Grand Challenges

Grand challenges, by definition, are complex societal problems that have frustratingly defied solution (Branscomb, 2009). While these challenges are cross cutting, multidimensional, and permeate through all of society, they are not unsolvable. By capturing the public’s imagination, Grand Challenges can be solved through innovation and scientific, sociological, and technological breakthrough (Kalil, 2012). Some examples of Grand Challenges are finding energy sources that are reliable, curing cancer, improving healthcare for all people, and decreasing food insecurity around the globe.

Because of multidimensional, society encompassing nature’s, Grand Challenges are often taken on by governments and international governmental organizations like the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU). The United States even has it’s own set of Grand Challenges that “help catalyze breakthroughs that advance national priorities.” In short, governments and international organizations can use Grand Challenges to pool resources, foster innovation, find solutions to major problems that can help elevate everyone.

A great example of the international community attempting to tackle a set of Grand Challenges was through the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) created at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. The MDGs set eight goals: eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/aids, Malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development. Even though these goals were a step in the right direction to elevating all of society, I believe that there were some major blindspots. One, eight goals were not enough to tackle the entire world and account for international, national, and sub-national differences. Two, and the most discussed shortcoming during the lecture, the MGDs did not mention persons with disabilities (PWDs).

By not mentioning PWDs, the MGDs effectively excluded more than one billion people in the world living with some sort of disability (WHO/World Bank Report, 2011). The sheer number of PWDs throughout the world excluded from development efforts is enough to be problematic. By excluding about 15% of your population, you’re effectively saying they don’t matter and their needs aren’t valid enough to be met. What kind of society is that? Including PWDs at the table and elevating their freedoms is an elevation for all of society.

Before starting this class, I wasn’t aware that PWDs – 15% of the world’s population – have previously been excluded from development work. That was extremely surprising to me and I believe it’s a huge disadvantage that needs to be accounted for and righted. Moving forward, I believe this material and our discussions in class will help provide me with another lens to view international development and my academic efforts in my other classes.