For the past four years, students from around the world have come together to share their research in a global forum. The subject matter, collaborators, and methods change each semester, but one thing unites them all: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Each year, Indiana University and a group of its primary partner institutions select a single goal to focus on, delving into its intricacies and potential solutions.
This year’s chosen goal was Sustainable Development Goal 16, which aims to promote peace, justice, and strong institutions. By placing a focus on reducing violence, ensuring access to justice, promoting effective and accountable governance, and fostering inclusive decision-making, SDG 16 seeks to create a foundation for sustainable development and a more equitable world for all.
In response to this call, the competition received an impressive total of 13 project submissions, showcasing the students’ innovative ideas and dedication. The projects encompassed four distinct presentation types: podcasts, research posters, policy briefs, and videos. Reflecting the diverse academic interests and perspectives of participants, these projects covered subject areas ranging from international relations, education, art and design, sociology, economics, public health, environmental science, to criminal justice. Through this vibrant amalgamation of ideas and contributions, the competition offered a holistic understanding of what it truly means to embrace sustainability in its many dimensions.
Undergraduate winner Nora West collaborated with her faculty mentor to explore gender disparities within the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) conditional lending program. Her motivation to enter the competition stemmed from her belief in the power of the SDGs.
“I wanted to participate in a project to work toward global solutions and have my work featured alongside others who have similar goals,” she says. “The SDGs are deeply intersectional, and it’s places like the research forum where I can demonstrate how we can address gender disparities through not just one, but several of the development goals.”
The topic stemmed from her interest in international development and concerns about the ethical and implementation challenges faced by such projects – recognizing the significant role of the IMF as a financial provider to states in need, Nora set out to investigate the effectiveness of their programs across different groups.
“Unfortunately, marginalized groups are disadvantaged in many other arenas, so I started there and found lots of data of the disproportionate effects the policies have on women and girls,” explains Nora. “In the future, I hope this type of research drives a social change to IMF policies that will better consider the gendered effects of their financial moves.”
Being selected as a winner of the competition was a proud moment for Nora: “It validated the effort and dedication I had invested in conducting the research and communicating its significance. It was a reassuring moment for me to realize that not only do I think these gender disparities issues in the IMF are highly problematic, but other people must feel strongly about this too.”
Despite the troubling findings, Nora remains optimistic about the future of international organizations, recognizing the need for improvement but believing in their positive role. This research reinforced her desire to work for a global organization, where she could address internal issues and strive for a better future.
From the graduate level, second-year Ph.D. student Anne-Sophie Sabbatucci submitted a winning video exploring entrepreneurship as a catalyst for positive social change, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected areas, with faculty mentor Associate Professor Sophie Bacq. Anne-Sophie’s decision to enter the competition was driven by her constant search for opportunities to share her research.
“Initially, I’d never thought about connecting my research to the SDGs,” she admitted, “but I care about what I’m researching, and when I saw the competition, I realized just how much overlap there was between SDG 16 and my work. Connecting to the development goals was encouraging, a reminder that I’m contributing to something valuable.”
Her research faced challenges, particularly in collecting data, especially in a conflict-affected area like Iraq. Additionally, qualitative research posed uncertainties as there was no guarantee of obtaining usable data. Another challenge Anne-Sophie encountered was consolidating her work for the competition, which pushed her to refine and articulate her research more effectively.
“Winning the research competition is encouragement to me,” Anne-Sophie says. “Dissertation research is a long process, so having these opportunities and the recognition that comes with them reassures me that the work I’m doing is valuable. It’s motivation in the demanding journey of pursuing a Ph.D.”
Looking ahead, Anne-Sophie aspires to contribute to the body of knowledge that will inform future scholars. She emphasized the benefits of participating in such competitions, encouraging other students to explore their own work and make it accessible to a wider audience.
Beyond the prestige and recognition earned through participation, the SDG research competition offers an additional incentive through a monetary reward. By coupling the pursuit of knowledge and solutions to global problems with funding opportunities, the competition continues to provide a tangible platform for students to make a lasting impact with their research.
SDG Research Competition 2023 Winners
Graduate Winner: Anne-Sophie Sabbatucci
My name is Anne-Sophie Sabbatucci, and I am a 2nd-year Ph.D. student at the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, majoring in entrepreneurship. My research advisor is Associate Professor Sophie Bacq. My research interests center around understanding entrepreneurship as a means for positive social change, including in fragile and violent conflict areas. Entrepreneurial effort toward achieving positive social change in such contexts frequently involves targeting SDG 16’s goals. For this reason, SDG 16 matters to me.
Undergraduate Winner: Nora West
My name is Nora West and I am a senior at Indiana University. I am very close to completing a dual degree in Cybersecurity and Global Policy with a minor in Spanish as a member of the Hutton Honors College. For my research project I worked with Professor David Bosco, an Associate Professor and Chair of International Studies, to study gender disparities within the International Monetary Fund’s conditional lending program. The SDGs are influential for a variety of reasons, but the reason I find them most impactful is because they were specifically designed to be applicable at all levels: international, regional, national, local, etc. The goals were also crafted in such a way that they broadly provide targets but leave implementation design open to each individual context. This ensures we are not trying to enact a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to solving complex problems but rather recognizing that the “best” solution may be different between situations. This project also demonstrates the intersectionality built into the goals, for example, mitigating the gender disparity within IMF programs would increases scores in SDGs 5, 10, and 16, among others.
Graduate Runner Up: Lydia Atubeh
Lydia Atubeh has taught in the arts for over 19 years. She currently teaches at an early college high school. Lydia received undergraduate degrees in Art History and Music, a master’s degree in Conservation Studies (Historic Buildings), and is currently completing an EdD in Curriculum and Instruction (Art Education) at Indiana University (Bloomington). She enjoys helping students thrive through the opportunities to lead within student organizations and make contributions using art in their school and the local community. Her favorite times in the classroom are when students who have faced challenges socially and emotionally find their flow in Visual Arts through various forms of art and STEAM activities. Her favorite areas of art are digital photography, fiber art, and architecture. Her research interests are faith-based issues and Art Education, Farm to School, and career development in connection with Art Education.
Undergraduate Runner Up: Emilie Johnson
I am a senior studying International Studies and Environmental and Sustainability Studies. The SDGs matter to me because they provide much needed optimism toward a more sustainable future and a framework for building strong communities at both the local and global scales.