Leon Liebenberg


Reimagine Our Future

Submit a brief fact sheet detailing your innovative idea(s) to address a sustainability problem anywhere in the world.
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Initial Judges
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The global sustainability crisis requires innovative solutions that promote human flourishing without compromising the natural systems upon which we depend. For this competition, undergraduate students will rise to this challenge by developing an innovative plan or solution that promotes one or more of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while taking account of other relevant SDGs. In doing so, you will address a particular sustainability problem or challenge which could be at a local, regional, national, or international level anywhere in the world. 

Your plan or solution could be a program for a government or private entity, proposal, product or service, system, business plan, event, social media platform, app, game, law, organization, educational initiative, or something else. Your plan or solution must be presented in the form of a fact sheet.

We welcome submissions from individuals and teams of undergraduate students from all participating universities and colleges. The participating universities and colleges are: University of Birmingham; International Humanitarian University, Odessa, Ukraine; University of Illinois, Chicago; University of Illinois, Springfield; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; University of Pretoria; Vienna University of Economics and Business; Waubonsee Community College; Zhejiang University. 

Undergraduate students from other universities or colleges may serve as members of teams that enter the competition provided the lead student is enrolled at a participating college or university. (For more details see “Competition Rules: Eligibility”). 




  • Robert McKim Award (1 winner): $2000
  • Second prize (2 winners): $1000
  • Third prize (3 winners): $500

Professor Mike Yao (UIUC College of Media and the UIUC Gies College of Business) will guide the top three winning teams (irrespective of their institution or country) in identifying viable pathways for further idea development and assist them in securing appropriate resources for their specific projects.

The following awards are also available in 2024, for submissions that meet the required criteria:

  • $1500 award for the best submission on Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration relevant in Illinois; prize sponsored by the Prairie Rivers Network (1 winner)
  • $500 award by the UIUC Center for Global Studies for the best submission on climate change.
  • $500 will be awarded to the team that has made the most progress towards implementing their idea in practice. (For example, you might build a prototype, engage in a field trial, discuss your idea with companies in the market, or develop a business plan.)
  • $500 for the team with the most multi-disciplinary idea. (Sustainability challenges are inherently complex and interconnected. This award is for the submission that most effectively integrates knowledge from multiple disciplines or fields.)


How to Enter

The first step is for team captains to register their teams.

Each team member must accept the legal agreement.

As you research and develop your idea, you must seek the advice of a specialist to research and refine your concept. 

Teams must provide details of their meeting with their specialist advisor.

Teams will express their ideas in a compelling fact sheet that must be submitted on the competition webpage.


Fact Sheet Requirements

Your proposal will be evaluated in terms of its novelty, feasibility, replicability, clarity, whether you make a compelling case for it, and its likely effectiveness in promoting the SDGs. Please ensure that your fact sheet follows the following stipulations:


Main Body: Use a combination of text and graphics. The text should be for a general audience and concise. The graphics should help communicate the challenge addressed, your proposal, and what it would achieve, if implemented.

These three elements must be included in the fact sheet:

1. The Challenge:

Describe the challenge addressed and explain how addressing this challenge bears on one or more of the SDGs, paying attention to relevant SDGs and keeping in mind the connections between people and nature.

Some questions to consider:

• How widespread is the challenge? Are many people or ecosystems or other forms of life affected?

• Does your proposal deal with a specific location or community? If so, explain.

2. Your Solution:

Clearly and concisely describe your main idea. Some questions to consider:

• Why do you believe the proposed action will be successful?

• Who or what will benefit from this action?

3. Implementation:

Describe your plans to achieve your intended result. Some questions to consider:

• How long will it take to implement your solution? How long will it stay in effect?

• What resources (financial, human, technological, physical, other) does it require?

• Would your proposal require or benefit from partnership with any companies, nonprofits, governments, or other organizations?

• What will be the main obstacles, and have you thought about how to overcome them?

• How will progress be monitored and evaluated?


Fact Sheet Formatting

Format Requirements:

• Fact sheet is 1-3 pages in length

• Paper size: Standard 8.5 in. × 11 in.

• Maximum file size: 10 MB

• Submit as a pdf document


Front Matter:

This information must be included in a ‘header’ located in a banner above the main fact sheet content:

• Project title

• Your team's name

• Name (or names, in the case of submission by a team) and team captain's email contact

• Key SDGs promoted or impacted by your solution (e.g., SDG 7 and SDG 15)


References and Acknowledgements:

The following information must be included at the end (bottom) of the fact sheet:

• List up to five relevant articles, academic studies, or other sources of information

• Identify a specialist in a relevant field with whom you discussed your main idea. Provide that person’s name, organization and position, and email address. (If the specialist with whom you discussed your main idea is not from the college or university where you study, provide the name of an academic at your college or university with whom you have discussed your main idea. Provide that person’s name, organization and position, and email address.)

• Acknowledge any additional organizations or individuals who provided significant guidance

Find a Specialist Advisor

You must seek the advice of a specialist regarding your ideas.

You are welcome to seek the advice of any of the specialist advisors on our list or you may consult any other specialist in the field of your idea or solution.​​​​

Guidance and Requirements: 

After your consultation with a specialist you will submit the following information here. 

Tips and Etiquette

  • Make sure you have done your research before you reach out to any individual or organization. You want to make the most of the specialist’s valuable time!
  • Send emails and setup communications during business hours.
  • Take good notes during the interview.
  • You might like to ask the specialist if there are other experts whom you should consult about your project, sources you should consult, etc.
  • Remember to say thank you!

Judging Criteria

Winning submissions will have that elusive “wow factor,” eliciting feelings of excitement and admiration! These are ambitious projects that the judges would like to recommend to the Gates Foundation for funding!

All entries (fact sheets and team presentations) will be evaluated in terms of the four criteria below for a maximum overall score of 60 points:

Point ValueCriteriaDescription
20 Novelty / Originality

An original (new, innovative, ground-breaking) idea or synthesis of existing ideas into a new strategy that creatively advances one or more of the SDGs. An entry might also show originality by adapting to a new context (e.g. a different country or cultural or economic context) a strategy already used elsewhere, taking account of local challenges and proposing local partnerships.

20Likely impactThe plan is likely to have a significant impact. A convincing case is made for implementability, showing how it would rely on, say, existing or new technology; established or new social organizations, or markets. Also, the initiative can be scaled up and widely replicated and will provide a model for others.


Connection to the SDGsThe entry mentions all relevant SDGs and indicates how the initiative will advance them.
10  Compelling CommunicationThe submission is written with clarity, visually engaging, easy for a non-specialist to follow, powerful, and compelling.

Competition Rules


  • A competing team must consist entirely of undergraduate students.
  • Individual undergraduate students at participating institutions are also invited to enter the competition. If so, they will form solo teams.
  • A competing team must be led by a student who is currently registered at a participating university or college; that student will serve as the primary contact for the team.
  • There is no maximum number of teammates. Teams are encouraged to include members across different disciplines (e.g., physics, history, journalism, and nuclear engineering). Students may be members of more than one team. 
  • Members of a team can be from a single participating institution, or one or more participating institutions together with one or more nonparticipating universities or colleges.
  • Part-time undergraduate students are welcome to enter the competition provided they are either enrolled in a participating institution or a member of a team led by a student from a participating institution.
  • Students who are looking for teammates may use the “Find Teammates” link on our discussion board to find and recruit interested team members.
  • The competition coordinators will not become involved in disputes within teams.
  • All team members and all individual entrants must review, acknowledge, and agree to the competition rules. Submissions will otherwise be disqualified.


  • All deliverables and presentations are accessible to the public. Some of the presentations may also be recorded and made available on university sites or on the internet. It is also expected that media personnel will cover this competition. Any and all of these recordings or deliverables may be broadcast to interested persons through media which may include radio, television, and the internet. The same material may also be made available to the printed media (newspapers, magazines, journals) for publication purposes. Any data or information discussed or divulged in the competition’s public sessions by entrants should be considered information that could possibly enter the public realm, and entrants should not assume any right of confidentiality in any data or information discussed, divulged, or presented in these sessions. If a team uses copyrighted materials and/or images from a third-party in their deliverables or presentations, they must in advance obtain permission and authorization from the owners to use this material. Also, that material must be appropriately cited and credited.


  • Judges will review all submitted fact sheets and select 10 to 12 finalist entries. 
  • The final judges will select the winners from among the finalists. 
  • An award (with a particular focus) will not be given if no submission meets the required criteria for that award.
  • The competition coordinators reserve the right to eliminate entrants based on non-compliance with rules or failure to submit mandatory deliverables. University of Illinois students are required to comply with the UIUC Student Code,

No-show or non-provision of deliverables

  • Failure to submit competition deliverables without prior notification of the main competition coordinator (Prof. Leon Liebenberg: ), will be understood as withdrawal from the competition. 

Appeals, extensions, and exceptions

  • At the discretion of the competition coordinating team, extensions and exceptions may be offered. The competition coordinators reserve the right to review appeals on a case-by-case basis and rule on them with decisions that may differ from the rules.


  • The competition coordinating team will use a variety of communication channels to convey information to participants and the public. It is the sole responsibility of participants to ensure that they have made note of the various submission deadlines and requirements as stipulated on the competition website.

Final Presentations

  • The shortlisted teams present their solutions in-person or via Zoom to the team of judges at the competition's final award ceremony. This ceremony will be held in-person and online at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (Depending on Covid-related measures, this ceremony might be presented online-only.) No stand-ins will be permitted for any team member. If reasonable notice of cancellation is provided and other arrangements are made in advance with the main competition coordinator (Prof. Leon Liebenberg: ) these changes will not count against your team.
  • A team may use some or all its participants as final presenters. The presentation time limit will remain as posted for each team’s total presentation.


  • Winning money will be paid out to the team captains of the winning teams. Team captains are responsible for disbursing funds to their teammates. 
Past Winners
Specialist Advisors
Initial Judges
Final Judges (tentative)
Faculty Stars
About Us