Grand Challenges and Development

As we discussed in our first meeting, grand challenges are challenging societal problems for which there are no concrete solutions.  Examples of grand challenges today are finding solutions to climate change, curing cancer, developing clean energy and resources, and ending global hunger.  Grand challenges often require science and technological innovations to understand and unearth possible solutions.  In addition, grand challenges are large, ambitious goals that are physically attainable within a designated timeline (Kalil). One such example of an ambitious goal with a timeline is President Kennedy’s plan to send a man to the moon known as “moonshot.”  The moonshot video explains that when faced with a grand challenge, one must utilize “moonshot thinking” which is explained in the video as choosing to be bothered by the idea that things are impossible.  In other words, you believe things can change and happen if you work hard and take risks.

To solve a grand challenge, “moonshot thinking” and multidisciplinary collaboration between fields is necessary.  To do this, fundamental research and education is paramount in defining global goals and discovering solutions.  In his article, Branscomb argues that to solve grand challenges “Jeffersonian science” and shifting scientific products to new industries must occur. Jeffersonian science is defined as a type of policy that promotes science that is more focused than pure research but more creative than applied research (Branscomb).  This combines top-down and bottom-up strategies to encourage basic science that may lead to knowledge that will make grand challenges easier to solve (Branscomb).

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are examples of grand challenges that have been clearly identified with a timeline of 2030.  This short, 15 year, timeline is attainable and achievable, two important aspects of grand challenges described by Tom Kalil.  Solutions for these global goals are being researched and realized by the entire global community.  The world-wide focus of the SDGs allows for increased innovation from a variety of players. Academics, scientists, tech, industry and various other fields must come together to “moonshot” and think beyond what they ever thought possible.  The USAID website lists nine grand challenges.  They believe that science and technology, coupled with other industries and global organizations, will find breakthrough solutions to these challenges.  As described in Kalil’s article, these grand challenges are intrinsically motivating and capture the imagination of the public. This is important because the more individuals believe in the possibility of finding a solution, the harder they will work in their field.  This then leads to increased innovation and creativity in not only their own field but in others as well as ideas are shared and spread.  In addition, Tom Kalil believes that people need to devote their entire career to one goal.

I am passionate about SDG two, zero hunger, and SDG ten, reduced inequalities.  Food security is a major grand challenge that will only be solved if various political, economic, and agricultural actors come together in search of a solution.  However, I grapple with the idea that technological advancements are the solution to global food insecurity.  In my opinion, indigenous agriculture techniques should be looked and taken into consideration when searching for a solution to this challenge.

One difference between the MDGs and the SDGs is the inclusion of persons with disabilities in the SDGs.  Disability, linked with development, is a grand challenge for the world due to the large number of individuals living with some form of disability.  As discussed, persons with disabilities face barriers in access to education, transportation, employment, and representation in government.  These problems were put in place by society as barriers to those with disabilities and it is a grand challenge to reverse these barriers and establish more inclusive development practices.