From education to employment

Lily Cole spearheads social impact docuseries with The Open University

students walking down stairs

In a bid to tackle some of today’s biggest societal challenges, The Open University (OU) has committed to focusing all of its research around three core pillars: sustainability, inequality and living well.

To launch the new focus areas, which align with young people’s key concerns, the OU selected four current cutting-edge research projects to put to a public vote. Announced today, the winner of the People’s Choice Award is research into empowering victims of human trafficking, conducted by academics including Margaret Ebubedike and Saraswati Dawadi.  

The shortlisted projects are explored further in a new docuseries led by British model and environmentalist, Lily Cole. Released today (Tuesday 11th October 2022), each of the four short films asks a vital question impacting our society:

  • How can we help sex-trafficking survivors rebuild their lives? 
  • How can we “age well” and what does that really mean?
  • How does researching water on the Moon improve sustainability of resources and health on Earth?
  • How can we improve the education system in India?  

Through the docuseries, Cole invites the viewer to learn more about the innovative projects in conversation with The Open University academics leading the research.

Dr Saraswati Dawadi draws upon her upbringing in Nepal to explain her and her fellow OU researchers’ mission to improve the lives of human trafficking survivors, while Professor Mahesh Anand tells of his research group’s pioneering work to extract water from lunar rock. As well as paving the way for humans living on the Moon, back on earth, the technology could provide clean drinking water in drought areas and extract water and rare metals from mine waste.

The film also explores Dr Simon Cross’ research to address a critical skills gap in India’s teaching profession by empowering the country’s teachers to earn digital badges for completing free online courses. Finally, Dr Jitka Vseteckova’s future-facing research explores the ageing process, leading her to develop five pillars of good health and longevity.

Margaret Ebubedike, part of the winning People’s Choice Award research, commented:

“The work I do is so close to my heart and my heritage. Having led rural development projects in the Lake Chad country region, I’ve experienced first-hand how critical empowering girls and young women is in these kinds of communities.

“The human trafficking project is fostering creative spaces for the girls to express themselves, to articulate their daily challenges and concerns about their future aspirations, and to reconstruct their identity in ways which empower them to reintegrate and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

“We hope to not only help these young girls and women in the short term, but to create long lasting, sustainable change.”

Saraswati Dawadi, who also researches improving the lives of trafficking survivors, added:

“After devoting five years of my working life to how we can help trafficking survivors rebuild their lives, it’s an honour to have the importance of these types of projects recognised by the UK public.

“The research we are doing is opening our eyes to the needs of girls in marginalised communities. It’s about empowering victims of sex trafficking by giving them the support and skills to help themselves and others.”

On her involvement in the project, Lily Cole commented:

“I was fascinated to learn about the research underway at The Open University. I knew of the OU as a place for online learning, but hadn’t realised how much else it has going on in terms of really exciting academic research.

“The researchers’ passion for their respective areas really shone through when I spoke to them: whether it was helping trafficking victims integrate back into society, discovering how we can live longer, improving India’s education system or how researching water from the Moon could improve sustainability here on Earth.

“Given the different social and environmental crises we collectively face, academic institutions and universities like the OU are in a powerful position to help us find and develop innovative solutions.”

The new docuseries featuring Lily Cole can be viewed here.

Kevin Shakesheff, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Research at The Open University, concluded:

“Our social mission to improve lives through our research is front and centre of all that we do. These exciting projects truly have the power to impact positive change on society and around the world.

“We’re excited to have found a creative way to showcase just a few examples of the important, cutting-edge research underway by the many talented academics we have at The Open University. It was brilliant to see the inspirational human trafficking research crowned winner of the recent People’s Choice Award.”

More information on the research projects and courses at The Open University can be found at

Related Articles