Real Impact Award
winners 2021

The results are in!

The Real Impact Awards celebrate those in the research community who go above and beyond to make a difference to their communities or wider society. And once again, so many of you shared inspiring stories of your commitment to impact.

Our judging panel had a difficult task in deciding the winners, but a decision has been made; here we introduce the 2021 changemakers.

real impact award

Interdisciplinary Research Award

Rewards an innovative research project that promotes action on the UN Sustainable Development Goals/global challenges.


Research project: Welcome to the Syrian Farmers Podcast! Promoting sustainable agri-food value chains in Syria through podcasting.


Dr Mirela Barbu, Senior Lecturer in Supply Chain Management, University of Sussex Business School, Professor Martin Spinelli, Professor in Podcasting and Creative Media, School of Media, Arts and Humanities, University of Sussex, UK and Dr Shaher Abdullateef, ACDP-SAE (Syrian Academic Expertise)

One of the most critical impacts of the Syrian conflict on agriculture was the collapse of support services for farmers which, the Government provided until 2011. The consequence of a protracted war which produced massive displacement of the population, was severe pressure on food security. This winning project aimed to address these difficulties by promoting capacity building, targeting the implementation of the UN SDG 2 (Zero Hunger). It provided Syrian agricultural experts with knowledge and new media to sustain farmers in northwest Syria by producing an innovative podcast series for Syrian farmers on sustainable agricultural practices.

Highly commended

Research Project: Improving Water Supply Systems Resilience to Floods: Developing a Measurement Tool for Tanzania

Team: Lukuba Ngalya Sweya, Ardhi University, Tanzania and Professor Suzanne Wilkinson, Massey University, New Zealand

This project is working towards a more sustainable water future for Tanzania by developing a comprehensive qualitative-based multi-dimensional resilience measurement tool. Addressing UN SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), it is delivering real impact to the communities affected and supporting decision-making to improve water supply systems.

Research Project: Gradient Concrete // Resource- and emission-reduced concrete building construction system

Team: Dr Ferdinand Oswald, Senior Lecturer of Architectural Technology, The University of Auckland, New Zealand, Professor Lucio Blandini, Head of Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK), University of Stuttgart, Professor Werner Sobek, Former Head of ILEK, University of Stuttgart, and Dr Walter Haase, Head of working group "Lightweight Construction and Adaptive Façade", University of Stuttgart, Germany.

Concrete is not sustainable and needs to be reconsidered so that it becomes leaner and greener. This transdisciplinary research group are developing innovative gradient concrete technologies to address this problem, while delivering real impact in UN SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), UN SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) and UN SDG 13 (Climate Action).

real impact award

Mobilising Research into Action

Recognising the efforts and commitment being made to meaningfully connect research and action to deliver societal change, with a special focus on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.


Blood Borne Virus Prevention Research Group


Professor Claudia Estcourt, Professor of Sexual Health & HIV and Consultant Physician, Research Group Co-Lead, Research Centre for Health, Glasgow Caledonian University and Professor Sharon Hutchinson, Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health, Research Centre for Health, Glasgow Caledonian University, UK

This dynamic research group are committed to reducing inequalities in sexual health and BBV prevention in alignment with the World Health Organization goals of ending AIDS and eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. By working in close partnership with Public Health Scotland, NHS, national and international Government, and civil society, the group have had a huge amount of success in rapid translation of research into practice and policy which is ultimately benefitting marginalised communities, and especially People Who Inject Drugs (PWID).

Highly commended

White Water Writers


Yvonne Skipper, Senior Lecturer, University of Glasgow, UK and Dr Joseph Reddington, eQuality Time, UK

Addressing the lack of diversity in the publishing industry, this innovative initiative is giving children from all backgrounds the opportunity to write and publish a book, within 5 days, ensuring that every child that loves books should be able to feel like they can write one.


Making a difference for the next generation of children with Cerebral Palsy. Professor Sue Stott and team, University of Auckland and Starship Children's Health, New Zealand.

Driving societal change by ensuring local and indigenous people drive climate change adaption (CCA) actions. Dr Sandeeka Mannakkara and team, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Addressing the unequal playing field for Canadian Muslims in the not-for-profit sector. Zaid Khan and team, Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Toronto, Canada.

real impact awards

Driving the Impact Agenda

Celebrating the efforts and commitment to strategically embed impact within a research environment or to drive impact culture.


COVID-19: Romanian Economic Impact Monitor


Levente Szász, Csaba Bálint, Dénes Csala, Ottó Csíki, Bálint Zsolt Nagy, Béla-Gergely Rácz, Babes-Bolyai University, Romania

During the coronavirus-pandemic a lot of misinformation and fake news circulated in the online media which posed a significant barrier to the effectiveness of measures imposed by the government and local authorities to contain the spread of the virus in Romania. This winning team believed scientific research at universities could help and support society and as a result developed a daily-updated online portal and social media interface to deliver timely information to help influence pandemic-related decision-making mechanisms. Using cutting-edge data visualization techniques with economic analysis and forecasting tools, their commitment has brought about a significant change to the national research environment in Romania.

Highly commended

Faith Welch, Research Impact Manager, University of Auckland, New Zealand

Faith’s commitment to driving a community driven impact culture without the limitations of governmental directives has quickly transformed the impact health of not only the institution but within Aotearoa New Zealand, Australasia and beyond.


Mark Reed, Fast Track Impact and Scotland's Rural College (SRUC), UK.

real impact awards

Library Commitment to Uncovering Real Impact

Recognising the efforts and commitment within the library setting to uncover real impact.

Highly commended

Phuntsho Norbu, Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan

Phuntsho is committed to promoting digital access from Research4Life, not only at his own institution but across Bhutan and as a result he is strengthening users' capabilities and expertise in information access and stimulating the production of high-quality research across the country.

The prize

All 2021 winners and highly commended will be featured in the Real Impact Awards Showcase book. Written by Emerald Editors, the Showcase Book will tell their stories of their impact commitment and the work they are doing towards making a difference to their communities and the wider society. 

Read the 2020 Showcase book

The judging panel

Thank you to the 2021 judging panel which comprises of experts in impact, knowledge-exchange, policy-making, research funding, library and scholarly communications and interdisciplinary research.

  • Alison Anderson, University of Plymouth, UK
  • Louis Coiffait-Gunn, UK Government
  • Chris Hewson, University of York, UK
  • Tim Jay, Sheffield Hallam University, UK
  • Ken Knight, Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Australia
  • Natalia Kucirkova, University of Stavanger, Norway
  • Tony Roche, CEO, Emerald Publishing, UK
  • Lara Skelly, Loughborough University, UK
  • Sharon Zivkovic, University of South Australia

Are you in?

As the Real Impact Awards have shown, our sector makes an incredible difference to the world, but it’s shrouded in unhelpful traditions, outdated measures of impact and barriers to participation. Now more than ever we need research to help solve some of the greatest challenges of our times.

So we’re relaunching our Real impact manifesto and asking you to join us in working towards a fairer, more equitable environment where research can have a real-world impact and those within it can reach their full potential. We outline six commitments where we can work together for change – will you join us?

Pledge your support

Real Impact & IDR awards 2022

Entries to the Real Impact and IDR awards 2022 will open again in September. To register your interest, please submit your details here.