Grand Challenges as an Invitation

Based on a series of definitions across UN documents, government statements, and proposals by organizations to solve them, Grand Challenges are best defined as “multidimensional, multi-stakeholder, multidisciplinary longer-term problems without clear solutions.”

In name alone, Grand Challenges have the potential to feel overwhelming, like unsolvable problems that loom over us as a society but when we breakdown the meaning, there is potential for something so much more. While “grand” does signify something imposing in size, its definition also includes the word “magnificent.” “Challenge,” which feels like a synonym for problem is actually defined as ‘a call to take part or an invitation to engage in a contest.” In exploring these definitions, it becomes clear that we do not have to see the issues of our time as looming problems but rather, we can see them for what they are, an invitation to take part in a collaboration, in the solving of a difficult but magnificent challenge.

Grand Challenges frame ending Climate Change or finding a cure for the Zika Virus into an opportunity for collaboration on these puzzles across fields, groups, and differences. In exploring Grand Challenges of the past like the development of faster technology for connection among people or vaccines for illnesses like Polio, we are reminded of how achievable these goals are when viewed through this framework.

Even more exciting is the fact that we are seeing inclusion in these challenges at a rate faster than ever. Through the CRPD, we see a notable shift in development strategy, a pillar of Grand Challenge solutions, to take into account intersectionality. Under the umbrella of disability inclusive sustainable development, one of the biggest Grand Challenges is inclusion and implementation of rights granted through policy but not yet in practice.

Organizations across the world have come together to address this Challenge, again marking the value of multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder, multi-dimensional involvement and problem solving. One of the biggest answers to this specific Grand Challenge is the use of UN ESCAP’s Incheon Strategy out of the CRPD’s call to “make the right real.” Developed and advocated for by persons with and without disabilities for persons with disabilities, the Incheon strategy increases monitoring and reporting of rights at the regional level, allowing for policy and practice specific to the needs of the region. Through the collaboration promoted by the Grand Challenges framework, similar strategies can be adopted across the world in response to the need to “make the right real.”