Year 1 in review: students, sustainable tourism and the SDGs

What a whirlwind! We are already looking back at the first year of the SDG Impact Lab. And what an extraordinary year it was.

The SDG Impact Lab began less than a year ago as just an idea to bring academia and business together to advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). easyJet holidays (eJh) came onboard as the founding partner with the intent to make the tourism industry more sustainable. The idea of a collaboration between business and university had started to flourish. The idea was to create a multidisciplinary Fellowship programme recruiting twenty graduate students drawn from across the university. The Fellowship programme would take place over Hilary & Trinity terms and would involve practical training in business skills and the UN’s SDGs culminating in a four-week Field Lab in the the summer holidays. The Field Lab would be the time where the Fellows would research and develop a real actionable project, advancing one or more of the SDGs, with potential for eJh to implement.

It was an ambitious objective. From over one hundred excellent applicants we selected twenty students to become “Fellows in Sustainable Development”. These intrepid students were drawn from across the university representing every division and (almost) every continent.

The inaugural cohort of SDG Impact Lab Fellows met for the first term at the beginning of Hilary term 2022 for their Induction Day. The Induction Day kicked off the programme then Fellows met once weekly on a Monday evening throughout Hilary term to hear and take part in a range of workshops and lectures. The programme content covered a broad range of practical business skills following a thematic syllabus that went from “ethics: why we want to have a particular impact” to “evidence: what is the right evidence and information you need” to “engagement: how do you have impact”. We welcomed to the Lab many inspiring leaders from the private and public sector to the third sector and academia.

The Lab also ran a series of informative SDG sessions. These we called “Lab lunches” and “mini-tutes”. The Lab lunches were delivered by leaders in sustainability from a range of backgrounds, from IKEA to Google to the World Bank. And the “mini-tutes” were delivered by academics at the University whose research was focused on an aspect of an SDG. We often opened these sessions up to the wider Oxford academic community to increase further engagement with the SDGs.

At the end of the Hilary term we brought the  Fellows together with employees from eJh and the NGO, the Travel Foundation, for a day at the Ashmolean Museum. This was called the “Challenge Map” event. During the day the locations of the two Field Labs were revealed: Mallorca and Tenerife – two of eJh’s most popular destinations. Following the Challenge Map and over the Easter holidays the Fellows were tasked with researching and developing an initial idea of a project that would address one or more of the sustainability issues faced in either destination. This culminated in a Pitch Event, where the Fellows visited eJh HQ and presented their proposed idea to the whole company,

The Pitch Event was a bit of a Dragon’s Den. It was a real test of the Fellows public speaking and ability to handle themselves under pressure. Following the Pitch Event eJh selected projects to take forward to develop and ultimately work on during the Field Labs. The Fellows were then placed in groups around each of the projects.

The rest of Trinity term was spent researching and developing the SDG projects. This included virtually meeting with important stakeholders from Mallorca and Tenerife and getting academic input from the university.

At the end of Trinity term the Fellows flew off in two groups to begin our Field Labs. Half of the team were off to Mallorca and the other half to Tenerife. The team that visited Tenerife were coalesced around three projects that were investigating food waste, sustainable consumption, and female entrepreneurship. The projects in Mallorca focused on shoulder season viability, including remote work, a storybook, and the conservation of seagrass.

The Field Labs were a huge experience. The teams had to research, make connections, and develop their projects all the while overcoming many challenges from logistics to language. It was extraordinary the ability of the teams to manage themselves in a foreign setting working to create projects that would make a tangible difference to the SDGs. It was also a wonderful opportunity to form friendships on both islands, go surfing, climb mountains, enjoy culinary tours and more.

The whole cohort returned to Oxford for one intense week of writing up their projects. It was a real highlight of the programme to bring the whole group together again. At the end of the Write Up week each group submitted a business plan to eJh that demonstrated what needed to be done to implement the project. This included a thorough breakdown of resource requirements, project timescales and next steps.

The Write Up week marked the end of the Fellowship programme 2022. During the Write Up week we held a Showcase Event where the Fellows presented their final projects. It was a special moment to see all that the Fellows and Lab had achieved in such a short amount of time. A real example of integrated ambition between the University of Oxford and a business to work together to progress the SDGs.