Harris A. Eyre, MBBS, Ph.D., Jo-An Occhipinti, Ph.D., Laura Murray, Ph.D., William Hynes, D.Phil., Rym Ayadi, Ph.D., Mohamed Salama, M.D., Ph.D., Pawel Swieboda, Eoin J. Cotter, Ph.D., Michael Martino, M.S., Michael Berk, M.D., Ph.D., Upali Nanda, Ph.D., Julie Hiromoto FAIA, Elena Stotts-Lee, María E. Castelló, Ph.D., Walter D Dawson, D.Phil., Jorge Jraissati, Michelle Tempest MBBS, Mara Madrigal-Weiss, Agustin Ibanez, Ph.D., Ryan Abbott, M.D., J.D., Ph.D., Kavitha Kolappa, M.D., M.P.H., Helen Lavretsky, M.D., M.S., Dilip V. Jeste, M.D., Patrick Brennan, Ian H. Robertson, Ph.D., Eric A. Storch, Ph.D., Laura-Joy Boulos, Ph.D., Kelly O’Brien, Laura Booi, Ph.D., Francesca R. Farina, Ph.D., Mitchell S. V. Elkind, M.D., M.S., Cornelia C. Walther, Ph.D., Michael L. Platt, Ph.D., Jair C. Soares, M.D., Ph.D., Laura Jana, M.D., Sara Ronco, Erin Smith, Kirti Ranchod, MBBCh, Sonja Sudimac, MSc, Dennis Pamlin, Julio Licinio, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, Christos Symeonides, MBBS, Miguel Angel Lara Otaola, Ph.D., Dan Mannix, Katrina Maestri, Steve Carnevale, Antonella Santuccione Chadha, M.D, Gareth Presch, Thomas Bateman, DBA, Quazi Haque, M.D., FRCPsych LLM, Michael Hogan, Chee H. Ng, MBBS, M.D., Veronica Podence Falcao, M.D., Jafri Malin Abdullah, M.D., Ph.D., FASc, Ruojuan Yu, MBA, Zoltan Sarnyai, M.D., Ph.D., Rajiv Ahuja, J.D., M.S., Samantha Wibawa, Lynne Corner, and Anna Dé
Brain capital, which encompasses the brain health and skills of a population, plays a pivotal role in achieving all of the United Nations’ (UN) 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Figure 1). The UN SDGs, which were adopted by all UN member states in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, are a collection of interlinked objectives intended to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.” Brain capital can contribute to these goals through its human-centric, systemic, and transformative nature. Specifically, by investing in brain capital technologies and research that promotes brain health, we can cultivate productive, healthy brains capable of advancing our society and achieving a sustainable, flourishing future as outlined in the UN SDGs.
Figure 1 — The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
Despite serving as an urgent call for global action, progress toward achieving the 17 UN SDGs by 2030 has been slow and inadequate. In fact, the “2023 SDG Progress Report” shows that just 12% of the SDG targets are on track, while progress on 50% of the SDGs is weak and insufficient. Worst of all, more than 30% of SDGs have stalled or gone into reverse. Clearly, when it comes to addressing areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet, a new way of thinking is needed.
Although other experts have directly connected brain capital with the third SDG — improving health and well-being — we argue that brain capital can, in fact, impact all 17 SDGs. Brain capital provides a lens for dealing with economic strain, productivity slowdown, sustainability, gender equity, creativity shortcomings, mental health and well-being, erosion of the social fabric of communities, and the need for more industrial innovation. For example, our brain capital industrial innovation strategy explains how strategic investments in research, development, and application of brain-related technologies could nurture an industry that harnesses the full potential of our most valuable resource — our minds.
Optimizing individual and collective brain capital may, in fact, solve many of our societies’ greatest problems. Additionally, a life-course brain health approach that is person-centered, human rights-based, and takes into account systemic and socioeconomic threats is inherently aligned with the ethos of the SDG concept. Therefore, extending the brain health focus beyond just SDG 3 and mapping it to all of the SDGs is critical for systemic transformation. Moreover, as the SDGs are set to expire in 2030, planning for the post-SDG agenda must be considered.
In this paper, we scope how brain capital is intricately and bi-directionally linked to each of the SDGs. In each section, we outline how investing in brain capital enables SDG progress and explain how progress on the SDGs feeds back into improved brain capital. The connections described below will be elucidated in future papers and data projects by leveraging our recently released Global Brain Capital Dashboard. We believe brain capital and the SDGs should be aligned in a positive feedback loop where investment and progress in one begets progress in the other (Figure 2).
Figure 2 — Brain Capital and UN SDGs in a Positive Feedback Loop
Brain Capital and SDG 1: No Poverty
SDG 1 calls for an end to poverty in all its forms everywhere. By enhancing and investing in a society’s brain capital, we can facilitate this goal by improving educational outcomes, enhancing brain functioning, and increasing earning potential — all of which can lift individuals out of poverty. Enhancing brain capital through education and skills development enables and empowers individuals to express their full cognitive potential and optimize their own development. Education also enables employment, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty, improving individuals’ well-being, and enhancing their economic prospects. This is scalable at a societal level.
It is also important to consider the impact of poverty on early brain development. Modifiable factors such as maternal nutrition, infection, and stress, which are impacted by poverty, are important contributors to atypical brain development and may even have transgenerational effects. Addressing these factors will be an important step in eradicating poverty.
Additionally, poverty in pregnant women can affect fetal brain development. A 2022 study by Sonya V. Troller-Renfree et al. provides evidence that poverty reduction interventions can significantly impact infant brain activity (as measured by electroencephalography, or EEG).
Specifically, infants whose families received monthly cash payments displayed improved brain activity related to neuroplasticity and future development of cognitive skills. Early childhood poverty is a well-known risk factor for lower achievement in school, reduced earnings, and poorer health, and has been associated with differences in brain structure and function. Troller-Renfree et al. show that providing low-income families with predictable, monthly cash transfers can lead to beneficial changes in brain activity, potentially through changing children’s experiences. Infants in the high-cash group showed greater high-frequency activity than those in the low-cash group, particularly in frontal and central brain regions.
Furthermore, poverty, which is considered a type of adverse childhood experience, can impact brain health through chronic stress — potentially resulting in mental illness and even suicide. Poverty also impacts education and may lead to intergenerational transmission of violence, which can exacerbate inequality and perpetuate cycles of deprivation.
Beyond impacting an individual’s early development, poverty can even impact people’s brains later in life. For example, socioeconomic and health inequalities throughout life can threaten healthy aging, especially in underserved populations. Socioeconomic disparities also strongly influence dementia risk. A lifespan approach to brain capital — in which societies invest in brain health technologies and practices for people across all life stages — can reduce the impact of poverty and enhance productivity for everyone, regardless of age.
SDG 1 suggests that improving economic conditions and reducing adversity can positively influence brain development, which is a key component of brain capital. Therefore, investing in efforts to reduce poverty and the effects of chronic stress associated with severe and prolonged adversity can enhance brain capital, providing a significant economic and social return on investment.
Conversely, by enhancing brain capital and the neuro-capability of our educational systems, we can potentially improve educational outcomes, increase earning potential, and ultimately help lift individuals and communities out of poverty. In other words, by taking a neuroscience-informed approach to education, we can strengthen brain capital and reduce poverty, creating a positive feedback loop between SDG 1 and brain capital. The cultivation of desirable skills could further enhance the observed benefits and presents an additional opportunity to improve outcomes and enhance brain capital.
Brain Capital and SDG 2: Zero Hunger
SDG 2 aims to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
Current food environments and food systems around the world are dominated by the corporate-industrial food industry, which is undermining brain capital and, therefore, sustainable human development and public health on a global scale. Many ultra-processed foods are now understood to compromise brain function and mental health.
By improving nutrition and reforming the food industry, we can enhance brain capital, which in turn, can contribute to achieving SDG 2 by making food — specifically healthy options — more affordable and accessible. As good nutrition supports brain health, which is crucial for learning and productivity, a reformed food industry can contribute to both promoting healthier and more sustainable food production practices, as well as improving cognitive health.
Good nutrition is a key determinant of brain capital. Brain health is influenced by numerous overlapping determinants, including physical health, environmental health, safety, security, learning, social connection, and access to quality goods and services. Focusing public health messages about food on brain health and modifying the food environment via policy results in changes to dietary behaviors even in vulnerable populations.
Food insecurity matters to well-being. A recent comparative analysis across different country groups between 2005 and 2018 examined how food insecurity was related to changes in subjective well-being. The researchers found that in low-income, food-deficient, food-importing and drought-affected countries, changes in the prevalence of undernourishment largely accounted for the variation in subjective well-being over time.
Enhancing brain capital can create opportunities to address the issue of hunger and malnutrition by promoting the development of innovative solutions and sustainable practices in agriculture and food production. When individuals have improved cognitive abilities and access to quality education, they are better equipped to contribute to advancements in agriculture, leading to increased crop yields and more efficient farming methods. Moreover, by fostering a population with enhanced brain capital, societies are more likely to prioritize and support initiatives aimed at ending hunger and ensuring adequate nutrition for all, thereby creating a positive feedback loop in which improved brain capital leads to better food security and nutrition outcomes.
Brain Capital and SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being
The relationship between brain capital and SDG 3 underscores the importance of maintaining and improving brain health as a key component of overall health and well-being. This topic has been covered extensively elsewhere, so below we provide a brief summary.
Preventive measures play a crucial role in optimizing brain health and well-being. For instance, supporting responsive caregiving, managing chronic disease problems, maintaining physical activity, enabling healthy sleep, and ensuring proper nutrition can all contribute to better brain health and mental well-being.
Universal health care is another critical factor driving good brain health. It ensures that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need without financial hardship. This includes services related to brain health, thereby promoting better neurological and mental health outcomes. Universal health care favors preventative medicine (both primary and secondary prevention), which is of particular importance to brain health due to the nonreversible nature of the kind of neurological disorders that dominate the global burden of disease, such as strokes.
Mental health is intricately linked with physical health. For example, certain infectious and chronic diseases have been associated with a broad spectrum of psychiatric symptoms, emphasizing the need for integrated health care approaches that address both physical and mental health. For example, the mental health effects of COVID-19 have been extensively documented and should be addressed to further enhance progress on SDG 3.
The recent WHO Brain Health Position Statement provides a framework for understanding and optimizing brain health across the lifespan. It emphasizes addressing determinants such as physical health, healthy environments, safety, security, learning, social connection, and access to quality services. Further, the WHO Intersectoral Global Action Plan on Epilepsy and Other Neurological Disorders 2022–31 is consistent with the SDGs and takes a life-course approach, recognizing that there are strong linkages between maternal, newborn, child, and adolescent health; reproductive health and aging; and brain health and neurological disorders.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) also recently released the Brain Health Initiative that aligns with SDG 3. Using a science-based approach to quantify the present burden, future trends, and economic impact of brain health conditions, the Brain Health Initiative aims to leverage data to guide policy change. Using IHME's global database of scientific evidence and its network of health and policy experts, the initiative is working to create urgency by disseminating compelling evidence on the prevalence of brain disorders and measuring the true health and economic impact of brain disorders over time. Brain health expertise is vital to increasing awareness and demonstrating the urgency of new research and thoughtful policy. We applaud this work and recognize the value it can bring in helping to achieve SDG 3; however, we note it is not currently exploring clinical service innovations.
Digital mental health equity strategies are crucial for global mental health as they aim to ensure that everyone has an equitable opportunity to access, use, and benefit from digital health. These strategies can help close gaps in access, quality, efficiency, and health outcomes. They address the “digital divide,” which can exacerbate health inequities. One example of a framework driving this equity is the Digital Health Equity Framework (DHEF). It integrates factors such as health equity, digital health equity, and the digital determinants of health.
Additionally, community engagement is critical to understand directly from community members what their actual needs are. Oftentimes, experts decide among themselves what communities need and then implement costly programs funded by governments or NGOs that may not reflect grassroots needs and priorities. Structured and participatory community engagement programs address those pitfalls. Empowering and engaging people with lived experience within the mental health system is critical for achieving SDG 3.
Prosociality — defined as positive, other-regarding behaviors and beliefs —encompasses numerous facets, such as altruism, trust, reciprocity, compassion and empathy. Prosociality may be construed as a brain skill under the brain capital framework. Kubzansky et al. recently suggested prosociality should be a public health priority, given that it contributes to better mental and physical health for individuals and the communities in which they live.
National and regional brain health plans are particularly recommended as comprehensive ways of ensuring that prevention, early diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation are all sufficiently endowed. In this context, we note the emerging Swiss Brain Health Plan as an exemplar of a country-wide approach to create awareness about brain health as a whole and to initiate prevention programs.
All of these initiatives and approaches — and many others that are also focused on enhancing brain capital — are crucial steps forward in achieving health and well-being for all.
Brain Capital and SDG 4: Quality Education
Researchers in the field of brain health are leading the world in continued technological advances to understand how best and most efficiently to educate people with varying types of brain capacities. These advancements could help facilitate SDG 4: quality education for all.
Enhancing Education Through Neuroscience-Based Teaching
Quality education should involve the inclusion/deepening of neuroscience-based teaching and neuroinformed educational systems at successive levels of formal, informal, and nonformal education, including teacher training. This could cultivate an understanding of the importance of the brain in achieving optimal development and subsequent conservation of cognitive abilities throughout life.
Improving awareness of brain health from an early age can also foster more inclusive societies that embrace cognitive differences and neurodiversity in all its forms, thereby reducing fear and stigma associated with brain conditions, along with their harmful effects. Moreover, a holistic, bimodal approach to building brain capital and supporting brain health can be achieved through embedding these concepts in teacher education and national curricula, providing teachers with the knowledge and skills both to support the development of their students and to protect and preserve their own brain health and well-being in what is an increasingly stressful profession.
For students who have experienced violence, it is important to acknowledge the physical, mental, and emotional toll of such experiences on their well-being, while also creating a safe, nonviolent, inclusive, and efficient learning environment for them.
Promoting Brain Capital Through Quality Education
Just as brain capital can contribute to achieving the goal of quality education for all, education also plays a vital role in promoting brain capital by stimulating cognitive development, enhancing critical thinking and social skills development, preventing mental illness, and fostering lifelong learning habits. Continuous learning and intellectual engagement through education can help maintain and even improve cognitive function, reducing the risk of cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases in later life. Access to quality education and educational opportunities can significantly impact an individual's overall cognitive well-being and brain capital. Thus, quality education for all can be considered both a goal in itself and a means of achieving this SDG.
In particular, young adulthood is an essential transitional life stage marked by a major focus on education and increasing independence. Habits and behaviors formed during this time carry long-term implications for health and well-being. Therefore, young adulthood can be considered a pivotal window to intervene, promote, and sustain healthy behaviors and reduce future disease burden.
Connecting brain health with issues that young adults already value may help to amplify its importance. For example, increasing knowledge and awareness of the effects of air pollution on late-life dementia risk could be linked to ongoing youth activism on climate change.
Reducing Dementia Risks Through Education
Furthermore, education can reduce the risk of dementia in older adults. It may increase an individual’s “cognitive reserve,” which is the brain’s ability to resist and compensate for age- or disease-related changes. A person with a high cognitive reserve could be better positioned to delay the damaging effects of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) in the brain relative to someone with a lower reserve. Life-long education can be an effective strategy for supporting brain health into later years and may prove to be a cost-saving prevention strategy against cognitive and physical decline and associated caregiving in aging societies. Education is also associated with a higher socioeconomic status and quality of life, which can help keep people healthy and lowers dementia risk.
It is also important to recognize that dementia predominantly affects women, who represent one-third of the affected population worldwide. One of the possible reasons is that women are less educated than men in terms of years of education and continued education. The prevalence of AD is even higher in low- and middle-income countries where access to education for women is not guaranteed. Therefore, guaranteeing access to education for all, as well as continued education for women in particular, is an important goal for enhancing brain capital.
When considering dementia prevention, it is also crucial to take a life-course approach. Of the highly influential modifiable risk factors identified in the 2020 Lancet Commission for Dementia Prevention, only one focuses on early life (i.e., childhood education), and none focus on young adulthood (i.e., 18–39 years). Without good evidence of risk factors for dementia in the younger age groups, it is difficult to take a life-course approach, which is needed to develop tailored prevention strategies.
The Next Generation brain health survey is focused on bridging some of these knowledge gaps. It is aimed at assessing global attitudes and understanding exposure to brain health risk factors in diverse young adult populations. Findings from the survey will provide important insights into brain health and AD risk exposure before mid-life, including much-needed evidence from under-represented younger populations. Attaining this information about brain health in young adulthood is a critical opportunity for the promotion of brain capital, as young adults currently account for over 30% of the world’s population.
Learning From Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous knowledge systems, deeply rooted in community and environment, offer holistic, context-specific approaches to learning that foster brain capital. They bridge the gap between traditional wisdom and modern education, aligning with SDG 4’s aim for inclusive and equitable quality education. This synergy enhances cognitive development, cultural understanding, and global citizenship. By valuing Indigenous knowledge and perspectives, we can create educational systems that respect diversity, promote inclusivity, and contribute to sustainable development.
Combatting Mis- and Disinformation
Quality education also hinges on understanding how to combat mis- and disinformation. The Mental Immunity Project is an important initiative aimed at enhancing everyone’s resistance to manipulative information. It focuses on simple, actionable strategies for disrupting the transmission of false information and offers a “mental immunity toolbox,” which includes principles, guides, handbooks, web-based tutorials, articles, exercises, and videos to help strengthen mental defenses. This project, and those like it, can be particularly useful for lifelong education by allowing individuals to build resilience against misinformation and disinformation, which will have far-reaching benefits across the SDGs. By enhancing mental immunity, individuals can better navigate the information landscape, make informed decisions, and contribute to a more informed society. However, further research is required to assess the effectiveness of the tools from this project.
Prioritizing a Safe Learning Culture
It is important to note that education systems and settings can have negative effects on brain capital. Schools, including online learning environments, introduce opportunities for bullying, peer pressure, self-esteem issues, and academic stress. These issues are profound given that children spend the majority of their time in the school environment, which shapes not only their knowledge but also their social interactions, emotional well-being, sense of identity, and attitudes toward learning. The quality of education, including the socio-emotional and cultural environment, significantly influences their future. Students from marginalized communities, African-American communities, Indigenous groups, and refugee and migrant populations are particularly vulnerable to these challenges. The National Association of School Psychologists, therefore, suggests schools are an ideal place to promote good mental health and provide mental health services, but a very clear mission and purpose for learning is important, and a safe culture should be a top priority. High educational standards should be set for students across cultures and socio-economic strata. We applaud new analytic approaches assessing and optimizing schools as complex systems.
Brain Capital and SDG 5: Gender Equality
Improving our understanding, research, and treatment for brain health conditions that disproportionately affect women will improve gender equality, the objective of SDG 5. This is particularly important because brain and mental diseases such as dementia, depression, anxiety, migraines, and multiple sclerosis are not only more prevalent in women, but they also differ in terms of symptoms, disease progression, treatment response, and time to diagnose compared to men.
Researching the Impact of Sex on Brain and Mental Diseases
An example of a brain capital initiative that looks specifically at brain issues affecting women is the Women’s Brain Project (WBP), an international, nonprofit organization that has been pioneering studies on sex and gender determinants of brain and mental diseases. Founded in 2016, the WBP is a group of scientists from disciplines including medicine, neuroscience, psychology, pharmacology, and communication who work together with caregivers, patients and their relatives, policymakers, and other stakeholders. The WBP identifies how sex and gender impact diseases, diagnostics, drug treatments, and the development of novel technologies to achieve precision medicine for sustainable and inclusive health care.
Recent work carried out by Economist Impact and the Women’s Brain Project highlights the economic benefits of investing in sex- and gender-specific brain research. This has a huge impact on a country’s overall gross domestic product (GDP). Better understanding of sex and gender differences in neuroscience and neurology has the potential to lead to earlier and more reliable diagnoses and more effective prevention, treatment, and disease management, which together will reduce the impact of these conditions on individuals, families, societies, and economies.
Based on the above, it is clear how both sex and gender are determinants of brain health: Sex, which is our biological determinant, can modulate the way diseases affect us or how we respond to treatments, while gender can impact the way symptoms are recognized and diagnosed or how disease is managed. Unfortunately, medicine and neuroscience have not taken these aspects into consideration in past preclinical or clinical research. In fact, until now, the sex of animal models used for drug discovery has not been sufficiently considered in experimental planning, and often the sex of the animals is not reported in scientific publications. When it comes to clinical development, the inclusion of women in phase I and phase II clinical trials is insignificant. In phase III clinical studies and clinical trials design, we are beginning to observe an improvement in women’s inclusion, but the majority of treatments currently available for brain diseases do not consider sex or gender as factors to ensure equal patient-centric clinical outcomes.
There is a clear gender gap in outcomes for brain health conditions across the lifespan, with more negative consequences for women — particularly Black women — driven by the social determinants of brain health. Our brain health gap model highlights and frames inequalities in all areas across the translational spectrum — from bench to bedside, and boardroom to policy and economics. Gender-specific symptoms are frequently misunderstood, disregarded, or incorrectly diagnosed, leading to the neglect of women’s health and health care. The “WHAM Report” shows that high-income countries cannot afford inaction. The report studies the impact of accelerating sex- and gender-based health research on women, their families, and the economy across diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, that impact women differently and differentially. Continuing to research these factors will be critical in achieving gender equality in health care.
We were encouraged to see the White House establishing an initiative focused on women’s health research to be led by first lady Jill Biden as well as the White House Gender Policy Council. Multiple agencies will deliver their recommendations to advance this area within 45 days.
Another dimension of gender inequality is the underrepresentation of female neuroscientists — predominantly female neuroscientists of color — which also likely contributes to the gender bias in neuroscience research. Addressing this lack of representation will be a crucial step forward for SDG 5.
Female Empowerment Drives Brain Capital
One of the largest priorities for boosting global brain capital is female empowerment. In a recent Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association report, it was noted that:
“Empowering women economically is not just about equity; it’s about progress. As we uplift women, their education and social position, we uplift societies, creating a ripple effect that resonates through every corner of our global economy. Financial and educational inclusion for women is not merely based on justice and human rights; it is a catalyst for transformation. When we unlock the gates of finance and education for women, we unlock a powerful force for innovation, resilience, and growth in our global economy.”
Empowering women and girls through education and skills development enhances brain capital, promoting gender equality and creating a more inclusive and diverse workforce.
These above points are all interrelated with SDGs 1 (eliminating poverty) and 4 (providing quality education). For example, access to quality and affordable childcare and early childhood education supports female workforce participation, which can lift women, and mothers in particular, out of poverty. Early childhood and school-aged education — which have historically been majority female occupations due to gender roles and expectations — are greatly undervalued in terms of remuneration. Addressing the pay gap and ensuring equity in access to education, especially maternal education, will help our society achieve true gender equality.
Likewise, by prioritizing gender equality in other domains such as financial and educational realms, we can boost global brain capital and reduce the social determinants of health that contribute to brain health conditions that disproportionately affect women.
Advances in gender equality will also lead to improvement in a number of key foci of the brain capital movement, such as mental health and wellness. Achieving gender equality will allow women to feel like valued, productive citizens and receive equal pay for their work.
Recognizing the Role of Women as Caregivers
Health care systems around the world also rely on unpaid caregivers to support older family members that have dementia and related comorbidities. The overburdening of girls with domestic care impacts their education and may even impact their mental development.
Women are especially likely to provide unpaid care. In the U.S., women provide 2.2 times more unpaid caregiving services than men. Women caregivers are also more likely to be impacted financially and leave their jobs or miss work to care for a family member. And research demonstrates that spousal caregivers may be at a higher risk of cognitive impairment or dementia than non-caregivers. Caregiver burnout can also result in physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion as many caregivers experience fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
Moreover, although women tend to live longer than men do, women often live more years with disability. Most caregivers and people in need of long-term care are women. Women, on average, have lower incomes, including lower pensions, and are potentially less able to afford care, while at the same time living longer than men and thus more in need of care. Given that the majority of informal caregivers are women, women are exposed to a considerable risk of economic hardship and poor health outcomes. These disparities must be addressed as we work on progressing toward a more gender-equal society.
Brain Capital and SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
Brain capital drives innovative solutions and the creation of technologies that improve water management, sanitation, and hygiene practices, ensuring sustainable access to clean water and sanitation for all — the goal of SDG 6.
The Relationship Between Clean Water and Disease
Clean water and sanitation are essential for improving quality of life. Advances in sanitation significantly reduced infectious disease-related mortality in the early 20th century, extending life expectancies and reducing premature deaths. These improved living conditions enabled populations of developed nations to flourish, allowing for the accumulation of brain capital through the reduction of premature mortality and the limitation of infectious diseases.
Furthermore, water insecurity is a significant factor contributing to the global burden of common mental disorders. The scarcity of water resources can lead to various adverse mental health outcomes, including anxiety, depression, and stress — all of which contribute to poor brain health. The lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation facilities also disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, such as women and children, who face added social and economic pressures.
These factors highlight the critical need for investments in infrastructure to enhance both brain capital and innovations on water security.
Mental Health Benefits of “Blue Spaces”
Beyond the direct impact of clean water on brain health, access to lakes, rivers, ponds, and oceans can have tremendous mental health benefits. Research shows that childhood exposure to “blue spaces” — areas dominated by surface water — may improve adult well-being. Thus, governments and policymakers must consider the brain and mental health implications of water insecurity when designing interventions and policies related to water management.
Brain Capital and SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
SDG 7 is focused on ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. Our concept of “green brain capital” directly links to this development goal as it envisions a world with a thriving, clean environment and plots a course toward achieving a green energy transition.
Green Brain Capital
Green brain capital places a central emphasis on the brain to deliver a healthy and sustainable environment and, vice versa, on a green environment to promote and safeguard brain health. The environmental determinants of brain health are foundational to this model, as brain health is critical in navigating and thriving in the modern world.
Our green brain capital model emphasizes the importance of green skills, which are about both 1) technical knowledge and skills that enable professionals to effectively use green technologies and processes (i.e., resource-efficient technologies or processes that reduce waste and minimize the environmental impact of human action), and 2) transversal skills, as well as knowledge, values, and attitudes that lead to pro-environmental decisions in our work and lives. These types of green skills are already being introduced in training systems globally to develop a future-proof workforce in the face of a significant green energy transition that will affect changes in the industry and the job market.
Growing green brain capital will require transformations across hierarchical levels in social-ecological and built environment systems, ranging from individuals to sub-populations to entire societies. Therefore, promoting and utilizing green brain capital facilitates research and innovation in renewable energy technologies, making clean and affordable energy sources more accessible and reducing environmental impact.
Neurological Harm from Emissions
In achieving SDG 7, it is also critical to recognize and address the health problems associated with our current energy system. Emissions from fossil fuels have been linked to significant health problems, including neurological issues. Recent research suggests that fossil fuel emissions can cause neurological harm, particularly in babies and children. Exposure to pollutants from burning fossil fuels has been associated with early death, heart attacks, respiratory disorders, stroke, and asthma. Pollution exposure has also been linked to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, transitioning to cleaner energy sources is crucial for public health; the world can reduce its current emissions by 75% through renewable energy and electrification techniques, and up to 90% if energy efficiency is prioritized in clean energy technologies.
Brain Capital and SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
SDG 8 is focused on fostering “sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.” Investing in brain capital can contribute to SDG 8 by creating a more skilled and engaged workforce, fostering entrepreneurship, and boosting economic growth through new opportunities and improved productivity and innovation.
Mental Health and Decent Work
Productive employment can bring individuals a number of mental health benefits, but according to the World Health Organization (WHO), these benefits are threatened by hostile work environments. Workplaces characterized by prejudice and inequality, overwhelming workloads, low control over work, and job insecurity can increase the risks of developing mental health problems. Actions to tackle poor mental health should focus on preventing work-related mental health conditions by promoting and safeguarding brain and mental health in the workplace and supporting workers with mental health conditions to participate and excel in work. These actions must consider rapidly changing work environments and situations (e.g., gig economy jobs and remote working).
Brain Capital Drives Economic Growth
In addition to ensuring healthy work environments, it is also important to recognize the economic burden of brain and mental health-related disorders — along with the need to fuel creativity and innovation so countries can economically improve. Our proposed “brain capital industrial innovation strategy” — outlined in detail in a recent paper published by Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy — is a public-private strategy that focuses on building economic resilience through an emphasis on cultivating citizens’ brain health and brain skills to contribute to an innovative and thriving economy. This, and similar strategies, can help drive progress toward SDG 8.
Essential to fostering more economic dynamism, societies that support brain health policies and prioritize cognitive resilience will also help employers and governments bolster economies. For example, it is crucial to recognize the contributions of brain healthy older adults. According to various studies, Americans over age 50 contribute so much to the U.S. economy that they’d constitute the world’s third-largest economy if they were counted as their own country. In the United States alone, by 2030, the 50+ age group will contribute $12.6 trillion to the U.S. economy. And in the UK, estimates suggest that a one-year extension of working life increases GDP by around 1%. To ensure these contributions are realized, focusing on maintaining cognitive resilience and brain health will be essential.
AI and Economic Growth
Generative AI can also play a role in achieving economic growth. It can automate both mundane and advanced tasks, freeing humans to focus on higher-level creative thinking and strategic decision-making. This not only enhances brain capital but also fosters economic growth by creating new jobs and industries.
However, of course, there are major concerns about wide-scale job loss due to AI. Targeted education and training programs – also relevant to SDG 4 (quality education) — will be needed to help students and workers acquire the required skills to succeed in an AI-driven economy, and much will need to change to prepare the brains and minds of citizens to leverage AI while mitigating its downsides. For example, effectively using advanced AI in the classroom and learning to use AI to optimize creative outputs will be key to promoting sustainable economic growth.
Brain Capital Fuels Entrepreneurship
When taking a brain capital lens to sustainable development, a key focus should be the mental health of entrepreneurs, since entrepreneurs drive innovation, create the vast majority of new jobs, introduce useful products and services (which can tackle many SDGs, e.g., alternative energy solutions), and create prosperity. Therefore, it is important that they operate in a state of optimum emotional and relational health. According to a recent study, entrepreneurs are also significantly more likely to report a lifetime history of depression (30%), ADHD (19%), substance abuse (12%), and a bipolar diagnosis (11%) compared to other participants. Meanwhile, the largest global dataset on entrepreneurship from the World Bank shows a statistically significant and positive effect of startups on GDP per capita, exports per GDP, patents per population, and job creation.
Brain Capital and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
SDG 9 aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation. Investing in social capital infrastructure that supports social production is vital for strengthening communities, enhancing resilience, improving brain capital, and promoting economic prosperity.
Recognizing Social Productivity
Social productivity — which encompasses unpaid activities like volunteering, community engagement, environmental restoration, and caregiving — is crucial in building civic life and contributing to national well-being. Recognizing the value of these contributions beyond the formal economy is essential, especially when traditionally undervalued groups often make them. Investments in social capital infrastructure — also known as mental wealth — not only stabilize communities during disruptive events, but they also bolster economic productivity and resilience by strengthening the relationship between civil society and the business sector. This mutual relationship is integral to achieving multi-sector stability and prosperity across communities — and delivering benefits across the SDGs.
Advancing Technology Innovations Through Brain Capital
Nurturing brain capital promotes technological advancements and innovation, supporting sustainable industrialization and enhancing infrastructure for economic development, which is particularly critical in an increasingly technologically dependent age.
As part of our brain capital industrial innovation strategy, brain capital technologies are defined as neuroscience-inspired technologies addressing the confluence of mental health and substance use, neurology, neuroscience, adolescence, education, the future of work, healthy longevity, creativity and innovation, and brain performance. These technologies aim to improve the entire spectrum of care, from prevention to screening, diagnosis, treatment, and continuing care. Similarly, neuroscience-inspired education technology solutions offer tremendous potential to enhance the quality of education and outcomes across society.
These kinds of technologies not only contribute to SDG 9 by promoting innovation, but they can also contribute to thriving economies. In fact, brain capital technology has been called the next generation of “braintech” that could unlock an American-led $1 trillion+ industry, given the multitrillion dollar per year — and rising — cost of mental and neurological disorders.
Utilizing Innovative Financial Incentives
Further, to fuel this industrial innovation, we need to utilize novel financial incentives and innovations. New approaches to funding and fueling brain capital technologies and brain capital-aligned venture capital funds will be critical for advancing a brain capital industrial strategy. For example, double bottom line ventures (also known as impact investing) look at returns on investment from both financial and social perspectives.
The HEKA Venture Capital Fund, developed and operated jointly between Newfund Capital and FondaMental Foundation, is the world’s first brain capital-focused fund. HEKA falls under Article 9 of the EU’s Sustainable Finance Disclosure Regulation, which optimizes transparency for social impact. Over 80% of the invested company's revenues will contribute to good health and well-being, as defined within the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.
We also applaud the long-term funding of the White House BRAIN (Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, which occurred between 2013 and 2020 and issued approximately 110 grants totaling more than $400 million.
Moving forward, we will need longer-term forms of investing, and we suggest that impact investors with more “patient capital” (e.g., a 10–20 year time horizon such as public pension funds and sovereign wealth funds) are better suited for effective brain capital investments compared to politicians with a two-to-five-year time horizon and venture capital’s five-to-seven-year time horizon. In Box 1, we outline the value of patient capital in brain capital investing.
Box 1 — Value of Patient Capital in Brain Capital Investing
Long-Term Vision and Strategy: Impact investors, typically responsible for managing investments over extended periods, naturally possess a longer-term perspective. Their investment strategies are designed to endure market volatility and deliver sustainable returns over time. In the context of brain capital investment, a longer-term vision is vital to develop comprehensive strategies that focus on education, research, health care, and skill development. These strategies can take years to materialize and exhibit their full potential, making a roughly 10-to-30-year horizon more appropriate.
Stability and Consistency: Political administrations often change every few years due to electoral cycles. This turnover can result in shifting priorities and policy changes, making it challenging to maintain consistency in brain capital investment initiatives. On the other hand, impact investors operate within a stable organizational framework, allowing for consistent strategies and investment in brain capital without abrupt shifts in direction.
Mitigation of Short-Termism: Political administrations are often pressured to show immediate results to secure reelection or gain popularity. This short-termism can hinder the development of sustainable brain capital initiatives, as quick fixes may be prioritized over long-term strategies. Impact investors, with a longer time horizon, are better positioned to mitigate this short-termism and focus on sustained investments that yield long-term benefits.
Participatory Community Engagement: All communities, particularly those that are underprivileged, underrepresented, and marginalized, have myriad needs that require prioritization and resource allocation. Open and transparent community input is essential to identify real-life community needs.
Informed Decision Making and Expertise: Impact investors possess expertise in financial markets, risk assessment, and investment evaluation. This knowledge equips them to make informed decisions regarding brain capital investments. They can analyze trends, evaluate potential growth areas, and allocate resources strategically to maximize returns in the form of enhanced brain capital. Politicians, while knowledgeable in governance, may lack the specialized expertise needed for effective brain capital investment.
Flexibility and Adaptability: A longer time horizon allows for adjustments and fine-tuning of brain capital investment strategies as societal, technological, and economic landscapes evolve. Asset managers have the flexibility to adapt their strategies to changing circumstances, ensuring that brain capital investments remain relevant and effective over the long term. This adaptability is critical for optimizing returns on brain capital investments.
Public-Private Partnerships: Collaboration between public institutions and private asset owners and advisors with a long-term focus can foster synergies. Public-private partnerships enable harnessing both public funding and private sector expertise to drive effective brain capital investments. Impact investors can play a pivotal role in coordinating and managing these partnerships for optimal outcomes.
Examples of Organizations That Promote Innovation
The UNAIDS Health Innovation Exchange is an important project that aims to forge “a community of political leaders, decision-makers, health experts, technology and science leaders, innovators, investors, accelerators, implementers, and all those who can share, explore, and synergize efforts for sustainable impact.” It connects countries and systems, identifies their health-specific priorities or challenges, and works to ensure that investments are channeled to support high-potential innovations for health that help countries move forward on the SDGs.
Additionally, the global “B Corp,” or public benefit corporation, movement may be constructive. It points to an economy that can create value for the world and the planet, promoting ways of economic organization that can be measured by the well-being of people, societies, and the Earth simultaneously, all while taking into consideration short- and long-term social impacts. This movement may be geared toward brain capital with careful analytic, data, and governance approaches.
Brain Capital and SDG 10: Reduced Inequality
By investing in education and skill development for marginalized populations, brain capital helps to reduce social inequalities by providing equal opportunities for growth and development — the objective of SDG 10.
Closing the Brain Capital Gap to Promote Equality
We suggest the existence of a “brain capital gap” occurring at different levels within and between populations and societies (Figure 3). With this gap, current inequalities will be exacerbated by the status quo. That is, individuals with lower brain capital are at higher risk of low-paid work and job insecurity or loss, which creates a negative spiral, as these individuals are more likely to experience a failure of purpose, economic precarity and hardship, and mental ill health. This risks a transgenerational cascade of social disadvantage and social capital loss. Taken together, these factors make upskilling and reskilling — as well as reducing inequality — successively more complex.
Figure 3 — Reducing the Brain Capital Gap
Overcoming Health Disparities
Long-standing health disparities have been brought into sharp focus recently. The same underlying health and socioeconomic factors that lead to disproportionate health outcomes also hold true for chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and dementia. The prevalence of brain diseases like Alzheimer’s in the United States remains high and disproportionately impacts women and racially and ethnically diverse communities. Estimates show that more than 7.2 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias, and this number is expected to reach nearly 13 million by 2040 (two-thirds of whom will be women). Research also predicts that from 2020 to 2060, the number of African Americans and Latinos living with dementia will grow by nearly 200% and 440%, respectively, while the prevalence among non-Hispanic whites will increase by 69%. To respond to these projections, efforts to improve dementia care must put equity front and center.
Fostering Intellectual Capabilities of Marginalized Groups
A fundamental argument can be made that a society that neglects the intellectual capabilities of the maximum proportion of its population — including marginalized and vulnerable groups — will have a harder time solving its problems and remaining innovative and competitive. This is one of the reasons why income and resource inequality must be overcome. Fostering the capabilities of all citizens will lead to a more productive society characterized by innovation and creativity.
To boost brain capital, it is imperative to focus on ways to reduce inequality. Likewise, boosting brain capital has the potential to further mitigate inequality.
Brain Capital and SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
The mission of SDG 11 is to “make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” This directly aligns with a core component of brain capital that examines how the spaces we inhabit affect our brain health and well-being. Specifically, by developing smart cities through urban planning and sustainable infrastructure, we can ensure sustainable growth and create livable, inclusive communities that support the development of brain capital.
Designing Spaces That Promote Healthy Lifestyles
As researchers and designers of the built environment, we know that places and spaces have a big impact on how we can build brain capital and realize the SDGs. A recent report outlines five key principles to consider when designing spaces and communities that bolster our brain health and well-being:
- Explore the intersection between neuroscience and architecture to unlock new ideas for design.
- Invest in your own brain capital through brain-healthy workplaces.
- Build your cognitive fitness with the same passion as you build physical fitness.
- Think of every capital investment as a project for brain capital.
- Dissolve disciplinary silos to work with people from all fields — scientists, economists, environmentalists, health care professionals, artists, and policymakers.
An emerging body of evidence also links access to play and social connection to mental health, exposure to nature to reduced risk of depression and dementia, access to healthy air to cognitive clarity, and access to healthy eating and activity to cardiovascular and cognitive health. In fact, creating and engaging with art has also been found to have clear cognitive benefits — measured in compelling outcomes like reducing the need for medication use.
Beyond the “brick and mortar” components of cities and housing, building and supporting robust communities, where social contact and activity are supported by design, housing insecurity is minimized, and all individuals feel invested in the success of their building, neighborhood, or city is complex but essential for maximizing brain capital. One example of this is the One Shared Home Project, which looks at what co-living may look like in the year 2030 and how this could shape our health and well-being.
Designing Environmentally Friendly Spaces
Almost all the strategies for designing communities and spaces that support health for human bodies and brains also help the environment. The use of sustainability strategies — including reduced dependence on gasoline-powered cars, the use of healthy materials, lower energy use, and lower embodied carbon — results in healthier environmental quality, which in turn results in better physical, mental, and cognitive health.
Following these principles, companies such as Culdesac are reimagining and building car-free neighborhoods. Recent research also argues for cities to consider designing brain-healthy workplaces that incorporate playability and creativity, and building innovation districts to prioritize both human and environmental goals.
Brain Capital and SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production
SDG 12 is targeted at developing responsible consumption and production habits. This goal is related to the concept of a circular economy, which promotes sustainable production processes and responsible consumption patterns to minimize waste. Our green brain capital model, also discussed in the section on SDG 7, offers an important framework for thinking about this goal.
One key component of our green brain capital model is ecological intelligence — the ability to understand the natural environment and realize the impact of each person on the environment. Developing ecological intelligence can lead individuals to change their behaviors and live more sustainably. It includes curiosity about the interaction between humans and ecology, basic scientific literacy, affinity for sustainable eco practices, empathy for future generations, awareness of the consequences of unfriendly climate actions, and long-term thinking. There is an emerging body of literature on approaches to developing ecological intelligence across the lifespan, beginning in elementary schools. Fostering this form of intelligence will be key for adopting a circular economy and achieving SDG 12.
Tech-focused initiatives are also starting to target food insecurity, consumption, and production with a more holistic approach, as is the case for Nilus, a Latin American startup alleviating hunger (SDG 2) and poverty (SDG 1), all while reducing food waste (SDG 12). Initiatives such as this will contribute to shaping more sustainable models and resilient communities.
Brain Capital and SDG 13: Climate Action
Investing in brain capital leads to advancements in climate research, technologies, and sustainable practices, facilitating effective climate action — the mission of SDG 13.
The global nature of climate change requires action across all nations. The Brain Capital Grand Strategy emphasizes the benefits of brain health toward increasing employment, restructuring health systems, and rethinking the economic priorities of countries. This weaves together global, systemic trends that can contribute to flourishing economies, and the interconnectedness of the strategy closely parallels the widespread global effort that climate action demands. It is crucial to act against climate change, which is affecting every country on every continent.
In a recent paper, we focused on the necessity of investing in brain and mental health support, education, and cognitive development as a fundamental strategy for tackling climate change. When humans directly experience climate change and its effects, or get exposed to information on climate change impacts, they can experience a trauma-responsive cognitive state, which induces neural coping mechanisms like anxiety, stress, trauma, and displacement. This type of response could ironically hinder sustainable decision-making when addressing climate change disasters. Therefore, prioritizing brain and mental health initiatives and fostering resilience are vital steps in enhancing the adaptive capacity of individuals and societies facing the challenges posed by climate change. The consequent advancement of green skills, outlined in the section on SDG 7, can further help in responding to climate change.
Attempts at global cooperation on climate action are already underway. For example, at COP26 in Glasgow, a coalition of world leaders who collectively represent over 70% of global GDP launched the Breakthrough Agenda, aimed at making green technology and real solutions affordable and accessible to all. The need to rapidly accelerate progress and realize positive change was the underlying impetus for this project. Achieving breakthroughs in critical sectors like power, road transport, steel, hydrogen, and agriculture will create jobs, increase global GDP, and save lives. Continued investment in brain capital and further global cooperation are necessary to advance climate action.
Brain Capital and SDGs 14 and 15: Life Below Water and Life on Land
Brain capital is vital for developing technologies and strategies to protect marine life, conserve oceans, and manage marine resources sustainably — the aim of SDG 14. Similarly, SDG 15 focuses on the importance of preserving life on land — in the form of forests, terrestrial ecosystems, and biodiversity.
Reforming the Food Industry to Better Serve the Planet
As mentioned in our discussion of SDG 2, today’s food environments and food systems are dominated by the corporate-industrial food industry, and this is undermining brain capital. The global corporate-industrial food industry is responsible for up to one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of all freshwater withdrawals, major single-use plastic production and pollution, and agricultural chemical toxins, the main driver of global deforestation and biodiversity loss. This means that taking care of the planet will require reforming the food industry to make it less environmentally taxing. And by reforming the food industry, we will also improve brain health. Indeed, many elements of the food industry focus on ultra-processed foods of often poor nutritional value rather than brain-healthy whole foods. By reforming the food industry, we can produce better quality, healthier foods that will benefit both the environment and our brains.
Exposure to pollution — specifically neurodevelopmental toxicants such as particulate air pollution, lead, persistent organic pollutants, and pesticides — has adverse effects on brain development. These also have well established socioeconomic gradients of exposure within populations. This refers to the fact that people of lower socioeconomic status tend to experience greater exposure to harmful pollutants. This can be partially explained by the fact that industrial activity often occurs in areas least resourced to manage risks for fence-line communities. These communities experience higher levels of exposure to lead and mercury, particulate air pollution, and certain volatiles related to fossil fuels and petrochemicals — and contamination of their fresh water systems.
Beyond pollution, chemicals of concern are frequently found in building materials and consumer goods with adverse health effects. For example, certain antimicrobials are associated with negative nervous system and developmental impacts. Likewise, flame retardants are associated with lower IQ in children, while BPA is linked to neurodevelopmental problems, and phthalates are correlated with cognitive and behavioral disorders. Similarly, solvent vapors are linked to temporary nervous system symptoms and neurodevelopment effects, and in utero exposure to mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and lead can harm brain development, leading to behavioral problems and decreased brain function. Protecting citizens from exposure to these dangerous chemicals should be a key priority as progress continues on SDGs 14 and 15.
Protecting Oceans and Forests
Oceans are the world’s largest carbon sink, and forests store close to 10% of the world's carbon. Preserving life below water and on land closely ties into SDG 13 (climate action), since preserving the world’s oceans and forests will, by default, help to sequester harmful carbon emissions.
Moreover, the mere presence of forests results in the provision of clean water sources and greater flood moderation, the latter of which decreases the likelihood of climate disasters.
Health and the Natural Environment
The preservation of nature, both ocean and land ecosystems, allows for more frequent interaction with the natural environment, which drastically improves cognitive function and mental health outcomes. Interacting with the natural world promotes physical exercise, which improves overall heart and brain health, stress reduction, and the restoration of mental well-being. The intentional creation of green spaces within urban environments also reaps numerous brain health benefits. Even going to the ocean and feeling the sea spray on one’s face can have physical and mental benefits. Indeed, sea spray contains biologically active molecules that lead to positive physiological effects for individuals, resulting in a net positive for brain health.
Overall, converging planetary and brain health — and recognizing how improvements in one can bring improvements in the other — is a key step forward for achieving SDGs 14 and 15.
Brain Capital and SDG 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions
SDG 16 aims to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.” This SDG is an enabler of the entire SDG agenda. Investment in brain capital supports education and research on justice, governance, and human rights, which in turn promotes peace, inclusivity, and strong institutions.
Supporting Democracy Through Brain Capital
Democracy provides an enabling atmosphere and context where people can lead free and meaningful lives; it is both a system of government and a way of life characterized by freedom, dialogue, and tolerance. In a democracy we not only have the right to vote, but we decide on our lives, influence public policy, move, express, and assemble freely.
Democracies are increasingly under siege. Beyond direct external (e.g., warfare) and internal (e.g., populism and extremism) threats to democratic nations, multiple democracy-weakening factors are converging in our modern world. Brain health challenges, including mental, neurologic, and substance use disorders, social determinants of health, long COVID, undesired effects of technology, mis- and disinformation, and educational, health, and gender disparities, are associated with substantial economic and sociopolitical impediments.
We argue that thriving democracies can distinguish themselves by providing environments that enable each citizen to achieve their full brain health potential conducive to both personal and societal well-being. Gearing policymaking toward equitable and quality brain health may prove essential to combat brain challenges, promote societal cohesion, and boost economic productivity. Several emerging policy innovations to build “pro-democratic brain health” across individual, communal, national, and international levels are underway. While extensive research is warranted to validate these approaches, brain health-directed policymaking harbors potential as a novel concept for democracy strengthening.
Brain Health Diplomacy
The framework of brain health diplomacy can help facilitate brain capital investment in these important areas. Brain health diplomacy attempts to bridge disciplinary and geographic boundaries and mobilize resources to promote equitable brain health outcomes across regions. This approach aims to improve brain health on a global scale including through formal commitments to support brain health. It also aims to mitigate the complex threats to brain health at individual, community, national, and international levels through large-scale diplomacy. One of its core goals is focused on training and connecting the next generation of leaders in brain health.
Our recent analysis of a “Brain Health Diplomat’s Toolkit for Latin America and the Caribbean” suggests that national governments and international institutions must commit to implementing these goals. All humans have the potential to influence the game if they are given a fair chance to identify and share that inherent potential.
Human Rights in Mental Health Care
Very recently, the UN and the World Health Organization launched new guidance to address human rights in mental health care, which is a major milestone for both the human rights and mental health fields. Legislation can contribute to ensuring age-appropriate mental health care and support, which are necessary to safeguard the rights of children, adolescents, and older adults.
Using Neuroscience to Guide Policymaking
Neuroscience, particularly in the context of decision-making, behavioral economics, and nudge theory, can play a crucial role in enhancing decision-making and enabling smarter health, social and consumer choices. Indeed, the concept of neuroscience-inspired policymaking could transform our institutions for the better. The impact of neuroscience on decision-making was demonstrated in a 2021 study where “good nudges” improved choices specifically among consumers with lower socioeconomic status, financial literacy, and numeracy, whereas “bad nudges” exacerbated choice disparities. Policymakers could use this concept to design policies that promote the health and well-being of their constituents.
Protecting Democracy From the Perils of Disinformation
Misinformation scientists recently explored the connections between misinformation and the epistemic integrity of democracy. They noted that democracy relies on a shared body of knowledge among citizens, in particular, trust in elections and reliable expertise to inform policy-relevant debates. In their review, they note how mis- and disinformation campaigns are undermining shared knowledge, and they outline ways psychology can contribute to countermeasures, e.g., regulation, media literacy education, and inoculation.
Our Neuroshield model also outlines ways to protect citizens and our democracy from the perils of mis- and disinformation. It is comprised of a set of regulatory protections, a code of conduct for the media world, and a toolkit empowering citizens to protect themselves and their cognitive freedom against the onslaught of disinformation. The manipulation of information, mainly through social media platforms, has become a powerful tool for propaganda and shaping public opinion — with significant implications for democracy and geopolitics. Therefore, creating a Neuroshield that protects cognitive freedom and strengthens regulatory safeguards is essential in the face of the disinformation challenge — and also advances progress on SDG 16 by protecting democracy.
Building Strong Institutions: The Case for a Brain Capital Council
In the U.S. context, we believe there is a need for a White House Brain Capital Council driven by the recognition that a country's most valuable asset is its human capital and that investing in education, research and development, and innovation is critical to ensuring that brain capital is developed to its fullest potential. The Brain Capital Council would bring together government leaders, industry executives, and academic experts along with other key partners to develop and implement policies that support the growth of human capital and promote long-term economic growth and prosperity. One of the key benefits of a Brain Capital Council is that it would provide a platform for coordination and collaboration across government agencies and departments, as well as between government, industry, and academia.
The brain capital approach also promotes justice and equality by supporting the concept of ethics-by-design: the intentional embedding of ethical and humane use principles into the process of designing, developing, and delivering technologies. This is increasingly being applied in neurotechnology where, following the OECD 2019 Recommendation on Responsible Innovation in Neurotechnology, there is now a major effort led by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to promote an approach focused on human rights. Ethics-by-design, pioneered in brain-related areas, can then be applied to other emerging technologies, where it is urgently needed.
Brain Capital and SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals
SDG 17 is geared toward revitalizing global partnerships for sustainable development. Collaborations, knowledge sharing, and capacity building — driven by brain capital — are essential for achieving all SDGs, emphasizing the interconnectedness and interdependence of global efforts toward sustainable development. The following examples are just a few of the initiatives and organizations that are attempting to establish partnerships in the brain capital realm. Investing in and following the models of these organizations will be instructive for building the kinds of partnerships that can help fuel global progress on all 17 SDGs.
The Brain Capital Alliance is an example of a public-private partnership created with a shared objective of promoting the brain-centric agenda. It brings together different actors from the international, national, and regional levels to take action and effect change.
At the recent Science Summit at the United Nations General Assembly, we convened a full-day event focused on youth mental health, workforce development, economic security, resilience, sustainable futures, neuroscience law, and food systems. Advocates, neuroscientists, medical doctors, psychologists, and designers led conversations alongside academics, business leaders, elected officials, policy experts, and real estate financers, owners, and operators. The brain capital construct helped us amplify and institutionalize innovation while creating a platform to accelerate creative approaches for the next frontier. These kinds of cross-disciplinary partnerships will be crucial for achieving the 17 SDGs.
A new U.S.-based private sector initiative — the Business Collaborative for Brain Health — co-led by UsAgainstAlzheimer’s, AARP, and the Milken Institute, is bringing together business leaders to build brain health capital by advancing measurably effective brain-healthy workplaces, communities, and product and service innovations.
The Lone Star Depression Challenge is an initiative that aims to improve the quality of life and mental health care services for communities across Texas, saving lives and helping millions of Texans receive the care they need to recover from depression. The goal is to increase the rate of recovery from depression in Texas from less than 10% today to more than 50% through early detection and treatment in primary care. The initiative is being led by Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute in collaboration with the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern, Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, and The Path Forward for Mental Health and Substance Use. The Lone Star Depression Challenge scales three existing initiatives statewide: 1) The Cloudbreak Initiative to drive primary care-based clinical solutions across leading health systems, 2) The Path Forward to help Texas businesses purchase better care, and 3) EMPOWER to augment our workforce with community health workers from a wide variety of cultures. Applying similar frameworks in other states and countries could do a lot to drive progress on mental health care and specifically SDG 3 (good health and well-being).
The Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative (DAC) launched at the World Economic Forum’s 2021 meeting on The Davos Agenda. DAC is a multi-stakeholder partnership committed to aligning stakeholders with a new vision for our collective global response against the challenges Alzheimer’s presents to patients, caregivers, and health care infrastructures. Convened by The World Economic Forum and The Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease (CEOi), and fueled by a mission of service to the estimated 150 million families and half a billion people inevitably impacted by this disease by 2050, DAC is a collaborative for the benefit of all people, in all places. The collaborative follows the public-private partnership model pioneered by successful international efforts such as Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which has helped vaccinate more than 981 million children in the world’s poorest countries, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which promotes the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and ensures equitable access to these treatments.
Kooth is a digital youth mental health platform that specializes in providing early and responsive access via education and health services. It has currently two public-private activities in the U.S. The first is a $3 million one-year contract with the government of Pennsylvania to provide free telehealth services to 30 school districts across the state. The second is an agreement with the Californian Department of Health Care Services, which selected Kooth to support delivering equitable, appropriate, and timely behavioral health services to youth and young adults (ages 13–25). It will also integrate with other partners to provide a seamless user experience, including services and support to children (ages 0–12) and their parents/caregivers.
The Danish Lighthouse Life Science is a public-private partnership initiated by the Danish government, which links to the SDG agenda. Lighthouse Life Science is outlined in detail in Box 2, as it offers an important model for sustainable public-private partnerships.
Box 2 — Overview of Lighthouse Life Sciences: A Model for Sustainable Public-Private Partnerships
The Danish Lighthouse Life Science is a strategic public-private partnership, launched in 2022. The partnership is an initiative from the Ministry for Industry, Business and Financial Affairs, which aims to ensure growth and welfare in the wake of COVID-19.
The purpose of this partnership is to create a “lighthouse” in the field of life science, to ensure better health and equity while providing inspiration for new welfare technology solutions nationally and abroad. The partnership is a cross-cutting political initiative which is supported by five Ministries (Ministry of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs, Ministry of Employment, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry for the Interior and Health, Ministry of Research and Education). Through a broad public-private partnership, which now includes over 300 public and private partners, the aim is to improve citizens’ health and strengthen the growth, employment, and export of Danish companies.
Lighthouse Life Science was initiated with Novo Nordisk as chair in March 2022 with an initial focus on healthy weight — specifically preventing, detecting and treating obesity and promoting healthy weight through various pilot projects. In August 2023 together with Lundbeck as chair, the initiative broadened its focus to also include mental health, recognizing the complexities of mental disorders and psychiatry that require innovative solutions beyond the capacity of the public system. To address these complexities effectively, public-private partnerships are essential for developing innovative solutions that assist individuals facing mental challenges and promote mental health.
The pilot projects have been co-created by small companies, knowledge institutions, municipalities, and many other public and private partners. The projects are intended to improve lives and health of people in Denmark and inspire the rest of the world to establish innovative solutions in different chronic diseases. In order for other public-private partnerships to utilize the learnings from Lighthouse Life Science, Copenhagen University has created a peer reviewed whitepaper evaluating the partnership.
The partnership extends until 2030 and has currently received two large public funds from the Danish Board of Business, in addition to co-financing from the private actors in the partnership.
This partnership model aligns with the SDGs by promoting good health and well-being (SDG 3), advancing decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), fueling industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), reducing inequality (SDG 10), and enriching partnerships (SDG 17).
Source Healthcare Denmark.
The World Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) is a platform that brings public and private partnerships together to fund and deliver health care solutions globally. WHIS uses its knowledge and network to provide opportunities — bridging the gap between community stakeholders, industry, and investors, who specialize in health care and particularly the delivery of SDG 3 (good health and well-being). The WHIS platform works around five main pillars: WHISkids, WHISatwork, WHISseniors, WHISgreen, WHIStech. Every WHIS pillar is driven by a specific value proposition that supports knowledge transfer to benefit people’s health and well-being in the specific area. The platform’s aims are to connect people, inspire, and influence positive change. WHIS provides a platform to develop new ideas and prototypes at local, national, or international levels.
In Australia, ARACY — the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth — has initiated the Thriving Queensland Kids Partnership (TQKP), a systems-change coalition and broker engaging a growing alliance of philanthropies, institutes, government authorities and agencies, non-government organizations, and community, place-based initiatives. TQKP’s purpose is to “catalyze systems to change the odds for Queensland children, young people, and families to thrive,” and it positions its efforts as a contribution to the SDGs. One of ARACY/TQKP’s key initiatives, in partnership with the University of Queensland’s (UQ) Queensland Brain Institute, is the Thriving Kids Brain Builders Initiative. This is a multifaceted subnational initiative to uplift caregiver, community, workforce, organizational, and systems capabilities by mobilizing neuroscience and related child, adolescent, family, and community development sciences. Both UQ and TQKP are explicit in connecting their efforts to the SDGs. In addition, ARACY has facilitated “The Nest” child and youth wellbeing outcomes framework and engaged with UNICEF Australia to align “The Nest” reporting to the sustainable development goals.
Final Considerations for Implementing the 17 SDGs
Exposomics, Brain Capital, and the 17 SDGs
A compelling concept is emerging in the context of health, one that acknowledges the intricate and multifaceted nature of human well-being. It emphasizes that the drivers of human health cannot be analytically simplified to a straightforward one-to-one, cause-and-effect relationship. This exposomic approach, which tackles the totality of exposure and internal responses, has changed over time but can still be instructive for implementing the 17 SDGs. First, it was dedicated to identifying complex pollutant exposure and linking that to variable biological changes in the body. However, with a better understanding of the meaning of exposure, it seems that it now extends beyond pollution to every single surrounding of human beings throughout life. Stressful situations are types of exposure, lack of food is exposure, and political discomfort is exposure. In brief, an exposome model is the collection of the 17 SDGs and their impact on brain capital.
As the exposome model implies, it is not about the single agent effect but the combination and interactions between external exposures that shape the human brain response. So, rather than isolating each SDG value for brain capital, we need to assess the overlap and interactions between them and how this network of factors affects brain capital concurrently and collectively. Investing in brain capital is a win-win — it benefits the individual (micro), the communities they evolve in (meso), the countries in which the bilateral interplays take place (macro), and society overall (meta). By applying the exposomic approach to brain capital and the SDGs, we can better understand the connections and interactions between various “exposures” and work toward a sustainable, healthy future for all individuals and societies.
Importance of the Global Brain Capital Dashboard
The Brain Capital Alliance and the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association have developed the Global Brain Capital Dashboard, which can assist policymakers in a cross-cutting and transformative agenda-building. The dashboard is focused on three elements: brain capital drivers, brain health, and brain skills. Its logic is based on the value of creating a comprehensive reservoir of data that can offer a global comparative frame of reference and aggregate related datasets across disciplines. The dashboard will undergo a series of iterations based on evolving science and socio-economic and environmental trends, and it can serve as a great tool to facilitate and track progress on brain capital initiatives as well as the SDGs.
Proaction as a Vital Brain Skill
In order to succeed in achieving all 17 SDGs, it will be crucial to nurture proaction as a key, adaptive brain skill. In fact, proaction is one of humanity’s high-potential, evolutionary advantages. The first is forethought or thinking-ahead. The second, strategic proaction, refers to intentionally changing trajectories to influence the future for the better. The human species and its leaders have devoted too little thought to the future consequences of our actions. We must become more actively future-minded and long-term focused in order to achieve the 17 SDGs.
British mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell identified three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch what happens, and those who wonder what happened. Proaction is all about “making things happen.” The goal is to facilitate actions aimed at thoughtfully changing trajectories to create a desired future.
Being truly proactive is difficult, risky, rare, highly underrated, and profoundly important because it affects the future. In recent years, management researchers have been studying this topic in depth. One recent example found that highly proactive doctors and nurses caring for COVID-19 patients found ways to effectively apply their strengths, resulting in higher resilience and job performance. This and other research show clear benefits of behaving proactively — not immediately or in every episode, but ultimately generating better futures for oneself and others.
Future-mindedness and proaction drive successful leadership. We (the world) must solve a severe supply/demand imbalance: too many local and global needs and not enough effective leaders who address them successfully. Engaging and leading others in collaborative future-minded pursuits can bring about the greatest and most profound changes.
The world is full of leadership positions filled by people performing inadequately. Effective leadership is not about exerting authority or displaying a personality, but rather it is about launching collaborations, tackling problems, seizing opportunities, and forging constructive change. These are the activities of real leadership, not to mention the best paths to human flourishing and achieving the UN’s SDGs.
Sense of Agency Critical to Human “Flourishing” and Achieving SDGs
In addition to facilitating and encouraging proaction as a key brain skill that can contribute to the 17 SDGs, it is also important to foster a sense of agency in all individuals.
One of the questions in the World Values Survey, which is given to thousands of people in more than a hundred countries every year asks, “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what you do with your life?” Across the world, responding “satisfied” to this question is associated with positive emotions and lower levels of negative emotions. Because self-agency is a crucial ingredient in confidence, globally there is a strong association between agency, confidence, and mental well-being.
This triumvirate of psychological states also leads to economic growth, because happy, confident people take more investment risks, and happiness predicts personal wealth independently of socioeconomic status. Across the globe, feeling that you have some control predicts life satisfaction better than health, work, wealth, marriage, or religion — both within and between countries. It also predicts national economic performance and therefore impacts several sustainable development goals. A sense of control has been shown to greatly reduce the strong relationship that otherwise exists between socioeconomic status and both mental and physical ill-health.
A concrete example of the importance of agency in attaining the sustainable development goals comes from a study in a food-insecure region of Ethiopia. Villages who viewed videos featuring stories and testimonials about people from their region who had shown perseverance in improving their economic situation had, six months later, more children sent to school and an increased sense of control over their lives compared to a control group of villages who watched entertainment films. Thus, supporting initiatives that allow individuals to feel a sense of agency will be critical for advancing many of the SDGs.
Agency is also now considered a key element in the “hierarchy of needs” model, first developed by Abraham Maslow and since updated to reflect new research (Figure 4).
Figure 4 — The New Hierarchy of Needs Model
At the peak of the hierarchy, human flourishing for oneself and others replaces Abraham Maslow’s narrower self-actualization need. Flourishing is a state of complete well-being, including physical and mental health, satisfaction, a sense of purpose, positive social relationships, autonomy, mastery, personal growth, and virtue. An added need, agency, plays a significant role. Agency gives people freedom and power to actively seek, select, and pursue their personally preferred pathways to satisfy their needs and achieve a state of flourishing. Psychologically, agency entails a category of beliefs, a mindset. More profoundly, genuine agency includes both thinking and doing: the strategies and actions that accomplish what we want and bring us what we need.
Feeling that you have agency is nice. But feeling agentic falls far short of exercising agency — behaving competently and making real progress toward desired goals. To achieve the 17 SDGs and ensure that everyone has the opportunity to lead a flourishing life, it will be crucial to empower individuals to exercise agency.
We possess the agency to make greater progress toward UN SDGs, but we are not executing that agency to our potential.
Conclusion: Developing a Call to Action in Lead-Up to COP28 UN Climate Change Conference in Dubai
As we approach a global population of 11 billion, the concept of brain capital is crucial to ensure that we create a world where all individuals can flourish. Developing brain capital across the globe can drive progress in numerous areas — including all 17 SDGs. By focusing on these areas and applying brain capital-driven innovations, we can ensure that every individual has the opportunity to live a flourishing life, as defined in the new hierarchy of needs model. In addition to meeting the 17 SDGs, we therefore hope to achieve the goal of supporting 11 billion flourishing lives.
Brain capital is more than a conceptual framework; it represents an imperative paradigm shift in our approach to global development progress and population well-being. As we navigate the challenges of an increasingly interconnected and complex world, it is paramount to recognize that human development cannot be siloed into economic, educational, or health compartments. Brain capital provides a cohesive framework that encapsulates the multidimensional aspects of human potential.
By incorporating brain capital into the primary UN agenda, we acknowledge the interplay of factors affecting individual and societal flourishing. This approach recognizes that thriving democracies, global peace, environmental sustainability, and the pursuit of the SDGs are intimately linked to human intellectual, emotional, and cognitive well-being. The call is clear: to adapt our global strategies to focus on nurturing the mental and intellectual capabilities as an investment in building the mental wealth of nations and catalyzing progress on the SDGs. Brain capital aligns with the very essence of the UN's mission to promote prosperity, equality, peace, and sustainability.
As we look ahead to achieving our goal of supporting 11 billion flourishing lives, it is imperative that the UN takes a leadership role in embedding brain capital into its core agenda. Brain capital and the SDGs can be aligned in a positive feedback loop where progress in one begets progress in the other. Brain capital is the missing piece that connects the dots between economic development, poverty alleviation, education, health, and climate action. Furthermore, it can foster a holistic strategy that leads to more equitable societies and a sustainable future for all. We will advance this agenda at COP28.
About the Authors
Harris A. Eyre, M.D., Ph.D., is a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, a senior fellow at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and lead of the Brain Capital Alliance. He is an advisor to the Latin American Brain Health Institute (BrainLat), FondaMental Foundation, the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association (EMEA), the Mental Wealth Initiative, the Women’s Brain Project, Texas Medical Center’s Innovation Institute and Kooth. He is a member of the Champion’s Cabinet for the Davos Alzheimer’s Collaborative and an instructor for the Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI). Eyre maintains adjunct positions with the Baylor College of Medicine, The University of Texas Health Sciences Center at Houston, and Deakin University’s Institute for Innovation in Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation.
Jo-An Occhipinti, Ph.D., is the head of Systems Modelling, Simulation and Data Science at the Brain and Mind Centre and co-director of the Mental Wealth Initiative at the University of Sydney. She is also managing director of computer simulation and advanced research technologies (CSART) and serves as an advisor to the Brain Capital Alliance.
Laura Murray, Ph.D., is the founder of CETA Global and a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
William Hynes, D.Phil., is an adjunct professor with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, University College London, and the Santa Fe Institute. He is a member of the Brain Capital Alliance steering committee and a senior climate economist at The World Bank.
Rym Ayadi, Ph.D., is the president and founder of the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association. She is a senior advisor to the Centre for European Policy Studies and co-founder of the Brain Capital Alliance.
Mohamed Salama, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor at the Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. He is a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Brain Health Equity at the Global Brain Health Institute.
Paweł Świeboda is founder and director of NeuroCentury, a brain health and brain capital policy hub. He is also a member of the steering committee of the Brain Capital Alliance, the practice lead in neurotechnology at the International Centre for Future Generations, a senior advisor on brain health at FIPRA and a senior visiting fellow at the European Policy Centre.
Eoin J. Cotter, Ph.D., is program lead at the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Michael Martino, M.S., is an M.D./Ph.D. student at the Medical University of South Carolina studying the intersection of stress and substance use disorders under the mentorship of Dr. James Otis. He also serves as co-director of the South Carolina Policy, Education, Advocacy, and Research student group.
Michael Berk, M.D., Ph.D., is currently an L3 research fellow at the National Health and Medical Research Council in Australia and the Alfred Deakin Chair of Psychiatry at Deakin University and Barwon Health, where he heads the Institute for Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Translation (IMPACT). He is also an honorary professorial research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry, the Florey Institute for Neuroscience and Mental Health, and Orygen Youth Health at Melbourne University, as well as in the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University.
Upali Nanda, Ph.D., is a partner and global director of research at HKS, Inc., as well as an associate professor of practice at the University of Michigan.
Julie Hiromoto, FAIA, is a principal and director of integration at HKS. She harnesses architecture’s power as a positive force to heal seemingly intractable social challenges and transforms practice to embrace a more sustainable and evidence-based future, fostering equity and human health. Her appointments include the mayor’s representative on the Dallas Environmental Commission, International Living Future Institute board member, and Urban Land Institute Americas Sustainable Development Council vice chair of DEI.
Elena Stotts-Lee is a research assistant at the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association.
María E. Castelló, Ph.D., is an associate professor of research and the administrative director for the Department of Integrative and Computational Neuroscience at the Instituto de Investigaciones Biológicas Clemente Estable (Ministry of Education and Culture, Montevideo, Uruguay). She is also a grade 4 researcher in the Uruguayan postgraduate programme PEDECIBA. Castelló is the ideologist of the LATBrain initiative and an alternate member of the LATBrain Strategic Planning steering committee. She is also founder and deputy secretary of the NGO Fibras.org, member of the advisory committee of the NGO Girls in Tech Uruguay and outreach manager of Women in Neuroscience Nigeria.
Walter D. Dawson, D.Phil., is an assistant professor at the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine and joint Oregon Health & Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health. He is also a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health with the Global Brain Health Institute.
Jorge Jraissati is the director of Alumni for Liberty, an international network of freedom activists with over 10,000 members representing 139 countries. Jraissati is also an economist and a researcher at IESE Business School for the Center for Public Leadership and Government. He is a member of the OECD Neuroscience-Inspired Policy Initiative.
Michelle Tempest, M.D., is a partner at Candesic.
Mara Madrigal-Weiss is executive director at San Diego County Office of Education.
Agustín Ibáñez, Ph.D., is the director of the Latin American Institute for Brain Health (BrainLat), Universidad Adolfo Ibanez, Santiago, Chile; a researcher at the Cognitive Neuroscience Center (CNC), Universidad de San Andrés, and National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), Argentina; and an associate professor at the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Ryan Abbott, M.D., J.D., MTOM, Ph.D., is a professor of law and health sciences at the University of Surrey School of Law and an adjunct assistant professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He has published widely on issues associated with law and technology, life sciences and intellectual property in leading legal, medical and scientific books and journals, including as the author of “The Reasonable Robot: Artificial Intelligence and the Law” published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press, and as the editor of the “Research Handbook on Intellectual Property and Artificial Intelligence” published in 2022 by Edward Elgar.
Kavitha Kolappa, M.D., M.P.H., is a psychiatrist specializing in the public health and societal implications of brain/body medicine. She is currently a consultant for the Chester M. Pierce, MD Division of Global Psychiatry within the Department of Psychiatry at the Massachusetts General Hospital, and previously worked at the World Health Organization’s Brain Health Unit.
Helen Lavretsky, M.D., M.S., is a professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and president of the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry.
Dilip V. Jeste, M.D., is the director of Global Research Network on Social Determinants of Health and Exposomics, the president-elect of the World Federation for Psychotherapy and editor-in-chief of International Psychogeriatrics. He is the former president of the American Psychiatric Association, a former senior associate dean for healthy aging and senior care and a distinguished professor of psychiatry and neurosciences at the University of California San Diego.
Patrick Brennan is the UC/CSU fellowship director at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.
Ian H. Robertson, Ph.D., MAE, is a founding director of the Global Brain Health Institute and Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Eric A. Storch, Ph.D., is a professor, vice chair and McIngvale Presidential Endowed Chair at the Baylor College of Medicine.
Laura-Joy Boulos, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist with three folded activities: research (associate professor at Saint-Joseph University), innovation (founder and CEO of Sci-dip, a platform that brings science-based expertise to the health sector), and investing (partner at Globivest, a women-led impact venture capital fund).
Kelly O’Brien is vice president of prevention at USAgainstAlzheimer's.
Laura Booi, Ph.D., is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Dementia Research at Leeds Beckett University and a Senior Atlantic Fellow with the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Francesca R. Farina, Ph.D., is a research assistant professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and a Senior Atlantic Fellow with the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Mitchell S. V. Elkind, M.D., M.S., is a tenured professor of Neurology and Epidemiology at Columbia University and the founding chief of the Division of Neurology Clinical Outcomes Research and Population Sciences (Neuro CORPS) in the Neurology Department at Columbia. Elkind served as president of the American Heart Association (AHA) from 2020 to 2021 — the second neurologist to do so in its 100-year history. After completing his term as president, he joined the AHA in a new executive position as chief clinical science officer, with the vision of expanding the work of the organization from its traditional focus on cardiovascular disease and stroke to brain health more broadly defined.
Cornelia C. Walther, Ph.D., is a senior research fellow at the Center for Social Norms and Behavioral Dynamics, University of Pennsylvania. Following two decades with the UN in humanitarian operation, a decade of research on systemic social change via individual transformation and the publication of various books on the benefits of prosocial action for individuals (micro), communities (meso), countries (macro) and society (meta) in a hybrid world, Walther launched POZE@global, a thinktank for like-minded thinkers and doers.
Michael L. Platt, Ph.D., is the director of the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative and James S. Riepe University Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Jair C. Soares, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor and the chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston.
Laura A. Jana, M.D., is a U.S.-based pediatrician, early educator and award-winning author of 30+ children/parenting books. She currently serves as director of innovation at Penn State University's Prevention Research Center Evidence-to-Impact Collaborative. With 20+ years of experience working with parents, educators, media, academia, government organizations, nonprofits, and corporations alike, she is dedicated to addressing the most pressing needs of children, families and communities, with a focus on 21st C skill development and early brain and child development.
Sara Ronco is a Ph.D. student at the Università degli Studi del'Insubria and a researcher with the Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association.
Erin Smith is a Senior Atlantic Fellow at the Global Brain Health Institute at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. She is also a researcher on AI for neurodegenerative diseases at Stanford Medicine and a fellow at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute.
Kirti Ranchod is a neurologist, the founder of The Medical Community Pty Ltd, the co-founder of the Africa Brain Health Network, honorary lecturer in the Department of Internal Medicine at University of Witwatersrand, South Africa and a Global Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Brain Health.
Sonja Sudimac is an educational psychologist, cognitive scientist, and currently a predoctoral student in the Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience at Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany.
Dennis Pamlin is executive director of the Net-Zero Compatibility Initiative at Mission Innovation, a senior advisor at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden and a senior associate at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Julio Licinio, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, is a SUNY Distinguished Professor at Upstate Medical University and a physician-scientist who is internationally recognized as a mental health research leader for his investigations into depression and related neurobiology and genomics. Licinio has received multiple awards for his exceptional achievements, and he is a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, the Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists and the Australian Academy of Health and Medical Sciences.
Christos Symeonides, M.D., is a general and developmental paediatrician, a researcher in childhood learning and neurodevelopment at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, and a researcher in plastics and human health at the Minderoo Foundation.
Miguel Angel Lara Otaola, Ph.D., is the head of the Programme for Mexico and Central America for International IDEA.
Dan Mannix is an advisor to the Brain Capital Alliance and a senior financial executive.
Katrina Maestri is an executive, board member and strategist in education. After an international corporate career with General Motors, she is now president of the board of trustees of the Chartwell School. She is also a member of the advisory boards for the UCSF Dyslexia Center, Breaking Barriers by 8 and the Global Science of Learning.
Steve Carnevale is a business executive with an extensive track record of activities in mental health and learning disorder innovation. He is a California Mental Health Commissioner and the founder of the UCSF Dyslexia Center.
Antonella Santuccione Chadha, M.D., is CEO and co-founder of the Women's Brain Project.
Gareth Presch is CEO and founder of the World Health Innovation Summit.
Thomas Bateman, DBA, is an Emeritus Bank of America Eminent Scholar of Commerce at the McIntire School of Business at The University of Virginia.
Quazi Haque is CMO and co-founder of Elysium Healthcare and COP lead for brain health for Ramsay Healthcare.
Michael Hogan is a convenor of the Thriving Qld Kids Partnership — in partnership with the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. He is also an industry fellow with the Queensland Brain Institute at The University of Queensland and an adjunct professor at the Centre for Justice and the Queensland University of Technology. He serves as board director of the Torres Health Corporation and a council member of the Queensland Library Foundation.
Chee Ng, M.D., is the Healthscope chair of psychiatry, the director of the International Psychiatry Unit at St. Vincent's and the University of Melbourne and the co-director of Asia Australia Mental Health.
Veronica Podence Falcao, M.D., is a research fellow at Deakin’s IMPACT.
Jafri Malin Abdullah, M.D., Ph.D., FASc, is chairman of the Brain Behaviour Cluster at Universiti Sains Malaysia
Ruojuan Yu is a sustainability strategist and a graduate of the Yale School of Management.
Zoltan Sarnyai, M.D., Ph.D., is a professor and head of the Laboratory of Psychiatric Neuroscience at James Cook University.
Rajiv Ahuja, J.D., M.S., is an associate director for the Milken Institute’s Future of Aging, where he leads the institute’s Alliance to Improve Dementia Care and manages its brain health and longevity portfolio.
Samantha Wibawa is an undergraduate student at Rice University in Houston, Texas, studying environmental engineering and transnational Asian studies.
Lynne Corner is co-founder and director of VOICE and COO at the UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA). VOICE is an international organization established to harness the immense experience, skills and insights of the public to facilitate a cross-generational dialogue on healthy ageing.
Anna Dé is the head of stakeholder engagement at the Women’s Brain Project.
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