5 ways we made a difference in 2023

When it comes to summarizing all that an institute as diverse as UNU-MERIT achieves in a year, where does one begin? Our work spans education programmes and capacity development efforts to media engagement and thought leadership to research projects big and small, and so much more. Nevertheless, we’ve done our best to give a snapshot of UNU-MERIT’s impact in 2023 through these five key contributions to sustainable development: 

Responded to the climate crisis

Few parts of life fail to relate in some way to the climate crisis nowadays, and as such, an increasing proportion of our work is turning to address this challenge. Our researchers informed high-level decision-making processes with their work at the UN Water Conference in New York (22-24 March) and at COP 28 in Dubai (30 Nov -12 Dec), as well as taking part in countless other related seminars and events throughout the year. 

Sanae Okamoto speaking at COP28.

UNU-MERIT staff and partners at the UN Water Conference in New York. 












Some of our key publications put forth in 2023 also aimed to help regions and countries adapt to climate change. In collaboration with UNU-CRIS (Belgium) and UNU-EHS (Germany), our United Nations University Climate Resilience Initiative published the report Building Climate Resilience: Lessons from the 2021 Floods in Western Europe, which provides five critical recommendations for policymakers to mitigate flood risk. In a Thomson Reuters op-ed about the floods in Libya, the researchers showed how the recommendations can be put into action.  

Following this report, the Initiative also launched three policy briefs – the Climate change and mental health series: Co-creating a resilient future – at COP28 in December. Indeed, the mental health impacts of climate change is an increasingly urgent topic; our researcher Sanae Okamoto is one of the forefront voices in this field and was featured in a major piece in Scientific American for her work. And, speaking of media, our head of migration studies Melissa Siegel continues to be a preeminent source on migration issues, including climate-induced migration of peoples. 

Brought better support to our education programmes 

In November, we signed an agreement with the Chinese Scholarship Council, enabling the funding of 10 full scholarships for Chinese students to join our Master of Science in Public Policy and Human Development (MPP) programme for the upcoming academic year. With partnerships such as this one, our institute aims to improve the accessibility of our educational programmes, thus supporting more students to become drivers of change for societal good. Our 2023-2024 MPP cohort also grew in size and diversity from the year prior, and is now represented by three Student Ambassadors alongside the MPP study association DEMOS.  

Our PhD Office meanwhile took a new approach to organizing the two programme tracks we offer (full-time and dual career), integrating the two more closely. This serves to strengthen our global community of more than 100 PhD fellows working on core disciplines of the economics of innovation, public policy and governance, and societal transformations. Our annual Research Week, PhD symposium and Internal Conference, which for the first time included fellows from both tracks, were all a resounding success. 

Discussions during the PhD Research Week in February.

UNU-MERIT director Bartel Van de Walle signing our agreement with the Chinese Scholarship Council.









Strengthened our relationship with the European Commission  

Our researchers Hugo Hollanders and Nordine Es-Sadki once again spearheaded the European Innovation Scoreboard, an informational report for the European Commission that provides a comparative analysis of the research and innovation performance of EU Member States (and selected third countries). This annual report, which was published in its 22nd edition in July, has become an important measurement tool for policymakers both within and outside of Europe. 

Tommaso Ciarli being interviewed at the PILLARS conference in November.

The PILLARS project, co-led by our researcher Tommaso Ciarli, ran a major global survey on the future of automation in the workforce, and shared lessons on inclusive labour markets with policymakers in a final conference in Brussels in November, following numerous other events throughout the year. 

In other EU-related news, three new Horizon Europe projects were granted to our institute in 2023: 

                      • TWINRD on macroeconomic modelling of research and development for the twin transition. (Led by Bart Verspagen, with Ad Notten, Önder Nomaler, Cecilia Seri, Mercedes Menéndez De Medina) 
                      • RIBES on enhancing the uptake of biobased innovations through governance and business models, helping support circular economies in nine European regions lagging in innovation. (Led by René Wintjes, with Serdar Türkeli) 
                      • ST4TE on studying the relationship between the green, digital and twin transition and inequalities from a multidimensional approach. (Led by Bart Verspagen, with Tommaso Ciarli, Önder Nomaler and Bruno Martorano) 

A fourth, InnovationGUIDE – on powering pan-European countries’ rural areas by enabling innovators – is led by SBE colleague Burak Can and closely involves our Serdar Türkeli, René Wintjes and Sanae Okamoto. 

Expanded our reach and impact in Latin America and Southeast Asia 

May 2023 marked the end of the first year of UNU-MERIT’s UNESCO Chair on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development for Latin America, which aims to develop and strengthen science, technology and innovation policy and research in the region. From organizing trainings to hosting conversations with high-profile experts (which received more than 800 listeners) to presenting and publishing papers galore, the team – led by Professor Carlo Pietrobelli with PhD fellows Mercedes Menéndez De Medina and Jorge Valverde –has already had an impressive impact, as evidenced by the Chair’s 2022-2023 annual report. 

In November, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) selected our institute to host an important dialogue among five ambassadors and diplomatic representatives from ASEAN nations in the Netherlands. Focused on the region’s Vision 2045 strategy for growth and sustainability, the event welcomed students and citizens from Maastricht to listen in and join the discussion, while serving as a stepping stone toward more collaboration with this economic powerhouse of the world. 

Professor Carlo Pietrobelli speaking at our UNESCO Chair’s Training Programme on Productive Development and Competitiveness in Honduras.

The panel discussion ‘ASEAN 2045: The Future of the Region as an Epicentrum of Growth’, held at UNU-MERIT.









Continued to be a leader in the academic discourse on innovation and technology 

On top of all actions and initiatives listed above – and not included in this brief list – researchers from our institute put forth 200 publications, ranging from major reports co-produced with other UN agencies and multinational organizations, to UNU-MERIT Working Papers, to articles published in top-tier journals. Additionally, we had 14 PhD defenses, which was our highest number yet. 

We couldn’t be prouder of all we’ve accomplished in 2023. Sign up for our newsletter to see what’s in store for 2024. 



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    Photos by H. Pijpers / UNU-MERIT and other staff members and partners