The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a five-year £1.5 billion fund delivered by the UK Research and Innovation aimed at addressing the problems faced by developing countries through six strategic challenge portfolios/networks.

Our call under the Global Engagement Network is entitled GCRF Health, Polluted Water and Soils Network. It is a two-year programme proposing an innovative approach of collaboration and activities that will bring people together to co-design affordable and innovative technological and social solutions. It brings together leading academic researchers and a wide range of key stakeholders, based on a One Health approach, to address the health problems related to water and soils pollution in Kenya, Jamaica, Grenada and Scotland among rural and deprived urban communities.


Our principal objective is to build a network of excellence, connecting leading academics in the three countries and UK with a diversity of other researchers, entrepreneurs, environmental professionals, community leaders, government officials and science policy diplomats to facilitate and enrich the exchange of ideas and praxis on affordable and innovative technological and sociological solutions aimed at reducing health problems related to water and soil pollution in line with the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goal 3. The network has four sub-objectives:

  1. Establish an interdisciplinary, open network of excellence, based on a One Health approach starting out with 200 members who will engage in a programme of innovative, interconnected activities and “big-tent” events designed to develop members interdisciplinary capacities, to solve health problems related to environmental pollution. The programme includes country- based Knowledge Networks, round-table discussions, workshops and co-laboratories, demonstration activities and outreach events, on-line Communities of Practice, training seminars and e-learning courses global conferences, and an international UK conference.
  2. Through these activities, produce evaluations and short briefs on the latest evidence and findings about health problems related to water and soils pollution in the three countries. These materials will be used in the joint webinars and e-learning courses, and policy briefs for decision-makers in the three countries and UK.
  3. Using the collaboration platform and participatory activities, develop a portfolio of ideas and praxis on affordable, innovative technologies and approaches to water and wastewater treatment processes, land and water management practices, and provision of basic services to be used by professionals, policy-makers and communities. The portfolio will draw upon the diversity of experiences through the participatory processes including workshops and co- laboratories, round-tables, Knowledge Networks and Communities of Practice.
  4. Develop the skills and capacities of academic researchers, experts and stakeholders in the three countries on how to solve challenges through collaborative and participatory methods and to lay the foundations for new collaborations and partnerships for future funding opportunities.


The World Health Organization and United Nations Sustainable Development Reports 3 indicate
over one quarter of all deaths, amounting to 12.6 million people in 2012, are due to environmental
causes, with at least 8.2 million attributable to non-communicable environmental causes. Low- and
middle-income countries bear the brunt of pollution-related illnesses with children impacted
disproportionately. Polluted water and soils contribute to a myriad of human and animal health
problems; 58 per cent of diarrhoeal disease is due to a lack of access to clean water and sanitation and a major source of child mortality, 57 million years of life lost or lived with disability annually are due to poor water, sanitation, hygiene and agricultural practices combined and over 80 per cent of the world’s wastewater is released to the environment without treatment.

 In Sub-Saharan Africa, 42 percent of the population has no access to safe or basic services for managed drinking water, whilst in Latin America and the Caribbean, 31 percent have only basic services and 14 per cent no services at all. At the core of these problems are the ways in which bodies of water and soils store and disperse harmful substances at the same time as being fundamental mechanisms for purification and detoxification 4 , especially in the face of climate change. The majority of these health problems have multifactorial causes: exposure to hazardous chemicals, pharmaceuticals and persistent organic pollutants, parasitic zoonoses and waterborne diseases, coupled with malnutrition, poverty, inequality, lack of land rights, genders discrimination, and a range of other social stigma 5 . As the diagram of Sustainable Development Goals shows, they cannot be solved in isolation from each other, using a single disciplinary approach or in the absence of voices from a diversity of stakeholders.


Network members will explore the evidence and multiple theories of change embedded in the water-soil-pollution-climate-health-nexus through a series of participatory and collaborative activities where they will be able to engage with leading academic researchers, thinkers and practitioners and other relevant external networks such as research programmes, initiatives, science diplomacy dialogues and campaigns 6 . 

Through a diversity of interconnected collaboration and participatory activities, and learning and training opportunities, network members will be able to exchange ideas and praxis on how to achieve the triple health and environmental co-benefits of access to clean water, healthy and productive soils and delivery of safe, nutritious foods in the three countries. 

Network members will develop and intensify their interactions with each other at the country level through the Country Teams, Workshops and Co-laboratories (technical and participatory), Round-tables (country focus groups), Knowledge Networks (country- based expertise and praxis Demonstration Activities and Outreach events (engaging with the wider community); and globally through moderated Communities of Practice 7 (self-registration on topics of interest), e-learning and Joint training webinars, 2 Global On-line Conferences and an International conference (UK).The network will be open to more members through regular calls for expressions of interest. 

The various training and collaborative settings will facilitate the incorporation of diverse voices and values into the network’s thinking, help engender both active participation and deliberative processes amongst participants, especially from vulnerable and under-represented groups, and tighten the network’s commitment to inclusivity and equity. Network members will be able to explore and set out new and often radical ideas about how to solve local as well as global intractable problems such as universal access to clean water and see issues from multiple perspectives to encourage diverse solutions to evolve. Gaining the voices of people from different communities in each country through open processes such as participatory roundtables, demonstration activities and Communities of Practice will provide additional opportunities to gather inputs and perspective about problems on the ground and how academic researchers might assist through future collaborative research and development funding


The overall management of the network will be by the British Institute in Eastern
Africa, a long-established Kenyan research institute with research experience across eastern Africa
in social, economic and environmental fields. The BIEA is also supported by a grant from the British
Academy and has experience in managing research funds from the UK.

The initial members of the network come from the three countries as well as the UK, each possessing between 20 and 40 years of highly successful collaboration and networking; all have committed themselves to contributing to the network in their individual capacities and with the full support of their institutions.,

The network’s academic partners and institutions (BIEA, University of Highlands and IslandsUniversity College LondonUniversity of SouthamptonAga Khan UniversityStrathmore Business SchoolUniversity of NairobiMaasai Mara UniversityUniversity of the West Indies and WINREFSt George’s University Grenada) have an excellent track record based on world class research, postgraduate programmes and support international networking in the fields of environment, pollution and climate change; women and child health; food safety and malnutrition; agriculture; livestock and diseases; social anthropology and economics.


Throughout the network’s activities, the Director and Co-Director will strive to achieve a balance of academic and non-academic stakeholders, genders and ensure the inclusion of youth and under-represented groups. Sensitivity to language, culture, digital skills and local operating conditions will be insisted upon; network members will be required to sign and adhere to the network’s code of conduct, especially regarding on-line abuse and handling of personal data.

Procedures for dealing with harm and abuse of individuals will be required to be in place at the lead institution in each country; a zero tolerance approach will be adopted. The lead institution and researchers in Kenya will adhere to the safeguarding policy of the National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation.

Monitoring and evaluation of the network’s activities will be undertaken by BIEA and reported against agreed schedules with UKRI.

Early-career academics will be encouraged to participate and take up active roles including as Lead Discussants to canvas the larger community on topics for the network to focus on and to support the delivery of content, and Focal Points to build up the wider membership from local, national and regional networks, ensuring that young researchers and under-represented groups are fully engaged in all aspects of the network’s activities, and support the network’s communications activities. Regular contact between the Steering Group and Country Teams will be maintained throughout.


Network members will be encouraged to build collaborations and partnerships and engage with
network members of the other academic and professional networks and research initiatives such
as the InterAcademy Partnership, African Academy of Sciences, the African Science Policy
Diplomacy Network.

This will be especially important for academic researchers interested in
working in a cross-disciplinary way with other researchers in national institutes, business and third
sector organisations. Policy briefs directly targeting national issues will also help to take this
forward. By proactively supporting skills and capacity building amongst researchers, students and
civil servants, new areas of cross-disciplinary will open up for individuals and country teams. More
experienced network members will also be asked to mentor early career researchers, lining for
example with the IAP, to encourage interactions with their counterparts across the world so as to propose new ideas for funding opportunities, or GCRF calls where they are eligible.

Expected outcomes

  1. An open, inclusive, networking and collaboration environment, based on a One Health approach, that successfully engages an initial membership of up to 200, in workshops and co-laboratories, round-tables, Knowledge Networks, demonstration activities, outreach events, on-line Communities of Practice, e-learning and training webinars, global digital conferences and an international conference, has demonstrably enhanced and enriched the exchange of ideas and actions amongst academics and non-academics in the three selected countries on how to tackle health problems related to water and soil pollution and which can support new collaborations and future funding opportunities to tackle these problems;
  2. Through the various channels of interaction, a more complete picture of the potential consequences of different types of interventions, approaches and technologies and hence a better appreciation of “what it will take” to ensure that the triple health and environmental co- benefits of access to clean water, healthy and productive soils and delivery of safe, nutritious foods in the face of climate change become the new thinking and reality for communities in the three countries in line with the Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals 3; and
  3. A range of written an multimedia materials, e-learning courses, joint training webinars, knowledge snapshots and science policy briefs on topics relevant to local health challenges and policies plus future research as inputs to the Global Challenge Leaders.




  • Reduced ill health linked to waterborne diseases and exposure to harmful chemicals in selected communities;
  • Access to safer food in local markets and improved nutrition in the wider population;
  • Access to innovative technologies for improved filtration processes and social enterprise for delivering safe drinking water services in demonstration communities;
  • Uptake of interdisciplinary ways of thinking into community dialogues, planning and policy- making on tackling water and soil pollution, especially in the face of climate change.

Committed to delivering outcomes

We believe our research could lead to improvement of livelihoods and have a direct impact on the socioeconomic development of
communities through informed practice and policies.