PhD Positions in Philanthropy, Justice, and Sustainability Governance

Utrecht University


Two PhD Positions in Philanthropy, Justice, and Sustainability Governance (1.0 FTE)

Job description

Utrecht University has opened two new full-time four-year positions for doctoral (PhD) researchers in the field of philanthropy, justice, and sustainability governance. The two doctoral researchers will become part of a major new research project investigating the role of philanthropic foundations in shaping justice discourses and practices in global sustainability governance being led by Dr Agni Kalfagianni. The project, titled “Beyond Giving: Philanthropic Foundations as Agents of Justice in Global Sustainability Governance? (BEYOND GIVING)”, runs over 4,5 years (2023-2027), and is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

The core aim of the BEYOND GIVING project is to provide critical knowledge on how diverse philanthropic foundations shape global justice and with what consequences for global sustainability governance. The project examines a variety of foundations active in the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development, their interpretations of global justice, the power relations that such interpretations may reinforce or challenge in global sustainability governance, the institutionalization of such interpretations in concrete policy plans and actions, and the factors that explain variation.

The two doctoral researchers will play a key role within the overall BEYOND GIVING project by contributing data and new conceptual and empirical approaches in studying the role of philanthropy in global sustainability governance.

The foci of the two projects are as follows:
Project 1: Analyse through critical discourse analysis, audiovisual analysis, and interviews the justice interpretations of selected philanthropic foundations active in the 2030 Agenda, and develop a theoretically expanded understanding of justice and power building upon the empirical research.
Project 2: Analyse through process-tracing methodologies and descriptive statistics the justice institutionalization pathways of selected philanthropic foundations in the governance arenas of food, climate, and ocean governance; and probe into the related consequences for sustainability practices in these arenas and the broader sustainability domain through interviews with various stakeholder groups.

The two doctoral researchers will work closely together under the supervision of Dr Kalfagianni and other project supervisors/promoters throughout the entire four-year period. The BEYOND GIVING project adopts a team-based approach where the doctoral Researchers have a key role and responsibility for helping to collaboratively deliver the project’s objectives. At the same time, you should be willing to bring your own conceptual and empirical innovation to the project in order to build your independent research skills and outlook. As one of our doctoral researchers you will be well-supported through supervision, training courses, funding to attend conferences and workshops, and involvement in global research networks, to ensure your success and develop your career trajectory.


We are looking for a colleague with the following qualifications:

  • Master’s degree (or equivalent) in political science, political theory, environmental social sciences, or a related discipline;
  • Research focus and/or interest in relevant fields (e.g. justice, governance, philanthropy, sustainability) with an interdisciplinary orientation;
  • strong qualitative and quantitative skills, matching the project/s for which you apply;
  • willingness and interest to develop new methodological skills;
  • strong interest in theories and concepts;
  • strong analytical skills;
  • ability to communicate complex information, and to interact effectively with both elite and lay participants and audiences;
  • ability and enthusiasm to work both independently and as part of a larger team;
  • willingness to travel internationally for fieldwork, conferences, training, and research exchange;
  • strong English language skills (written and verbal);
  • intellectual curiosity and motivation to address important real-world problems through rigorous and ambitious academic enquiry.

Both PhD researchers are expected to obtain a doctoral degree from Utrecht University within four years, based on published articles in top-tier academic journals.


We offer two temporary full time PhD positions for four years, initially for one year with an extension to a total of four years upon a mutually positive evaluation in the first year. The gross salary ranges between €2,541 in the first year and €3,247 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement (cao) Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year.

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University.

About the organization

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

Utrecht University's Faculty of Geosciences studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth - always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the Faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.

The two PhD researchers will be based in the Environmental Governance group, one of five sections within the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development. The Environmental Governance group is a dynamic, ambitious and internationally leading team of over fifty social science Researchers with a focus on fundamental and policy-oriented research in environmental governance across local to global levels. PhD training programmes are provided by the Graduate School of the Faculty of Geosciences and, if required, other graduate schools at Utrecht University and beyond. The working language of the institute is English.

Utrecht University is one of the leading research universities in Europe, with particular strengths in sustainability, climate change, and geography, among others. The doctoral Researchers we are hiring will be able to develop their research at the interface of, and with the support of, key strategic themes of the university (“Pathways to Sustainability” and “Institutions for Open Societies”), opening up numerous opportunities for university-wide interaction.

The city of Utrecht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, with a historic centre and an internationally oriented culture that is strongly influenced by its centuries-old university. Utrecht has been consistently ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the Netherlands, and is well-connected to local and international transport hubs.

Additional information

For more information about this position, please contact Dr Agni Kalfagianni (Associate Professor) via or +31 030 253 76 50.


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

Please submit the following documents in your application:

  • motivation letter explaining your interest and suitability for the position/s. Please state clearly which of the PhD position/s you are applying for;
  • full Curriculum Vitae (CV), including the grade for your Master’s thesis and overall grade point average (or equivalent) of your Bachelor's and Master’s degrees;
  • names and contact details of 2-3 people who can act as references/referees. No reference letters are required at this stage.

Interviews are expected to take place in November 2022.

The intended starting date is mid-January 2023.

The application deadline is

In your application, please refer to


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