would be expected to involve outreach to understand the lab’s specific conditions and opportunities, such as gathering stories, sketching or having preparatory meetings. This phase should be more than just a literature review.
  • Feedback: At the Seedbeds conference, present what you have done and receive feedback on your plan to complete the lab from conference participants.
  • Convene: Develop one or more workshops, to be completed within 4 months after the Seedbeds conference. This is the phase where most of the practical work of the lab takes place.
  • Show: Share lab results and lab media (photos, videos, etc.) on a dedicated website convened by Future Earth to amplify the lab’s impact and support its spread.

Funding will be provided up-front for the lab, and financial reporting of expenditures will be required at the completion of the lab.

Application process

Here is an overview of what will be required and criteria for a successful application:

When applying for a lab, we want you to let us know:

  • What sustainability issue(s) are you addressing?
  • What focus areas of the areas above and SDGs/targets are you addressing?
  • What is your idea for solutions?
  • How will you operationalise the four phases?
  • How do you anticipate the work could continue after the lab?
  • What is the draft budget for the lab and need for travel funding to the conference? Each lab can apply for up to 7,000 EUR in total, of which up to 2,000 EUR can be used for Seedbeds conference travel support.

A successful proposal will contain the following elements:

  • A clear and original idea on how to tangibly address a sustainability issue; both the issue and the potential solution have strong local relevance.
  • A clear plan for how to operationalise your idea in a lab form.
  • The lab connects well with one or more focus areas of this call.
  • The team has diverse knowledge and skills relevant to the lab.
  • The lab engages diverse groups, comprised of some combination of the following: researchers, innovators, policy-makers and other key local actors.
  • The lab examines elements of both environmental and social sustainability.
  • The lab focuses on African concerns.


16 February: Session proposals (applicant)

2 March: Winning SDG Labs notified (conference organisers)

9-11 May: Seedbeds conference

11 September: Phase 2 finalised (applicant)

1 December: Final reporting of labs (applicant)

To submit an application, fill out the online form here.

For more information, contact Erik Pihl.