Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Global Challenges Research Fund

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries.

The fund addresses the UN sustainable development goals. It aims to maximise the impact of research and innovation to improve lives and opportunity in the developing world.

Partners involved:
UKRI, Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Innovate UK, Medical Research Council (MRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

The scope and what we're doing

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries. The fund is part of the UK’s official development assistance (ODA) and is managed by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

In February 2022, it was announced that GCRF, alongside the Newton Fund and the Fund for International Collaboration, will not continue in their current format, but legal commitments will be met until their natural conclusion.

UKRI has confirmed that it will support projects still running as part of these funds for the remainder of their grant period. See our update statement on GCRF and Newton following the spending review 2021.

How the fund works

The fund addresses the United Nations sustainable development goals. It aims to maximise the impact of research and innovation to improve lives and opportunity in the developing world.

UKRI is one delivery partner, alongside:

  • Scottish Funding Council
  • Higher Education Funding Council for Wales
  • Higher Education Division Northern Ireland
  • Academy of Medical Sciences
  • Royal Society
  • British Academy
  • Royal Academy of Engineering
  • UK Space Agency

We also work in partnership with other organisations including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). We have signed a memorandum of understanding with UNDP that commits us to ensuring closer collaboration between researchers and policymakers across the world by combining our collective expertise in driving international development, research and innovation.

We and our partners are supporting programmes that:

  • promote challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, including the participation of researchers who may not previously have considered the applicability of their work to development issues
  • strengthen capacity for research, innovation and knowledge exchange in the UK and developing countries through partnership with excellent UK research and researchers
  • provide an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need

The fund has been advised by a strategic advisory group.

UKRI’s International Development Peer Review College ensures that developing country perspectives are a key part of expert review.

Video transcript and on-screen captions are available by watching on YouTube.

Why we're doing it

We and our partners outlined our vision for the fund in the UK Strategy for the Global Challenges Research Fund. The fund has three themes and six challenge portfolios.


The themes are:

  • equitable access to sustainable development
  • sustainable economies and societies
  • human rights, good governance and social justice

Equitable access to sustainable development

We support projects that ensure everyone in the world has access to:

  • secure and resilient food systems supported by sustainable marine resources and agriculture
  • sustainable health and wellbeing
  • inclusive and equitable quality education
  • clean air, water and sanitation
  • affordable, reliable, sustainable energy

Sustainable economies and societies

We support projects that build:

  • sustainable livelihoods supported by strong foundations for inclusive economic growth and innovation
  • resilience and action on short-term environmental shocks and long-term environmental change
  • sustainable cities and communities
  • sustainable production and consumption of materials and other resources

Human rights, good governance and social justice

Developing an understanding of the institutions that embed human rights, good governance and social justice is inseparable from development. We support projects that help us to:

  • understand and respond effectively to forced displacement and multiple refugee crises
  • reduce conflict and promote peace, justice and humanitarian action
  • reduce poverty and inequality, including gender inequalities

Challenge areas

We identified six global strategic challenge portfolios:

  • cities and sustainable infrastructure
  • education
  • food systems
  • global health
  • resilience to environmental shocks and change
  • security, protracted conflict, refugee crises and forced displacement

Our investments and partnerships are helping to tackle these challenges and deliver sustainable solutions.

The challenge portfolios align with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They help to maximise the real-world impact of research funded by GCRF both by focusing research in the challenge areas and by encouraging joined-up thinking and research across the areas.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

The GCRF is a five-year programme between 2016 and 2021, with some programmes continuing into 2024. Funding has been allocated to hundreds of projects, including:

  • low-cost tools for assessing dementia in low-to-middle income countries
  • a global network for addressing neglected tropical diseases
    using traditional culture and art to promote democracy in Sri Lanka
  • sustainability in the Costa Rican dairy sector
  • taking electricity to low-income areas in Rwanda
  • use of groundwater to build community resilience in Nigeria

View all UKRI projects supported by the GCRF.

We also supported major programmes that address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals including interdisciplinary research hubs, a partnership programme with African universities, and a programme to grow research capability between institutions in the developing world and the UK.

Interdisciplinary research hubs

We awarded between £8 million and £15 million each over five years to 12 interdisciplinary research hubs working across a range of development challenges.

The hubs bring together researchers, governments, international agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community groups in developing countries and the UK. They share knowledge and expertise on innovative and sustainable solutions to help make the world safer, healthier and more prosperous.

The hubs include 400 unique partner organisations in 85 countries and 550 researchers from a range of disciplines addressing 16 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Find out more about:

African Research Universities Alliance partnership

We have a partnership with the African Research Universities Alliance to address the UN Sustainable Development Goals by strengthening UK-Africa research collaborations and improving research capacity in the UK and Africa.

The partnership aims to:

  • build significant capacity for science and research across African universities
  • provide opportunities for African research teams and GCRF grant holders to jointly create projects that build on current investments
  • build collaborations that strengthen capacity for research, innovation and knowledge exchange in both the UK and developing countries

The partnership is supporting 13 African Research Universities Alliance centres of excellence with up to £600,000 each over three years to build research capacity.

Four research projects are also receiving up to £2 million each over three years for work in food security, pollution and water resource management, conflict-prevention and peacebuilding, and the impacts of climate change.

Growing research capacity

We invested up to £225 million in 37 projects to grow research capacity around the globe.

The aim was to strengthen and broaden skills and expertise to address specific challenges of developing regions and countries, and to generate long-lasting partnerships, ideas and knowledge.

The programme involved 69 partner countries, and each collaboration was between institutions in developing countries and in the UK.

Find out more about all these collaborations in our publication Growing research capability to meet the challenges faced by developing countries

GCRF Collective Programme

The GRCF Collective Programme was made up of over 140 projects across 18 funding opportunities. It was designed to enhance the overall impact across UKRI’s six strategic GCRF portfolios in:

  • global health
  • education
  • sustainable cities
  • food systems
  • conflict
  • resilience

This research is contributing to realising the ambitions of the UK government’s aid strategy and progressing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Find out more in our publication GCRF Collective Programme: Strengthening global partnerships for sustainable development.

Last updated: 24 March 2023

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