Sustainable Human Development

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  • The socioeconomic challenges facing populations, especially in developing and least-developed countries, are enormous. These challenges underscore the need to strengthen the institutions for sustainable human development in these countries. In the context of contemporary development discourse and practice, the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP) seeks to contribute to strengthening the institutions for sustainable human development in developing countries. To that end, the Sustainable Human Development Programme engages in the following: i) research on governance and transparent management of revenues from extractive minerals in resource-rich developing countries, including the role of transnational corporations in the extractive industry; ii) research on how international trade, investment and emerging biotechnological innovations affect food security; iii) the implications of emerging public–private sector partnerships for sustainable development; iv) challenges of sustainable rural/urban livelihoods in Africa; and v) capacity development focusing on the role of higher education in sustainable development in Africa.

    The research of this programme is closely linked to the research and teaching activities of postgraduate programmes of UNU-ISP, including the Master of Science in Sustainability, Development and Peace and a forthcoming PhD programme, which is expected to launch in September 2012. The programme further contributes to other UNU-ISP teaching and capacity development activities, such as the Postgraduate Course on Building Resilience to Climate Change and other short-term postgraduate and credited courses.


    This programme envisages twinning with the UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA) to jointly organize and facilitate two project workshops in Africa: i) Impacts of Trade and Investment-Driven Biotechnological Innovations on Food Safety–Security in Africa, and ii) Governance and Institutional Reform for the Sustainable Development and Use of Africa’s Natural Resources. In the planning of the workshops, UNU-ISP and UNU-INRA will collaborate to identify relevant African scholars, experts and policymakers to participate in the workshops in order to make policy-oriented recommendations tailored to sustainable policy reform on these themes.

    Focal Point

    Dr. Obijiofor Aginam, Academic Programme Officer, is the focal point for this programme.


    This programme seeks to find sustainable solutions to some of the most pressing development issues facing developing countries: food security/hunger, management of natural resources, rural/urban development and the role of higher education in sustainable development in Africa.


    Links with the parallel UNU-ISP programmes, the relevant UNU institutes, and leading universities mostly in developing countries, as well as civil society, will facilitate a holistic approach to these international development problems. The programme will combine perspectives from a range of disciplines in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities in researching these problems.


    Equitable geographical and gender representation will be sought in all the programme’s activities, including selection of project participants and access to research outcomes, with particular attention to developing countries. It is envisaged that there will be a gender balance, for instance, in the selection of workshop participants and other planned outreach activities.

    Target Audience

    The programme aims to advance academic and policy debate that will enrich the academic and policymaking communities in most developing countries, the UN system; international, regional and sub-regional organizations; national governments; and civil society.

    Intended Impact

    Impact: Influencing policymaking in the United Nations System
    Target: This programme targets the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and all other UN agencies working on the UN Millennium Development Goals, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, UN-Habitat, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
    How: The work and mandate of each of these UN agencies relate to aspects of development. This programme contributes by addressing the gaps and limits of their policies by generating concrete outputs of the highest quality to catalyze and inform policy reform in the work and mandates of the relevant UN agencies.

    Impact: Influencing policymaking at the national level
    Target: The programme targets relevant development-related sectors in developing countries.
    How: This programme generates ideas aimed at policy reform in the relevant development sectors of most developing countries. Applied policy recommendations are made through the publication and dissemination of policy briefs and other outreach activities.

    Impact: Furthering knowledge in an academic field
    Target: The programme focuses on such topics as governance and management of Africa’s natural resources, biotech, foreign investment/trade and food security, rural/urban livelihoods, transnational corporations and foreign direct investment, and higher education and development in Africa.
    How: This programme brings together scholars from the relevant disciplines to study and produce policy briefs and edited books aimed at addressing the gaps in the literature relevant to these topics.

    Impact: Curriculum development
    Target: The programme targets selected universities and higher education sectors in Africa and Asia.
    How: The programme identifies common themes in developing joint and collaborative curricula and research networks between leading Japanese universities and universities in Africa and other parts of Asia.

    Impact: Teaching
    Target: This programme relates to one of the core courses offered in the UNU-ISP master’s degree program.
    How: The UNU-ISP Master’s Degree on Sustainability, Development and Peace offers a core course on International Cooperation and Development that focuses on some of the themes to be covered in this programme.

    Research Findings

    The programme builds on existing development discourse by leading scholars, policymakers and civil society activists as well as the work of relevant regional and international institutions. It is envisaged that the project workshops under this program will lead to research findings that will be published in policy briefs, special issues of academic and policy journals and peer reviewed edited books, all aiming to inform the academic and policy communities, especially in developing countries.

    Policy Bridging

    The programme targets policy reform in the development sectors of developing countries. As such, it aims to make knowledge practically accessible and realizable by developing user-friendly, accessible and policy-oriented recommendations. The programme aims to bridge the dichotomy between the academic and policy communities by producing concise policy briefs and manuals that target very specific sectors and the way forward in addressing the gaps in these sectors.

    Value Added

    The programme links with relevant development programmes of leading UN agencies — UNDP, FAO, UNCTAD, UNIDO, UNESCO, and UNEP. It also links with international development research and activities of the other research and training programmes in the UNU system, especially the UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research, the UNU Institute for Environment and Human Security, UNU-INRA, and the UNU Vice-Rectorate in Europe (through the UNU-ISP Operating Unit in Bonn). It seeks to build on the expertise and existing capacities in selected universities across the world to address some of the most pressing socioeconomic development problems facing the population, especially in developing countries. The programme also draws from available expertise in civil society organizations.


    Research to be undertaken by this programme will result in peer-reviewed academic publications, policy briefs, and conference presentations that will be widely disseminated within the relevant academic, (global, regional, national) policy and epistemic communities.

    Timeline/Programme Cycle

    Most projects will proceed on a two-year timeline from initiation to completion, resulting in an academic publication and/or other output within a third year.


    Outputs of this programme will be mainly evaluated through an independent academic peer-review process (for publications), and through student evaluations (for teaching).


    Poverty reduction strategies and development policies aimed at tackling socioeconomic inequalities are some of the most pressing policy and governance issues facing developing countries. One major challenge of this programme is to contribute to the development discourse and practice in the context of the socioeconomic disparities between the least-developed, developed and developing countries. To achieve this, the programme seeks to build on existing good development practices and develop new interdisciplinary perspectives and approaches to pressing human development problems in developing countries.

    Expected Duration

    Program Start: 1 January 2010.

  • Activities within the programme will involve cooperation between the UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace and five partners.

    • UNU Institute of Advanced Studies
    • UNU Institute for Natural Resources in Africa
    • United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
    • United Nations Environmental Programme
    • United Nations Human Settlements Programme
  • Dr. Kazuhiko Takeuchi, Director
    United Nations University
    Institute for Sustainability and Peace
    United Nations University
    5-53-70 Jingumae
    Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
    Japan 150-8925

    T: +81 3 5467-1212
    F: +81 3 3499-2828