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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership

Anna is a social and economic Geographer. She is currently researching how work and livelihoods intersect with environmental problems and solutions. Her main focus is on informal work in circular systems in lower- and middle-income countries. She also studies how the crises of climate change and COVID-19 intersect with young people’s livelihoods in Uganda, Nepal and Indonesia.



Previous positions


  • Ph.D in Geography, University of Sheffield entitled ‘An international comparative study of attitudes towards socio-economic inequality’. Funded by an ESRC +3 scholarship.
  • MA in Research Methods in Sociology, University of Nottingham. Funded by a University scholarship.
  • BA in Geography, University of Cambridge. With a dissertation about participatory development programmes in the Terai region of Nepal, with Students Partnership Worldwide. Awarded a college scholarship.

Other affiliations

Recent funding

  • School of Technology Seed Funding, University of Cambridge (2021).
  • Asian Development Bank: Youth-specific livelihoods impacts and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In partnership with Restless Development. Focusing on Nepal and Indonesia.
  • British Academy Youth Futures grant: Peak Youth, Climate Change and the Role of Young People in Seizing their Future. In partnership with Makerere University (Uganda) and Restless Development (Uganda). 2020-2021.
  • ESRC DTP Knowledge Exchange Scheme in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation, funding for a 1+3 graduate student starting in 2020, on the research project: Characteristics, expectations and aspirations for work amongst marginalized young people in low- and middle-income countries.  
  • Global Challenges Research Fund Impact Acceleration Account NGO Data, ESRC-4: “Understanding the experiences of young people making a living in low-income countries”, follow-on funding.
  • Global Challenges Research Fund Impact Acceleration Account NGO Data ESRC-4: ‘Understanding the experiences of young people making a living in low-income countries’. Plus follow on funding. With partner NGO Restless Development.
  • Cambridge Humanities Research Grants Scheme, ‘Peak youth and work in low-income countries’, University of Cambridge.
  • Returning Carers Scheme, University of Cambridge.
  • Roberts Funding, University of Sheffield, to support placement at The Equality Trust.
  • Buckley Summer Scholarship on ‘Inequality and Social Change in Britain and the United States’, Social Change: A Harvard – Manchester initiative.
  • Dudley Stamp Memorial Trust research grant, Royal Geographical Society.
  • PhD funded by U.K. Economic and Social Research Council’s +3 studentship
  • MA full scholarship, Department of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Nottingham.
  • David Richards Travel Scholarship, University of Cambridge.


Research interests

Anna’s research considers how the impacts and solutions to the environmental challenges of climate change and plastic pollution intersect with the global scarcity of work and the dominance of the informal sector in lower-income countries. In seeking to understand this work-environment nexus amongst vulnerable and hard-to-reach demographic groups, Anna leads on several complementary themes: (1) The quality and quantity of work in the circular economy, with a focus on informal work within the recycling sector in Africa and Asia; (2) How businesses transition towards more circular modes of operating; and (3) Youth livelihoods in lower income settings in the context of a structural deficit of work.

While the circular economy is principally concerned with flows of materials, intending to capture and reuse value within material flows, Anna examines how a more circular use of materials intersects with key social outcomes, paying attention to Sustainable Development Goal 8, which demands decent work for all. The dearth of decent work worldwide is especially acute in lower income countries where low unemployment rates reflect the vital need to make a living in a context of minimal state welfare. While the work done to get by is often considered to be economically unproductive, informal waste-pickers underpin the recycling loop of the circular economy in many settings. The economic vulnerability of waste pickers has been highlighted, as COVID19 containment measures left many without work, income or food. The mismatch between the essential labour performed by informal waste collectors and their poor working conditions leads Anna to argue for the inclusion of labour as a pillar of circular economy thinking.

With an interest in the practicalities and politics of transitioning towards greater circularity, Anna is collaborating with Saffy Ahmad and Aris Vrettos to understand how multinational companies are moving towards greater circularity. As circular economy goals are increasingly adopted, we ask how businesses and business models are being reconfigured around goals to be increasingly circular?  Large multinationals often have the resources and scale to have a far-reaching impact, yet their business models are usually linear, potentially making it difficult to change tack. Through interviewing incumbent businesses, we seek to document the motivations, barriers, enablers, and ambitions vis-à-vis the circular economy. The aim is to share lessons and therefore support other businesses in their own circular transitions. 

Anna leads a research project in Uganda which investigates how environmental crises impact upon work and livelihoods. This work is in collaboration with Makerere University and Restless Development Uganda, and is supported by British Academy funding. With a median age of 15.8, Uganda is demographically the third youngest country in the world. Yet the youth labour under-utilisation rate of 67.9% makes it unlikely that these young people will find decent jobs. Climate change exacerbates livelihood precarity with increased flooding and droughts and disrupted seasonality leading to less reliable agriculture and intensified rural-urban migration. Starting from youth experience and agency, this research project investigates how climate change in Uganda is affecting young lives and youth livelihoods in the regions of Karamoja and Jinja. The research will document the diverse lives and livelihood strategies of young people in rural and urban settings; investigate how climate change impacts upon young people's lives and livelihoods; and identify youth solutions to the challenges they face.


Key publications: 


  • Dorling, D., Newman, M. and Barford, A. (2010). Atlas of the real world (2nd edition). Thames and Hudson, London. Also published in Germany and Austria.
  • Dorling, D., Newman, M. and Barford, A. (2008) The atlas of the real world. London, Thames & Hudson.  Also published in the United States, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Two further foreign language editions were published in South Korea and Japan in 2009.

Book chapters


  • Barford, A., Proefke, R., Mugeere, A. and Stocking, B., 2021. Young people and climate change. COP 26 Briefing Series of The British Academy, p.1-17. doi:10.5871/bacop26/9780856726606.001.
  • Barford, A., Brayne, C., and Shuckburgh, E.. 2020. Just transition: Supporting society in the zero-carbon transformation. In Shuckburgh, E., Zenghelis, D., Agarwala, M., Diaz Anadon, L., Howard-Grenville, J., Peñasco, C., . . . Hayes, J. (2020). A Blueprint for a Green Future - Multidisciplinary report on a green recovery from COVID-19 by the Cambridge Zero Policy Forum. Cambridge Open Engage. Chapter 2. doi:10.33774/coe-2020-2831j  [1] 
  • Barford, A. and Cieslik, K. 2019. Making A Living: A Youth Employment Agenda. Published by Murray Edwards College, in July 2019. CC BY Creative Commons license. DOI: 10.17863/CAM.41570
  • Barford, A. and Coombe, R. 2019. Getting by: young people's working lives. Published by Murray Edwards College, in April 2019. CC BY Creative Commons license. 10.17863/CAM.39460

Conference proceedings

Peer reviewed journal articles

Relevant links


Other Professional Activities


  • Shortlisted for ‘Supervisor in the Arts Humanities and Social Sciences’, in the Cambridge University Student-Led Teaching Awards
  • Gold Award for ‘The atlas of the real world’, from the U.K. Geographical Association
  • Award for Excellence in Leading Geography, from the U.K. Geographical Association 
  • Sidney Sussex College Downham Yeomans scholarship, University of Cambridge
Dr Anna  Barford
Prince of Wales Fellow in Pathways to a Circular Economy, supported by Unilever

Contact Details

+44 (0) 12237 67353