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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)


CISL has created a programme in Cambridge to explore how companies can become better agents of inclusive development in the global south. Drawing on researchers at the University’s Centre of Development Studies, it evaluates the practices of leading corporations working in Africa to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why, contributing to the global evidence base on private sector development.

Working closely with civil society partners and academics, the programme will enable business, government and financial institutions to identify scalable, market-led solutions to the challenges underlying the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We are looking for corporate partners to pioneer this work with us.


How the programme works

The programme comprises a small group of companies tackling business-relevant questions in co-operation with Cambridge research teams and specialist development and technology partners.

Specifically, we are interested in:

  • identifying innovations in their markets, supply chains or wider business relationships with potential to advance SDG outcomes at scale
  • evaluating the impact of these innovations as they unfold, learning lessons about what works, what doesn’t, and why
  • magnifying global interest in private sector development through ‘substantive case studies’, thought leadership, and journal papers.

Each company suggests an area of practice where a particular opportunity or challenge exists relating to a critical SDG area such as health, gender, income, work or governance.

Global evidence is synthesised in order to frame business opportunities, allowing new thinking to be trialed within the operations, sourcing or selling relationships of the partner companies.

The aim is to draw lessons for replication and scale, engage policymakers and move development thinking forward though example. The principal output will be improved business strategies for delivering the SDGs, communicated through case studies developed by a Cambridge team supported by local research institutions.


Case study: ‘Biogas for health’ pilot study, Kenya

Commissioned by



Dr Jake Reynolds, CISL

Dr Alexandra Winkels, Centre of Development Studies

Dr Natasha Grist, CISL and Centre of Development Studies

Dominic Wanjihia, Biogas International

Ashling Mulvaney, AstraZeneca

John Pharoah, CISL

AstraZeneca logoProject overview

Worldwide 2.8 billion people face serious health impacts caused by their reliance on solid fuels such as wood, for household cooking needs. Cooking in enclosed poorly ventilated kitchens and on inefficient devices, causes respiratory infections, heart disease, stroke, and lung cancers, and is estimated to be responsible for 2.2 - 4.3 million premature deaths yearly.

Switching to clean fuel sources such as biogas will not only address these major health issues, but also provide associated development and environmental benefits. The ‘clean fuel switch’ can reduce energy poverty in rural areas, improve household socio-economic conditions particularly for women and children, and decrease forest degradation caused by wood harvesting, habitat loss and ecosystem disturbance.

Biogas is a clean fuel produced relatively simply from raw materials like manure, green waste, food waste or sewage, as part of a natural process of decomposition. Despite significant advantages compared to solid fuels, biogas deployment in Africa remains very limited.

This project introduced biogas technology to the Dunga Beach community located on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. The project team used the introduction of biogas to analyse its impact on respiratory health, livelihoods of the local community and the environment.

Watch a video from AstraZeneca outlining the context and ambition of the project.

Project aims

This 18-month pilot project had two elements:

  • 50 household biogas systems to families living in the Dunga Beach area, and
  • Two large community level biodigesters producing gas for small enterprises located on the lake shore run by women. These biodigesters are being fed with local fish wastes and harvested water hyacinth, an invasive weed found in Lake Victoria.

Over the course of this pilot project the impact of the clean fuel switch was studied, including the economic and health improvements, employment creation, and business models for upscale and replication. Observations relating to local institutions, diffusion of technology, use and adoption, and governance, were also monitored.

Lessons for inclusive development

The research identified that households embraced biogas cooking with two thirds of participants noting that their health had improved and households saved around US$19 per month which would otherwise have been spent on traditional fuels. The research recommends a credit model is assessed to help scale up future household biogas deployment.

There is an urgent need to find innovative solutions to social and environmental challenges in Africa and elsewhere; solutions that are scalable, replicable and integrate delivery of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Appropriately done, this is where the reach, resources and practical expertise of the private sector can make a real difference. CISL’s programme on inclusive development is exploring how companies can become better agents for improved health, gender empowerment, income, livelihoods and employment, and the environment. By working with companies to pilot innovations – on the ground or at a strategic level – we aim to understand what works, what doesn’t, and why.

Read Dr Jake Reynolds' blog: Transforming lives through clean, green cooking energy.


Dunga fisheries 2


Please click here to download the Biogas Community and Household Pilot Baseline Study report.

About the partners

Institute for Sustainability Leadership, University of Cambridge  

CISL has been catalysing leadership towards a sustainable economy for almost 30 years. We have worked with 8,000 senior executives and policymakers internationally to help align their strategies with this objective. We form a bridge between these executives and cross-disciplinary teams of University researchers to elucidate new perspectives and solutions. Our thought leadership and industry collaborations have been a notable influence at some of the world’s most prestigious fora.

Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge

Located within the Department of Politics and International Studies, CDS is the University’s research and education hub on global development. It’s interdisciplinary training is grounded in the realities of development, with research capabilities spanning the political economy of development and markets; innovation in commodity chains; technology in a rural African context; health, gender empowerment; and the impact of renewable energy.

Contact us

If you are a company interested in pioneering this work with us, please .