IRCAI Research Awards


How to get involved in the IRCAI AI Awards 2021?

IRCAI is a new UNESCO affiliated AI center with emphasis on its potential for application in addressing the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), either to improve our measurement of the KPIs associated with the different SDGs or as a part of systems that address one or more of the SDGs.

The IRCAI Awards supported by UNESCO would highlight research and development addressing either of these aspects but initially restricted to a subset of the SDGs for which IRCAI has already developed groups of experts, solving Sustainable Development problems of local, regional, national and international nature. Together IRCAI and UNESCO have an outreach of over 193 countries around the world and hundreds of AI researchers across continents.

Awards are structured as high visibility opportunities and relevance with focus to specific applicants needs to the principal investigator or her/his academic institution or organization and as such. IRCAI retains no intellectual property rights to the resulting work. Recipients are encouraged to publish outcomes and commit related code to open-source repositories and can receive consultation and advice along with opportunities to participate in research events and training sessions. The IRCAI Research Award wants to empower those research thinkers across themes combining AI and SDGs that otherwise could not reach a meaningful impact or have a voice.

Selected Principal Investigators (PIs) may receive the following:

  • Honorary award issued by IRCAI and supported by UNESCO for their outstanding research accomplishments
  • Leadership tailored accordingly to their specific solutions and unrestricted access to the IRCAI partners network
  • Training resources, including tutorials and hands-on sessions with scientists and engineers form the IRCAI Partners Network


We try to connect and make the case between research, technology and policy.

The Awards are aiming at pushing the IRCAI agenda in:

  • Incentivizing applications: to catalyze the development of inclusive and ethical AI applications for sustainable development
  • Showcasing applications for Policy and Regulatory structures: foster the design of policies and regulations that enable inclusive and rights-based AI
  • Drive investments in Infrastructure and Skills: build the infrastructure and skills for driving research and applications in inclusive and ethical AI


These are aligned with the global agenda on research tackling Sustainable Development and AI.

  • Increase the use of SDG themes related data and services by raising awareness of the use of Machine Learning in new use cases, research communities and geographical areas across the globe.
  • Support 5 research groups or start-ups annually via the IRCAI Network and the international visibility and prestige provided by the prize and award ceremony.
  • To further support the development of the successful applications, each winner will be offered a ticket to the IRCAI Accelerator event.
  • Create a vibrant AI for SDGs ecosystem across the globe for stakeholders (research centers, universities, small and large companies, etc.), through the organisation of a prestigious award and ceremony.
  • Showcasing talents combining AI and SDGs that otherwise could not reach a meaningful impact or have a voice.


The nomination process has been designed to make it as easy as possible for individuals and organisations.

Researchers are encouraged to reach out to their networks, as well as members of the public, to seek nominations. However, we strongly recommend that networks take a proactive approach to encourage their researchers to put them forward. There are 8 categories in which you can put forward nominations – and you can do so in as many as you like. Each category will have a set of specific questions to guide the nominator, and a 300-word limit for each.


There are 8 categories and 5 themes in which you can put forward a nomination.

We aim to help advance the state-of-the art in some of the most challenging and exciting problems in Development with Artificial Intelligence, not only in the Global south but the Global North as well. We are seeking to award machine learning research on the following topics related to Sustainable Development Goals – Climate change, Assistive technologies, Health, Education, Circular economy, Mobility, Financial inclusion/ Social impact.

The SDGs that would be targeted in the first round of the awards would be:
Category 1 – Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being – Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Category 2 – Goal 4: Quality Education – Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning
Category 3 – Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure – Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Category 4 – Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities – Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Category 5 – Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production – Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Category 6 – Goal 13: Climate Action – Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Cross-cutting Priorities:
Category 7 – Goal 5: Gender Equality – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Category 8 – Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities – Reduce inequality within and among countries

As it is difficult to pinpoint AI solutions the address only one SDG, we would organize the prizes around the following themes:
Theme 1 – Education (SDG 4)
Theme 2 – Healthcare (SDG 3)
Theme 3 – Climate (SDG 13)
Theme 4 – Assistive technologies (SDG 11, 12, 9)
Theme 5 – Circular Economy (SDG 11, 12, 9)


Accepting research projects from all the Worlds regions.

We are specifically looking to support research in the format of projects or segments of larger research endeavors:

  • Conducted across all UN regions major areas designated as: 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 Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Reaching tangible results and deliverable outcomes by the end of May 2021.


There are 5 broad and overall criteria the judges will be looking at in the application.
IRCAI will make the final decisions based on the potential implementation and impact of the AI in the development research community, and quality of the scientific content. However, it will take into consideration the broad criteria listed below.
  • Scientific Excellence: Originality of the key idea
  • Sustainable Development: Centrality of AI to delivering the solution
  • Impact: The potential impact on the particular SDG(s) either in measuring its KPIs or delivering systems that will improve them
  • Implementation: The demonstration of the potential in the work completed as either a proof of concept or research work completed
  • Ethics: Ethical Design of the AI (according to the EU/OECD standards)


Programme Committies will held interviews with the winning nominees.
General Questions (these may not apply to all candidates): Tell us why you and no one else can ensure the best outcome for the project. Expect them to mention originality and initiative. How and when will one be able to measure the significance of the impact of your project on society? What difference to your normal day-to-day research would the IRCAI UNESCO award make? In what ways does the present proposal differ from your PhD or general research? In what ways is it similar?


IRCAI Programme Committees choose two nominations in each category.

After the nomination window closes on 30 April 2021, nominations will be sent to the relevant IRCAI Programme Committees for initial sifting. The panels will each choose two nominations in each category to go forward – this will include a champion and a runner up to be announced in July 2021. All champions will be invited and assisted by IRCAI in preparing a presentation during June 2021 and delivering it at the IRCAI award ceremony in Ljubljana, Slovenia in July 2021 where our winners will be presented all UNESCO Member States!


Submission period: 12/10/2020 – 4/30/2021 Shortlist: by end of May 2021 Preparation for final presentation: June 2021 Awards announcement: Decision letters will be sent out approximately three weeks after the submission deadline Awards ceremony: An event will be held in June 2021, depending on the COVID-19 pandemic when final presentations are made and final decisions/presentation made.


You can either apply a person or as an organization. Upon selection you’ll be asked to provide identification.


Attend the final adjudication in Slovenia (expenses paid by IRCAI).


Potential applicants should send their questions to The email subject should be”IRCAI AI Awards”. Only questions sent to this mailbox will be answered. Answers will be published periodically and within a reasonable period of time on the IRCAI webpage. The deadline for submitting questions related to this call is 30 April 2021. Applicants will be informed of the results of the evaluation within 3 weeks of the submission deadline.


Proposal template (link) FAQs


Applicants should use the IRCAI electronic submission system to submit their proposal.  The deadline for electronic submissions is 30 April 2021 at 17:00 (CET).


This call is being organized by IRCAI in close collaboration with UNESCO, the Knowledge 4 All Foundation, UNESCO Chair in Artificial Intelligence (University College London, UK) with the generous support of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia, Ministry of Education, Science and Sport.


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

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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