26 November 2019

Ending Misery for Millions & Promoting Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

One year ago United Nations Academic Impact announced the inauguration of the UNAI SDG Hubs, UNAI member institutions selected as exemplars for their innovative scholarship and engagement related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) who serve as resources for best practices for the UNAI network, currently composed of over 1,400 universities and colleges in more than 130 countries.

On the anniversary of the program launch, we’re taking this opportunity to check in with some of the hub schools to highlight their scholarship and activities over the past twelve months and look ahead to future initiatives. The eighth school profiled in our anniversary series is De Montfort University (United Kingdom), hub for SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.   

Since its appointment as UNAI SDG Hub for SDG 16, De Montfort University (DMU) Leicester has focused on three major projects, along with further initiatives to deal with the growing issue of knife crime in the United Kingdom, and an SDG research and fellowship programme is now well under way.

Modern slavery: Misery for Millions

It is estimated that 40.3 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery, and at least 13,000 of those victims are in Britain. Leicester has one of the worst problems in the country.

DMU is conducting pioneering research through Professor Dave Walsh and researcher Laura Pajon and they have joined partner organisations, such as the police, local authorities and charities, in forming the Leicester and Leicestershire Modern Slavery Action Group to help combat the problem.

DMU has also teamed up with the national British charity Unseen to promote its hotline that aims to get victims of modern slavery to come forward to stop their exploitation. The helpline (08000 121 700) has been relaunched in Leicester with a media campaign followed by leaflets, posters, business cards, key fobs and pens distributed throughout the city.

Student volunteers at DMU have also been recruited to come up with a social media campaign to help promote the helpline and highlight the problem of modern slavery in Leicester and beyond.

It is hoped that projects on the ground in Leicester, coupled with world-leading research at DMU, can provide successful examples that can be followed elsewhere.

Spreading democracy to all young people

Traditionally 18 to 30-year olds in Britain are seen as politically apathetic and the turn-out figures at elections would tend to support this view. However, a report from the Lords Select Committee on Citizenship and Civic Engagement (April 2018) found nuances in these low turnout numbers: “There is no turnout gap between young people of high social grade or in full-time education and the average UK citizen. The problem, more precisely defined, involves the non-participation of young people from deprived backgrounds or of low socio-economic status.” There is a need for targeted action in communities that are marginalised and left behind, reported the committee to Government.

In parliamentary elections, the turn-out is among the lowest in the country in Leicester West, where just 57.9% (68.7% was the national average) voted in the 2017 General Election making it 635 out of the 650 constituencies. Initial work by DMU researchers among the 18-30 age group in Leicester West, showed that only 1% of that group voted in the 2019 local elections in the New Parks ward.

The fear is that this dangerously low level means the voice of this age group is simply not being heard and more must be done. A Democracy Café is being set-up on the city estate to listen to those people, give them a voice and also try to engage them in the political process. The long-term hope is to increase the number voting in elections.

It is hoped that this model, if successful, can be scaled up in other marginalized communities in Leicester, across the UK and elsewhere to address a problem found across the developed world.

Join Together to highlight forced migration

The #JoinTogether network was formed at a conference in January 2018 with nine founding members to work with institutions of higher education to highlight the issue of forced migration. The network now has 110 members in more than 50 countries across six continents.

The focal point of the network is the #JoinTogether website which acts as the forum to highlight the issues, research and good practice with news from network members and case studies.

#JoinTogether holds regular conferences and workshops, organised by DMU and its partners, for network members and students, including one in August at 68th UN Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City.

There is also a database of the 110 network members who receive updates of the latest news, developments, conference details and event invites.

This initiative is reinforced by DMU’s refugee outreach programme that has included student volunteer work in Amsterdam, Paris, Brussel, Berlin and New York, as the university bids to create not only good citizens, but world citizens.

Knife Crime: A Major Issue

De Montfort University is working with partners across the city of Leicester on two major projects to combat the growing problem of knife crime.

Street Mediators are operating in parts of the city where young people congregate to help steer them away from knife crime. DMU academics are also highlighting theories and research that can be used in education workshops that are targeted at high-risk youth on the city estates of New Parks, Beaumont Leys and Thurnby Lodge.

Youth Power is a partnership between DMU, Leicester City Council and charity Leicester City in the Community and their joint funding has kept open four youth centres that were in danger of closing. The project launched by Leicester City Premier League footballer Hamza Choudhury will work with youngsters to prevent them carrying – and using – knives and is supported by volunteers on DMU’s Youth and Communities programme.

SDG 16 Research Fellowships

De Montfort University has launched an SDG Research Fellowship programme to promote work on the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The awards grant funding from the university’s budget to allow research-active academics additional time away from lecturing to focus on this research. Research to improve the detection of landmines, as well as the way we approach environmental issues, are among the first research projects tackling global issues to be awarded funding.

The new Global SDG Fellowship scheme encourages applicants to include an international element through overseas research or collaboration with a foreign institution to achieve an internationally-leading output. The scheme will cover travel and accommodation for overseas research visits, as well as funding replacement lecturers to cover any classes needed.

SDG 16 Research Programmes

Below are some of the current research programmes aligned to SDG 16 that make up more than 200 current studies at DMU related to the 17 Goals.

The Institute for Evidence-Based Law Reform: law reform; fitness to plead; the criminal justice system

Local Governance Research Centre: integrity, corruption and good governance, populism, government re-scaling and regionalism; local politics, roles/models of local councillors, representation and democratic decision-making

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity: urban austerity, violence and informality, governance, conflict and violence in urban/peri-urban infrastructures

Leicester Institute for Pharmaceutical Innovation: novel methods for developing and classifying finger marks and expert witness standards; international responses to knife crime with the intention of preventing and detecting violent offences

Institute for Research in Criminology, Community, Education and Social Justice: professionalism and accountability across all criminal justice agencies nationally and internationally

Mary Seacole Research Centre: challenging anti-Semitism and Islamophobia; integration of minority communities in British society

Cyber Technology Institute: peace and justice, cyber peacekeeping, cyber crime research

Institute of Energy & Sustainable Development: socio-technical and Environmental resilience and governance

Cinema & Television History Institute: neo-Nazism

Media Discourse Centre: media and cultural representations of terrorism; production of counter-terrorism policy; government and corporate preparedness; public resilience against cyberterrorism

Media & Communication Research Centre: peace education can help to reduce crime in society, regulation of television distribution in the United Kingdom

To learn more about the UNAI SDG Hubs, including De Montfort University, the United Nations Academic Impact SDG Hubs.