Geology for Global Development

Dr Joel C. Gill

Joel is the Founder/Director of Geology for Global Development (@Geo_Dev) an organisation working to support geologists to make a sustainable contribution to the fight against global poverty. He is an interdisciplinary researcher, with a PhD in geography (natural hazards), and research interests in multi-hazard frameworks, disaster risk reduction, rural water projects, and sustainable development. This work has taken him to Chile, China, Guatemala, India, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Joel is currently based at the British Geological Survey, and tweets at @JoelCGill.

Event Report: UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum 2019

In May 2019, we led an international delegation of early-career Earth scientists to the UN Forum on Science, Technology, and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Download our full event report here.

The annual UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) aims to facilitate interactions, networks and partnerships to identify and examine needs and gaps in technologies, scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building to support the SDGs. The forum is attended by member states (official national representatives), civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, and United Nations entities (e.g., UNESCO, UN Water).

The 2019 Forum theme was ‘science, technology and innovation for ensuring inclusiveness and equality’, exploring SDGs 4 (quality education), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (reduced inequalities), 13 (tackling climate change), and 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions).

Through engaging, we hoped to increase the visibility of the Earth science community in sustainable development discussions, championing the importance of understanding the natural environment, enhancing public understanding of Earth systems and resources, and building strong professional communities of Earth and environmental scientists. We did this by coordinating and leading an international delegation of early-career Earth scientists, working in diverse contexts (e.g., Central Asia and Latin America). Together we helped to draft formal interventions delivered during plenary sessions, and organised a side event on Earth and Environmental Science Education for Sustainable Development.

We are grateful to the International Union of Geological Sciences and IUGS/UNESCO International Geoscience Programme Project 685 for their support.


GfGD Annual Report 2018

Our 2018 Annual Report highlights our achievements last year, how these link with our strategy, and presents an overview of our finances.

We had many exciting opportunities in 2018 to influence the global sustainable development agenda and represent geoscience in places where it otherwise would not have been included. For example, we contributed a commissioned paper to the 2nd International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice Report outlining how geoscience graduates can be integrated into sustainability programmes. We also attended the 3rd UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs at the UN Headquarters in New York, advocating for the importance of geoscience in dialogue about cities, energy, water, and responsible production and consumption.

Our 6th Annual Conference focused on water and sustainable development and was opened by Lord Ian Duncan, the UK Government Minister for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Building on this theme, we launched a new international programme, partnering with The Eleanor Foundation to evaluate the sustainability of water programmes in Tanzania. We generated a small surplus in 2018, allowing us to commit to this new project.

We published a briefing note with other UK partners to demonstrate how geoscience is critical to the SDGs, and continued to invest in our network of University Groups around the UK that collectively engage hundreds of geoscience students through talks, humanitarian and development mapathons, conference visits and fundraising activities.

Download our 2018 Annual Report to read more.
You can access all of our Annual Reports on our website.

Careers in Geoscience-for-Development: Some Tips and Resources

Careers in Geoscience-for-Development: Some Tips and Resources

One of the most frequently asked questions put to me is ‘how does a geoscientist develop a career linked to international aid or sustainable development?’. Here are some thoughts, recently curated for the 2018 GfGD Annual Conference report, together with examples of how GfGD’s work helps to mobilise geoscientists to engage in sustainable development.

  1. Geoscience matters, is critical to progress towards sustainable development, but is not always recognised. While geoscientists are critical to delivering many aspects of the SDGs, this is not always clear and understood by others engaged in development work. Geoscientists have many relevant skills, and their knowledge of Earth systems means they are well placed to be at the centre of sustainable development decision making, and not on the fringes. In 2018, GfGD were invited to submit a report to inform the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice Report, highlighting how geoscientists could fill a gap in professionals trained to engage in sustainable development. This report will be published later this year, and we hope that it will note the important role that geoscientists could make to sustainability efforts, raising awareness among other communities of geoscientists skills and understanding .
  2. Research into natural hazards can directly contribute to improved sustainable development decision-making. Photo Credit: Joel Gill

    Two pathways, both equally important. While there isn’t a straightforward career path or graduate scheme into ‘geoscience for sustainability’, we note two general, broad pathways that help geoscientists to put sustainable development at the heart of their career. Both are important and can result in exciting opportunities to see positive change. (i) Work for a traditional geoscience employer (e.g., energy, mining, environmental services, academia, risk modelling, geological surveys), championing the values and ethics GfGD promote. You can devote your career to supporting sustainable development in all the traditional geoscience career routes (academia, industry, public sector), being ambassadors for our values and ethics. For example, championing positive and respectful partnerships that build local science, technology, and innovation capacity, promoting good practice, engaging with geoethics, and taking part in capacity building. Our 2017 papers on ‘Geology and the SDGs’ and ‘Geoscience Engagement in Global Development Frameworks’ (both open access) give examples of how engaging in traditional geoscience sectors can help deliver the SDGs. (ii) The second approach is to work for a non-traditional geoscience employer (e.g., NGOs, DFID, development think tanks), but be prepared to invest in additional skills and knowledge to serve effectively in these roles. There are few jobs in the development sector for those with a pure geoscience background but if you combine your environmental understanding with further expertise in logistics, policy, communications, social vulnerability etc (see #4 and #5 for tips as to how to do this), you could be a very attractive candidate. While geoscience will inform and strengthen you in such roles, it is unlikely that your tasks will involve the day-to-day application of geoscience.

  3. Be in it for the long-term. Getting to where you want to be may take time and involve a winding path. Think strategically about what postgraduate courses may suit your future career plans. For example, ask if there are options to do your dissertation overseas, take modules from other departments, or do placements with those working in development contexts (so you build your network of contacts, see #6). Partnerships with those in the Global South can also take time to develop and build trust. Prove that you treat partners with respect, fulfil your obligations to send them data and reports if they help you with your dissertation. Recognise that it can take time to develop and mature meaningful partnerships.
  4. Invest in new skills and ways of working. The skills required to make an effective and positive contribution to sustainable development are often missing from the traditional education and continued professional development of geologists. Examples include communicating across cultures and disciplines, diplomacy, community mobilisation, social science research methods (e.g., how to do a good semi-structured interview, and how can that data enrich your understanding of water resources or hazard impacts). Demonstrating an understanding of why these are important in development contexts, and some competence in these skills, may help to boost your employability in some roles. In 2016, GfGD published a book chapter on ‘Building Good Foundations – Skills for Effective Engagement in International Development’ that outlines these skills (email for a PDF copy). We believe these skills are vital in many geoscience roles, embedding them into our conferences and workshops (coordinating training at international events in Tanzania and South Africa).
  5. Read widely around development challenges. Development challenges (e.g., access to water, food security, energy poverty, climate change, disaster risk reduction, urbanisation) are rarely solved by one discipline. We get a good understanding of technical geoscience in our degrees but miss out on opportunities to interact with and learn from other disciplines (e.g., engineers, geographers, social scientists, health professionals). Careers outside of the traditional geoscience industries will require you to demonstrate a broader understanding of sustainable development than just the contribution of geoscience. This is a reason GfGD conferences are interdisciplinary with speakers from economics, social sciences, engineering, and public policy. There are texts relating to disaster risk reduction, water management, natural resources, climate change and urban development that will present new ideas from human geography or the social sciences. If another department includes modules on relevant development challenges, but from different perspectives, email and ask for a reading list and start to broaden your understanding.
  6. The GfGD Annual Conference is a fantastic networking opportunity for geoscientists.

    Network, Network, Network. Use any opportunity you can to network – including in person and through appropriate use of social media (e.g., Twitter). The latter can be a good way to find jobs and learning materials and introduce yourself to people in development. Keep online accounts professional and active. Look out for free events and talks at and outside of universities. Organisations such as ODI have free events where you can attend in person or remotely via a webinar. GfGD have previously facilitated networking meetings, arranged placements, and provided conference bursaries and hope to develop further opportunities in 2019.


Do you have any further tips or thoughts on mobilising and equipping geoscientists to contribute to sustainable development? We’d love to hear them, so please do use the comments below!

Geology for Global Development – Our Highlights from 2018 and Plans for 2019

We have a busy year ahead of us, helping to put sustainable development at the heart of geoscience events, training and practice, and advocating for the importance of geoscience in tackling global challenges. Here’s an overview of our plans, and some highlights from 2018.

Geology for Global Development (GfGD) is a registered charity in England and Wales (Charity Number 1165663), working internationally to champion the role of geology in sustainable development. Working in partnership with many other organisations, we are mobilising and reshaping the geology community to help deliver the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We have four key priorities:

  • INSPIRATION. Promote the value of geology in supporting sustainable development.
  • EDUCATION. Equip geologists to engage positively in sustainable development.
  • ACTION. Enhance the application of geology to international development.
  • LEADERSHIP. Exercise international leadership on matters relating to geology and sustainable development.

Key Achievements in 2018

Through 2018, we delivered many activities aligned with the strategic priorities above. Later this year we’ll publish our Annual Report describing our work in 2018 in detail, but here are some of our highlights…

  • Geology and the SDGs Briefing Note. Co-published with the Geological Society of London and British Geological Survey, this note aims to raise awareness in and outside of the geoscience community of how geoscientists can help deliver the SDGs.
  • Enhancing Earth Science Education to Support Sustainable Development Paper. This article was commissioned to inform an international report on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, setting out key priorities for the next decade. The report will be published in early 2019.
  • University Groups. We continued to give support to our network of ~12 University Groups in England and Scotland, including preparing a resource book to help guide their work and those planning to establish new groups. Our groups had a fantastic year, organising over 30 events through 2018.
  • Presentations on Geoscience for Sustainable Development. We attended key events in Ireland (Irish Early Career Geoscientists Symposium, Galway, January 2018) and the United Kingdom (Herdman Symposium, University of Liverpool, February 2018), and discussed the future of geoscience in the context of delivering the SDGs. We also outlined our work at the international Resources for Future Generations conference.
  • 6th Annual Conference (Water and Sustainable Development). Hosted and supported by the Geological Society of London, this event gathered 120+ people, with approximately 80% of these being early-career geoscientists. The event was opened by a UK Government Minister (Lord Duncan of Springbank), and included speakers from industry, civil society and academia. Diverse case studies from around the world were presented, with a particular emphasis on Tanzania. We welcomed Benedicto Hosea, from Tanzania, and The Eleanor Foundation team to talk about their work towards Sustainable Development Goal 6 (water and sanitation) in Tanzania.
  • UN MGCY at the Science, Technology and Innovation Forum, UN HQ (2018)

    UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum on the SDGs (UN HQ, June 2018). This forum discussed the science required for “transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”, including SDGs 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy), 11 (sustainable cities), 12 (responsible consumption and production) and 15 (life on land). Given our leadership on geoscience and the SDGs, we made it a priority to attend and ensure a clear voice for geoscience at the heart of global development decision-making. Read more.

  • New Partnerships. We became an affiliated organisation of the International Union of Geological Sciences, and signed a partnership agreement with the Liverpool Geological Society.

What’s coming up in 2019? 

We have some exciting plans for the next 12 months, with many opportunities for you to get involved in our work. Some highlights include:

  • Geoscience and Society Summit (Stockholm, Sweden). We are a partner organisation at this innovative summit, with dialogue focused on effective cooperation between scientists and users of scientific information to tackle global and local challenges around sustainability of natural resources and systems, global health, and resilience. Find our more and register here.
  • 3rd International Critical Metals Conference (Edinburgh, UK). We are supporting this conference, organized by the Mineralogical Society’s Applied Mineralogy Group, bringing together researchers working at different stages along the life cycle of critical metals. Session themes will include the geology and resources of critical metals, raw materials for the decarbonisation of energy and transport, and life cycle analysis and ethical sourcing of critical metals. Read more and submit your abstracts!
  • Improved Water Source in Tanzania (Credit: The Eleanor Foundation)

    Water Resources in Tanzania. We will be funding an MSc research project at Cranfield University to be conducted in Tanzania with The Eleanor Foundation. This work will evaluate the sustainability of an established water programme, and provide recommendations for future work. We will also facilitate a round table meeting in the UK focused on delivering SDG 6 (water and sanitation) in Tanzania.

  • 7th GfGD Annual Conference. Our next annual conference is scheduled for Friday 15th November (save the date!). We’ll be announcing more details early in 2019.
  • Guatemala. We’re currently working with partners in Guatemala to design a programme that helps strengthen resilience to volcanic hazards. In 2018, we conducted interviews with key participants in Guatemala. Further progress will be made on this project in 2019.
  • UN Science, Technology and Innovation Forum on the SDGs. We hope to secure funding to lead a delegation of geoscientists to the 4th UN Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs, championing the role of geoscience in SDGs 4 (education), 8 (decent work and economic growth), 10 (inequality), 13 (climate), 16 (strong institutions), 17 (partnerships).
  • Conference Bursaries. We will support student attendance at key geoscience or development meetings, particularly looking for opportunities to facilitate engagement by students in low-income countries.
  • Engaging with Industry. We’re eager to work with the whole geoscience community, mobilising their expertise to help deliver the SDGs. In 2019 we will set up a working group to explore how to work more with geoscience professionals in the private sector.

Follow our social media (Facebook and Twitter) to hear about ways to get involved in our work, and volunteer your time and expertise. We believe that our work can help to reshape the geology community, building a sector equipped to serve communities around the world. We’d love your support – read more about the ways you can help us on our ‘donate’ webpage.