How we’re having a social impact at the UK’s most sustainable university | Top Universities

How we’re having a social impact at the UK’s most sustainable university

By Aisha K

Updated November 10, 2022 Updated November 10, 2022

Taking part in sustainable initiatives can imply a variety of environmental measures but it’s important not to understate the significance of working towards social sustainability.  

The QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2023 assesses 700 universities across the world and is split into two sections: environmental and social impact. As well as measuring institutions on environmentally sustainable measures such as sustainable research and education, the rankings also consider an institution’s impact around today’s biggest social issues.  

We spoke to two students who volunteer with All4Paws at the University of Edinburgh (ranked as the best UK university for sustainability) to learn more about how they’re creating social impact as students and their advice to anyone who wants to get involved with social causes at their university.  

All4Paws is a student-led charity that provides veterinary care and advice for homeless and vulnerably housed people and their pets. Vedika and Chloe are both students on the veterinary programme and decided to join after hearing about the charity’s yearly auction and one of their lecturers on their course, Dr Andrew Gardiner, supervises the student committee.  

The charity’s mission  

“All4Paws started back in 2009 with a bunch of keen students who would go to homeless shelters and community centres with Dr Gardiner in and around Edinburgh, providing veterinary care for homeless people and the pets they own” Chloe said.  

“In terms of what we do on a day-to-day basis, it’s essentially a free drop-in clinic and we run it similar to a GP appointment. We ask them what the problem is and most of the time it will be things such as vaccines, deworming, infections or the occasional trauma.” 

In addition to providing medication, food, toys, vaccines and further consultations, the charity uses their emergency fund to refer clients who need specialised care. All clinics are supervised by experienced veterinary surgeons, enabling student volunteers to gain practical work experience.  

How they’re helping create social impact 

Clinic at All4Paws

Vedika works as senior fundraising coordinator, organising a number of events to ensure the charity can provide care through the emergency fund. One of the most rewarding aspects of her job is being able to bring comfort to homeless people through caring for their pets. 

“We know that we can’t directly address homelessness but as veterinary students what we can do is help them with their pets and improve their lives in that way. At the same time, we’re promoting animal welfare and raising more awareness about the issues that homeless people face.”  

Chloe’s role as a senior clinic coordinator means that she’s in charge of overseeing operations, which includes liaising with volunteer vets, re-stocking and scheduling appointments.  

“The cost of veterinary care isn’t subsidised by the government and it’s hard to come by, especially if you’re homeless. We know they want the best for their pets so we’re here to fill that niche spot and it also gives them a safe space to talk about what’s on their mind” she said.  

They’ve also noticed that the assistance they provide for animals is having a positive effect on the welfare of their owners. Vedika said: “Some homeless people will come forward and get help for their pets but not necessarily for themselves. We have a nurse who works with us to tend to the actual owners themselves.” 

“So much of the time people will put their pet’s needs ahead of their own, which is an incredible sacrifice, but they shouldn’t have to do that. If we’re able to help with that then maybe they’ll have a few more resources for themselves.” 

“It’s been amazing to witness and I think we should definitely encourage it further, especially if we’re able to indirectly help those individuals.”  

What it means to them personally 

For Chloe, volunteering with All4Paws is one way in which she can serve the local community. “It’s always been drilled into me that I need to give back, and people sometimes forget that homeless people are a part of our community. 

“I know that I can’t realistically help all social causes, but these are the skills that I’m learning through my degree. If I can use those skills to better my community in some shape or form, then I’m going to help where I can.” 

The sense of fulfilment from making a difference is also what motivates Vedika. “The clinic has been a lot busier recently and will run for twice as long as it’s meant to, especially with the cost-of-living crisis, but I’ll still phone my mum or someone on the way home and gush about all the incredible things we did that day.” 

“Sometimes we’ll see dogs with chronic conditions come in and when you see them again two months later, you’ll see the difference the clinic has made. We can’t do complicated procedures in our clinic but even with the work that we do, we’re still able to create lasting impact.” 

As well as utilising their skills, volunteering has helped them build experience in other areas. Vedika said: “Communication skills are really important in our roles, particularly when getting accurate history from clients and things like that.” 

“Talking to different groups that you might not normally encounter has been very useful and we’ve learned a lot about how to navigate difficult conversations. I don’t know much about running a business but it makes me feel like it’s the kind of work we do when we’re having to problem-solve and think about what our priorities are.” 

Advice to students who want to get involved in social causes 

Vedika and Chloe recommend attending as many student events possible to find causes that you may want to join and meet like-minded people who share the same interests.  

Chloe said: “No matter what you’re passionate about there is always going to be somebody who’s interested in your interests. There are normally plenty of resources to help you find student groups such as student fairs, newsletters, department emails and social media.  

If you’re interested in a particular cause that your university currently doesn’t cater to, they advise taking the initiative to set up your own group and find students and staff who can help you.  

“All4Paws wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for the group of students back in 2009. The group slowly built up and that’s how we’ve gone from a few students going out to homeless shelters to an entire committee with our own clinic.” 

“Speaking from my experience, if you’re in the medical field and want to make a social impact, your professors are willing to help. They’re probably interested in the same social causes as you. That’s how Dr Gardiner started with us and without him we wouldn’t have grown as a committee. 

“If you truly think you can make a change from doing it it’s worth trying. Worst case scenario, if it doesn’t pan out in the way you hoped, at least you’ll learn something from it and you can do it better next time.” 

This article was originally published in November 2022 .

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Written by

Aisha is Content Editor for and, creating and publishing a wide range of articles for an international student audience. A native Londoner, Aisha graduated from the London School of Economics with a degree in Philosophy and has previously worked in the civil service. 

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