Global network of AI excellence centres in Sustainable Development


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As announced during its launch, IRCAI will fundraise for a network in strengthening AI research excellence centres across the world and facilitate their collaboration and networking. The objective of this vibrant Global network of AI excellence centres in Sustainable Development is to develop a network of excellence centres aiming at boosting the research capacity in AI and Sustainable Development, and making it attractive for scientists and new talents, investors, both social impact and venture capital, and policymakers. This initiative is also expected to contribute to the development of ethical and trustworthy Artificial Intelligence as described in the UNESCO Recommendation.

The network is expected to mobilise researchers to collaborate on key AI methods and Sustainable Development domain topics, to reach critical mass on these topics and to increase the impact of the results in progressing faster in joined efforts rather than working in isolation, with fragmented and duplicated efforts. Since its launch in March, IRCAI has been having extensive conversations with already 10 core partners and plans to launch the network in its current form by autumn 2021.


  • Make the topic of Sustainable Development relevant for AI;
  • Increase the visibility of Sustainable Development topics being solved with the power of AI for scientists, so that it notably becomes relevant for future generations of scientists and breakthroughs in AI;
  • Ensure UNESCO’s policy recommendations are ingrained in the key strategic research topics;
  • Strengthen the various available platforms with Sustainable Development related data with algorithms, tools, solutions developed by the actions funded by the network;
  • Foster mobilization and commitment from the community, including high level experts to contributing to the topic, making it the reference resource for Global researchers, developers, integrators and users;
  • Reinforce Global South’s research capacity in AI;
  • Pave the way to enrich the education offer in order to equip a broad range of non-ICT professionals and sustainable development experts with the necessary AI skills, to make the best of this technology.


  • Focus on scientific or technological major challenges, with the primary goal to reinforce capacity and progress in critical technologies;
  • Building on existing efforts of already existing platforms, networks and projects, the network will develop mechanisms to spread the latest and most advanced knowledge to all the AI-labs in the United Nations five geographical regions: Africa, Americas, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, and the Middle East and prepare the next generation of talent in AI. Such mechanisms will be defined with all network partners;
  • Another objective is also to develop synergies and cross-fertilization between industry and investors in the network of excellence centres, in particular through internships of academic staff (at all levels) in industry, or PhD programmes with industry;
  • The network will form a common resource and will become a shared facility, as a virtual laboratory offering access to knowledge and expertise and attracting scientists, investors, policymakers and new talents. It should become a reference, creating an easy entry point to AI excellence across the Global South as well and should also be instrumental for its visibility;
  • Creating a data driven benchmark system for the measurement of SDGs to further create a social impact investment ecosystem for AI research and companies.


  • The network is spread across all continents, and driven by leading figures in AI from major excellent research centers, bringing the best scientists distributed all over Europe. They will bring on board the necessary level of expertise and variety of disciplines and profiles to achieve their objectives;
  • However, it wants to empower those researchers, thinkers, entrepreneurs and specifically projects using AI that otherwise could not reach visibility in global markets, have a meaningful impact or have a voice
  • Industrial participation will be ensured through the IRCAI partners network in industry and across incubators and accelerators, and also in bringing expertise to identify important technological limitations hampering deployment in industrial context. Such industrial involvement will thus help defining the research priorities of the network and will raise new research questions.
  • Each partner will have to demonstrate access to resources and infrastructure to support R&D, such as data, HPC (central, GPUs, edge computing), storage, robotics equipment, IoT infrastructure, support staff and engineers to develop experiments, etc. All available data sources, including United Nations data where relevant, should be made use of.


  • In order to structure the activities, the network will focus on relevant scientific or technological challenges with industrial relevance and investment potential in segments where it can make a difference, either in building on strengths, or strengthening knowledge to fill gaps critical for AI and sustainability;
  • Based on these challenges, the network will develop and implement common research agendas;
  • Progress will be demonstrated in the context of use-cases, also helping to foster industry-academia collaboration;
  • Strong links will be developed among the members of the network, notably through collaborative projects, exchange programmes, or other mechanisms to be defined by the consortia;
  • Mechanisms will be designed to foster excellence, to increase efficiency of collaboration, and to develop a vibrant AI network across the world;
  • The network will disseminate the latest and most advanced knowledge to all the academic and industrial AI laboratories, and involve them in collaborative projects/exchange programmes;
  • The network will develop interactions with the industry (inside the consortium and beyond), and international policymaking organisations in view of triggering new scientific questions and fostering take-up of scientific advances;
  • Overall, the network will become a virtual center of excellence, offering access to knowledge and serve as a reference in their chosen specific field, including activities to ensure visibility.


Collaborative projects carried out in network should focus on one or several of the following topics and would involve the necessary competencies available in the network to address these:
  • Projects and solutions across all UN regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Northern America, and Oceania;
  • With a strong Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence or Data Science component, in any discipline of science;
  • With a strong emphasis on producing solutions in one or more than one Sustainable Development Goals.


International Research Centre in Artificial Intelligence
under the auspices of UNESCO (IRCAI)

Jožef Stefan Institute
Jamova cesta 39
SI-1000 Ljubljana


The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this website do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

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