Grand Challenges and International Development

Tom Kalil accurately describes Grand Challenges as, “ambitious yet achievable goals that capture the public’s imagination and that require innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology to achieve.” This notion of Grand Challenges coincides with our classroom conversation of “moonshot thinking.” Moonshot thinking also creates ambitious but achievable goals that answers, “not what should we do” but “what can we do.” In my opinion, moonshot thinking lead to the creation of the largest grand challenges in International Development, specifically the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a result, the world has developed clear, time sensitive action plans in order to achieve their lofty goals.

USAID’s The Grand Challenges for Development initiative cites two quintessential beliefs of international development. They are: (1), Science and technology, when applied appropriately, can have trans-formative effects and (2), Engaging the world in the quest for solutions is critical to instigating breakthrough progress. The second belief of engagement strongly mirrors the idea of moonshot thinking as well. The SDGs work to engage the world to tackle challenges. Within each goal, they highlight its significance, along with previous progress. Additionally, each goal expresses targets and indicators in order to track and assess future progress of each goal. Through this, the SDGs’ Grand Challenges become attainable.

Furthermore, USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development tackle global issues by utilizing non-traditional practices such as businesses, sciences, and researchers. This provides USAID with a critical lens that constantly assess the success of partnerships, grants and the applicability of science and technology. As a result, mechanisms used within these grand challenges can evolve throughout their timeframe and work to better achieve their set targets.

Grand Challenges bridge the gap between technology and society. As USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development state, science and technology have the ability to transform communities. For instance, David Pescovitz notes that technology can spur economic growth and the creation of jobs that require strong collaboration across institutions. Through this, society becomes stronger as they can work together to foster development that best suits their community. As a result, communities become stronger, the necessary steps of grand challenges become clearer, and the goals become achievable.

Community Moonshot thinking, or as Kalil states, “the captur[ing] of public imagination” catalyze Grand Challenges. They push partnerships, technological innovation, and collaboration because they all work towards a common goal. Global Grand Challenges are ever present facets of International Development, and will continue to evolve.

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