Transforming Our World: U of T faculty and researchers developing strategic initiative for sustainable development goals

Photo of a person walking up the UTSC Valley Land Trail
Sponsored by the University of Toronto Offices of the Vice President of Research and Innovation and the Vice President International, the Institutional Strategic Initiative (ISI) was informed by two virtual workshops that were hosted in December 2020.

Nicoda Foster

Professors Marc Cadotte and Erica Di Ruggiero were selected as academic leads to develop an Institutional Strategic Initiative (ISI) at the University of Toronto around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was unanimously adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 and provides a plan of action and a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. At its core are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that cover a wide range of complex challenges and serve as an agenda for a better and more sustainable future for all while leaving no one behind.  The 17 SDGs are integrated and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social, and environmental.

Sponsored by the Offices of the Vice President of Research and Innovation and the Vice President International, this new initiative was informed by two virtual workshops that were hosted in December 2020. The workshops brought together faculty, researchers, and students from across the University campuses to discuss ways to advance the SDGs. Over 760 ideas on how we can remove barriers to sustainability, increase interdisciplinary collaborations between divisions, and build community partnerships that can facilitate student learning were generated at the workshops.

Professor Di Ruggiero helped with the facilitation of the virtual workshops and felt they provided a much-needed platform for faculty to connect about their work related to the SDGs. “The SDGs are relevant to all countries and call for a bold intersectoral research agenda that bridges multiple disciplines. The workshops helped to sensitize the U of T faculty community about how we could collectively contribute to meaningful and equitable progress on the SDGs.” The workshop discussions effectively provided an opportunity for these connections to be made.

Based on the engagement and enthusiasm around the SDGs, the University is working to develop an SDG ISI to build on existing research initiatives, form new interdisciplinary and global partnerships, and produce a map for advancing the SDGs at U of T.

The development of the SDG ISI is being supported by a Steering Committee, comprised of an interdisciplinary group of U of T researchers and faculty, as well as a Student Advisory Committee of undergraduate and graduate students from across all three U of T campuses. The SDG Steering and Student Advisory Committees will work together to support the development of the SDG ISI and champion the SDGs across U of T.

“The university sector, of course, has been playing a huge role in the global SDG agenda,” said Professor Joe Wong, U of T’s Vice President International at the SDG Steering Committee’s first meeting. “I think that in the wake of or maybe even in the midst of COVID, now it's very clear that the world is looking to universities for social leadership, for normative leadership, for policy leadership, for scientific leadership and for public health leadership. In other words, the world is looking to universities to have an impact and the University of Toronto can be an extraordinarily impactful actor, both locally and globally.”

Professor Cadotte also underscored the role of universities in advancing the SDGs and thinks there are opportunities to be impactful beyond the 2030 timeline. “That is the exciting part of this opportunity, the University of Toronto could and should be a leader in what that discussion is,” said Professor Cadotte about shaping the SDG agenda beyond 2030. “Hopefully what we create provides opportunities for people to really be creative and thoughtful, and contribute to how SDG's move forward, both in terms of what they are, how they're envisioned, as well as how they're implemented.”

Sustainable development has become a core focus area for the University. During the 2020 to 2021 academic year, a total of 2,233 sustainability-related undergraduate courses were offered across the three University campuses. Over 120 student groups, clubs, societies, unions and associations at the University have mandates that align with the SDGs. Moreover, U of T Centres and Institutes such as the Centre for Global Health, Behavioural Economics in Action at Rotman (BEAR) and the Institute for Management and Innovation among others have engaged in sustainability-related research and teaching that is led and supported by hundreds of U of T faculty and students.

As we work to develop this new ISI, we would like to hear the U of T community’s thoughts and opinions about how we can advance the SDGs through research and teaching at the University. What opportunities exist to develop partnerships that facilitate action on the SDGs? In what ways can we influence policy and advocacy to further the SDGs?

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