Background & History

The Establishment of BRIDGES:
History and Context, 2015-present day


In October 2015, UNESCO initiated a two-year project with the support of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (Japan/MEXT) titled, Broadening the Application of the Sustainability Science Approach. This project drew upon sustainability experts from around the world to develop policy guidelines intended to help UNESCO Member States harness the potential of sustainability science in their efforts to support and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


This was instrumental in the production of UNESCO’s policy-guidance document Guidelines for Sustainability Science in Research and Education (2017), which proposed a refined approach to sustainability science, emphasizing inclusive transdisciplinary research, education and societal action (among other modalities) to enable more effective integrated responses to global challenges.  The importance of including the Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as indigenous and traditional local knowledge, without reducing these knowledge domains to instrumental roles, was emphasized in this report.


A follow-up initiative led by UNESCO, in association with the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH), and the Humanities for the Environment global observatory network (HfE) resulted in the creation of a Global Sustainability Science Coalition anchored in the Management of Social Transformations Programme (MOST), whose secretariat is based in UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences sector. It was called BRIDGES – Building Resilience in Defence of Global Environments and Society.

BRIDGES Establishment Workshop 2, UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, June 2019


Extensive multi-stakeholder consultations were carried out over four international workshops in 2019-2021 as part of the visioning process leading to the establishment of BRIDGES. The process involved ca. 40 committed partner organisations (see Appendix 1) that now largely make up the founding membership of BRIDGES and was sponsored and co-organized by the Founding partners, namely UNESCO-MOST, the International Council for Philosophy and Human Sciences (CIPSH) and the Humanities for the Environment global observatory network (HfE).

Helen Acklam, soil artist, presenting her project at the UK Hub launch event.


Following robust consensus-building workshops among leading institutional and organizational partners from around the world across, BRIDGES was endorsed by the Intergovernmental Council of the Management of Social Transformations Programme on March 31, 2021, during MOST’s 15th Ordinary Session. The Coalition held its first general assembly on May 24-25, 2021, with the participation of 45 member organizations and strategic partners. (The number of member institutions in this global coalition is anticipated to expand significantly during the inception phase of BRIDGES (2022-2024).)

In the second half of 2021, the Interim Executive Group of the BRIDGES Coalition – consisting of the Founding Partners of UNESCO, CIPSH and HfE, in consultation with the MOST Secretariat – reviewed applications from numerous member organizations to host regional and thematic BRIDGES hubs and five of these applications were approved. Chronologically, these included: the Southern African Hub at University of Pretoria; the Flagship Hub at Arizona State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory; the Knowledge and Action Hub of the Club of Rome; a Thematic Hub devoted to Understanding Past Socio-Ecological Resilience jointly organized by CUNY’s Human Eco-dynamics Research Center and the Princeton University’s Climate Change and History Research Initiative; and the New Materialities focused UK Hub at University of Wales Trinity Saint David.


The first half of 2023 will see the transition from the interim governance structure set in place during the Coalition’s Inaugural General Assembly (May 24-25, 2021), to a permanent governing council. This entails the Interim Executive Group, made up of the Founding Partners (UNESCO, CIPSH and Humanities for the Environment, in consultation with the MOST secretariat) be replaced by a permanent 12-seat Governing Council in which the MOST Bureau will have an ex officio seat. The constitution of the Governing Council is defined in the BRIDGES Rules of Procedure, endorsed by the founding partners in March 2023. At the 16th Ordinary Session of MOST in April 2023, the Member State unanimously voted to continue to support the work of BRIDGES.


BRIDGES Terms of Reference are signed at a ceremony in UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

Photo of the Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria, home to the BRIDGES Southern African Hub
The Centre for the Advancement of Scholarship, University of Pretoria, home to the BRIDGES Southern African Hub