Through philanthropic collaborations, UQ is accelerating vital research into areas like bushfire prevention and the impacts of plastics on human health.

The University of Queensland has long been a destination for people and organisations looking to make an impact through research.

With a tagline of “Create Change”, UQ has created a university-wide culture of philanthropic engagement that unites its entire community, including staff, students, alumni and donors.

With these strong foundations, it has been able to work in partnership with major corporate and philanthropic figures, including Google.org and The Minderoo Foundation, to make big things happen.

A new frontier in bushfire research

Kicking off in 2021, a three-year partnership between UQ and Google’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, will study the ways bushfires and the atmosphere interact with each other to help track and predict the movements of bushfires.

UQ’s observational meteorology research team, which will be led by Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Hamish McGowan, will use AI to trace the movement of embers and deliver real-time nowcasts of extreme bushfire hazards.

Field teams with radar trucks and other high-tech equipment will be sent out to locations near bushfires to monitor what’s happening ‘on the ground’ by gathering data. This data will help researchers to model where embers are falling in a smoke plume, and predict where bushfires are likely to spread.

The goal is to eventually make this technology available to fire agencies, protecting lives, properties, and the environment from catastrophic bushfires.

“Building links with philanthropic organisations gives us a conduit to take the research from the lab to application. It allows us to take the basic science and develop it through to a deliverable product that has a real-world application in a relatively short time,” says Professor McGowan.

“With Google, you’ve got one of the largest businesses on the planet supporting the research. They have an incredible resource base that we can tap into to deliver outstanding worldwide impacts. It’s an incredible opportunity.”

“The best part is that we are able to deliver the benefits of our work sooner to the people and environments that need it most” he says.

Understanding the impacts of plastics on human health

Meanwhile, as reported by F&P, Minderoo recently awarded a $4.5 million grant to UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS), to support vital research examining the impact of plastics on the human body.

Like the Google Bushfires project, this study is a joint research collaboration between the research teams at Minderoo and the analytical scientists at QAEHS, who are led by UQ’s Professor Kevin Thomas.

“The great thing is Minderoo is more than just a philanthropic donor. They have their own expert researchers working on plastics and human health so we can supercharge our impact by working together,” he says.

“The collaboration provides us with the infrastructure and the equipment that we need to be able to do research that is unique anywhere in the world.”

Continuing to create change

UQ’s latest work builds on the success of UQ’s first comprehensive philanthropic campaign, Not if, When – the Campaign to Create Change. The campaign launched in 2017, with the ambitious goal of raising $500 million. It closed at the end of 2020 with $607 million in gifts from over 16,600 donors, and the UQ team continues to recognise the donors and work done through that period under the heading of The Good Doesn’t Stop.

UQ Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Advancement) Jennifer Karlson attributes the success of the campaign to the strong spirit of philanthropy within the University. “The broader UQ staff community are active partners in fundraising efforts, and are always open to engaging with donors.”

“In 2019, toward the latter end of our campaign, we launched our first ever Giving Day… What was particularly touching was that from the 1400 donors who supported Giving Day, over 40% were fellow staff members,” Karlson says.

“Through the campaign, we have been able to elevate our position in the community both as an expert partner to navigate the world’s challenges and as a trusted destination to make a difference through giving.”

Making sure the good doesn’t stop

While the Not if, When campaign may have closed, the momentum it created continues.

“New partners are continually stepping forward, looking to the University of Queensland to help achieve impact, whether through driving world-leading research or creating more pathways to university through scholarships,” Karlson says.

“UQ has a long history of successful research partnerships with start-ups, local businesses, multinational corporations, government and other research institutions. While there is also a long history of giving at UQ (our university was literally founded through the gift of land), philanthropic partnerships are growing rapidly.”

Karlson attributes UQ’s success in building this culture of philanthropy, in part, to the Advancement team’s tireless work in building connections with purpose-driven people and organisations.

“We work with them to understand their passion and then introduce them to the talent within our university that will help achieve their goals. We have the best job – and it’s made even better by the incredible and diverse people we work with at UQ and throughout our global community,” Karlson says.

“Our team is values driven with a strong belief that philanthropy plays an essential and growing role in UQ’s ability to transform lives through education and research. We also aspire to have the highest level of integrity in all we do, and know we are at our best when working as a team. By taking this approach and listening and learning in all our interactions, we naturally build trust with partners,” Karlson says.

Three tips for success

Karlson offers three pieces of advice to other development teams looking to follow in UQ’s footsteps by building strong and trusted philanthropic partnerships.

“Firstly, I think any university looking to strengthen external partnerships should have strong values and a firm commitment to teamwork,” Karlson says. “Secondly, every team member needs an awareness of the impact their university is creating in the world. Finally, it is critical that fundraisers have the ability to listen – both to what external partners want to achieve, and what the university needs to realise those ambitions.”

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