Guest blog: Ruth Donnelly, Assistant Director, Careers Service

Most people take it for granted that students at the University of Edinburgh are highly intelligent, focused and capable. What may be less appreciated, is the fact that many of them also understand the power and responsibility their generation has to drive change. They are passionate about finding opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills to have a positive impact, locally and internationally.  A focus on innovation at the University through the DDI Programme and access to new datasets from partner organisations presents an exciting opportunity to translate this passion into action.


The Students as Change Agents programme brings students face-to-face with some of the most pressing challenges facing society, the environment and the economy. It helps them develop an understanding of what a ‘change agent’ is and that ‘wicked problems’ cannot be solved without fresh thinking, beyond traditional boundaries, using the best tools available. Most importantly, they learn in action that the only way to tackle real world challenges is through collaboration, with other students, staff, organisations and the people impacted by these challenges.


The programme is interdisciplinary, which means that each group of students offers a unique set of backgrounds, insights and ideas. It is challenge-based, focusing on complex challenges with no obvious solutions, which address at least 2 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. It is developmental, so students benefit from training in problem solving, the value of using data to tackle problems and working in groups. It is supported, so students are encouraged to build networks with peers, host organisations and staff and to systematically reflect on their personal and professional development.


Some of the challenges which student teams have tackled so far include ending violence against children, designing out waste in the construction industry, addressing gender financial inequality and encouraging inter-generational mixing in local communities. Their proposals have all been unique and underpinned by new, data-driven insights. Some of them have already been taken forward to conferences and to inform policy recommendations. The programme is still in its infancy, but it is already meeting a need from organisations for out-of-the-box thinking on their intractable problems while also nurturing students as lifelong change agents:  ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has’ (Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist).


Ruth Donnelly

Assistant Director, Careers Service

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