Grand Challenges

There are many different types of challenges people face all over the world each and every day. Grand Challenges, however, typically encompass substantial issues that impact a large population and/or area. Although a formal universal definition has yet to be established, “Grand Challenges are ambitious but achievable goals” that require global acknowledgement and efforts to tackle (WHOSTP). I think the key word here is “achievable.” While these problems can be incredibly daunting, such as NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, they are indeed considered feasible when all hands are on deck. Moreover, in attempts to solve Grand Challenges, positive social change is sparked as the “social contract” between science and society is enhanced via job creation, economic growth, and multi-sector collaboration (Kalil 2012). There is also a rhetoric shift from what is possible to what is necessary, creating a much more proactive and working dynamic.

At first I found it very interesting that the majority of the Grand Challenges listed on USAID’s website weren’t the same as the ones on The White House’s page, considering USAID is a government agency. However, as mentioned earlier there are a plethora of challenges and they can clearly fall into several categories. The White House naturally has national issues as its primary concern and priority, whereas USAID has a more global and developmental scope as its main interest. Since international development is my major’s thematic focus, I find USAID’s Grand Challenges particularly compelling. Grand Challenges for Development have explicit international engagement and look mainly to science and technology as a means for problem solving. Of USAID’s eight listed Global Challenges for Development, I was most surprised and intrigued by “Making All Voices Count” because it seemed quite progressive in acknowledging social injustices beyond what is considered basic necessities (USAID). Furthermore, my studies have been largely focused on the lack of accountability and transparency plaguing different world issues and their actors.

Although Grand Challenges are plentiful, it seems many are interrelated and could be tackled simultaneously as problem solving in one challenge would likely lead to problem solving in another. The first step in combatting Grand Challenges is research to understand the root of the problem. Then further research and innovation are necessary in order to discover and adapt alternatives and solutions. Because these challenges tend to be quite complex, trial and error is an expected and essential component, as well. I believe the Grand Challenge of finding and utilizing new energy sources is one of the most pressing world issues in sustainability and international development. We simply cannot afford or rely on continuing to use nonrenewable energy sources like oil. Already there has been significant development on renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, but I think they remain incredibly underused and are nowhere near their full potential impact. I believe there needs to be a complete shift in energy production from the extractive industry to one that utilizes the natural elements in order to tackle this Grand Challenge.


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