SOAS researchers on being recognised for their impact in support of the UN’s SDGs


Last week, it was announced that SOAS had been ranked third in the world in the Times Higher Education impact rankings, the only tables that assess universities against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs, of which there are 17, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. So all good things, basically. And in relation to the 16th goal ‘Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’, only two other universities worldwide were considered to have done more.

It is a source of great pride for us an institution, as we speak tirelessly about how our core values influence every aspect of what we do. Whether that’s the research being undertaken by SOAS experts in our regions, advocacy work across the globe undertaken by our director Valerie Amos and senior academic leaders, or the lessons being taught in our lecture halls – SOAS walks the walk.

So what did some of our experts whose research has been cited have to say?

Dr Phil Clark – Politics

A gacaca community court hearing in Rwanda. Photo: Public Radio International

I’ve been researching conflict, peace and justice issues in central Africa for the last 18 years – and during most academic breaks I travel to Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to conduct fieldwork. I’m particularly interested in how local communities respond to genocide and other forms of mass violence. For example, between 2002 and 2012, Rwanda used a system of community courts called gacaca to prosecute 400,000 genocide suspects. Lay judges in 12,000 courts heard weekly evidence about genocide crimes – and these hearings became a vital space for communities to wrestle with the violence, its causes and consequences. In 2010, I wrote a book on the gacaca process which opened up conversations with policymakers and practitioners around the world about the most effective responses to mass atrocities, including the role that local communities can play. That research also fed directly into my teaching at SOAS.


At the end of 2018, I published a book on the impact of the International Criminal Court in Africa. Broadly, I found that the ICC is making justice and peace on the ground less, rather than more, likely. With funding from SOAS, I’m about to embark on a five-country Africa book tour to share my findings with African policymakers and local communities. And again I’m using the research for this book to engage in fascinating discussions with my students about justice and reconciliation after mass conflict.

Professor Emma Crewe – Anthropology and Sociology

The Global Research Network on Parliaments and People aims to deepen democracy through inquiry, scrutiny and debate. We link artists, activists and academics, and enable them to study, discuss and imagine what democratic politics might look like in a more engaged and inclusive political world.

Since 2017 we have been creating opportunities for scholars in extremely politically fragile states, especially Ethiopia and Myanmar, to undertake research on democracy, public engagement, and women’s political participation.
We have given grants to national scholars to design their own research and support each other to attain the highest standards of research as well as to influence political processes (including UK parliamentary select committees).

Supporting the development of national
capacity for critical scholarship on democracy is proving vital for promoting vernacular forms of more inclusive public engagement. We are also investigating the barriers that get in the way of decolonising and democratising international research coalitions.

Professor Jonathan Goodhand – Development Studies 

Trillions of dollars have been spent on the ‘war on drugs’, yet the global illicit drug economy continues to grow and militarised counter-narcotic strategies have increased the vulnerability and impoverishment of marginalised communities dependent on drug cultivation. Our research addresses an urgent policy challenge that affects many people living across the world in places, often borderland regions, affected by conflict and illicit economies: how can war economies become peace economies?  

We are focusing on one of the principal illicit commodities that drives war economies and perpetuates state fragility – illicit drugs. As a result of these failures there is increasing recognition of the need for counter-narcotic strategies that prioritise pro-poor development and align drug policy with the Sustainable Development Goals. But the evidence base to support such policy reform is weak. It is unclear how these fundamentally opposed policy fields – drugs and development – can be reconciled in practice.

Our project aims to generate new evidence and to work with policy makers and drugs affected communities to find ways of addressing illicit economies and state fragility that support, rather than undermine, the achievement of the SDGs. We are doing this though research in three of the largest drug producing countries, Afghanistan, Myanmar and Colombia, in an international collaboration involving 12 organisations from the three countries and the UK.


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