UNSW Global Sandbox Alliance champions shared societal impact goal

14 Feb 2024
A/Prof Yenni Tim

Yenni Tim from UNSW Business School spearheads the Alliance, which builds on the success of the UNSW Sandbox Program.

Associate Professor Yenni Tim is leading the Global Sandbox Alliance, bringing together academic experts, industry professionals, community organisations and the future leaders of our world – university students. Together, they will collaborate to devise innovative solutions for the pressing societal challenges of our time. 

Building on the UNSW Sandbox Program, the Alliance is on a mission to seed Sandbox Programs in leading universities around the globe. 

Driving societal change: challenges and vision

Fostering meaningful and sustainable collaborations between industry and academia for effective problem-solving and innovation presents a significant challenge – there’s a notable absence of frameworks for such partnerships. 

Industry professionals often remain disconnected from the ground-breaking research and emerging talent in universities, and students lack access to real-world experiences. Academics, while eager, frequently encounter limited opportunities to apply their insights and expertise to address real-world societal challenges.

The UNSW Sandbox Program, with its four-year track record of fostering large-scale, purpose-driven partnerships between industry and academia, serves as an exemplary model. 

From local to global

The UNSW Sandbox Program brings to life the concept of a “sandbox” by establishing a low-cost, low-risk innovation environment within the scaffold of a university's courses. In these Sandboxes, teams of academic experts, industry/community partners and emerging leaders come together to experiment, ideate and co-design solutions addressing pressing societal challenges. 

Over the last four years, the UNSW Sandbox Program has successfully engaged more than 150 organisations and community representatives, numerous academics and more than 9000 future leaders from UNSW. This collective effort has led to tackling some of society's most intricate challenges, from digital exclusion to energy transitions.

“Through the UNSW Sandbox Program, we have witnessed the significant potential of tripartite collaboration. The Global Sandbox Alliance is a catalyst for universities worldwide to converge, collaborate and transcend the traditional barriers in industry-academia partnerships,” says A/Prof. Tim, founder of the UNSW Sandbox Program and the Global Sandbox Alliance. 

The Alliance envisions a network of Sandbox Programs across universities and disciplines. This network will foster productive, lasting partnerships, leveraging global expertise and resources to support universities’ research, education and social engagement activities. 

University of Toronto, Canada: multidisciplinary Sandbox

The Alliance welcomed the University of Toronto as its inaugural institutional member. Through the knowledge-exchange opportunities facilitated by the Alliance, the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science launched its first multidisciplinary Sandboxes in September 2023. These initiatives were developed in collaboration with partners such as UNICEF, the Toronto District School Board and a non-profit organisation, Access Alliance, addressing contemporary challenges ranging from civic engagement to supporting refugee youth.

In a notable collaboration with UNICEF’s Digital Centre of Excellence, the Faculty of Arts and Science initiated seven Sandbox courses. These courses feature interconnected projects aimed at enhancing UNICEF's digital capabilities in predicting conflict escalation and transforming data access. 

”We have been so grateful for the support of A/Prof. Tim and UNSW in helping us conceptualise and launch our Sandbox Initiative and are thrilled to be the first partner in the Global Sandbox Alliance,” says Dr Vicki Lowes, Executive Director of Experiential Learning & Professional Development in the Faculty of Arts and Science, University of Toronto. 

“Without UNSW’s guidance, I can’t imagine we could have launched our pilot so quickly and smoothly. In our first year, over 1300 Faculty of Arts and Science students are participating in 11 Sandbox courses. It has been great to learn from UNSW’s successes as we work towards our Faculty’s goal of every Arts and Science student having the opportunity to participate in at least one high quality experiential learning opportunity prior to graduation.”

In its next phase, the UNSW Business School and the University of Toronto's Faculty of Arts and Science will deepen their collaboration, embarking on cross-institutional Sandbox projects and joint research endeavours. The Alliance is committed to onboarding more members worldwide, bringing together institutions with a shared vision of fostering societal betterment through education, research, and practice.