Grand Challenges

The numerous large-scale, societal problems that the world faces are known as Grand Challenges. These challenges are faced by individuals and communities’ worldwide and require multifaceted and creative approaches to combat. From ending hunger, to sustainable energy, to developing more inclusive education practices, improving health, reducing the cost of care and more, Grand Challenges are at the forefront of development work. Groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, US AID, The US White House, and Grand Challenges Canada, an initiative supported by the Canadian Government, all place emphasis and focus on Grand Challenges and in order to complete the challenges, an emphasis on “moonshot” ideas. Moonshot ideas, a word derived from the US Apollo missions, meaning an ambitious and radical, yet achievable solution, that addresses a huge problem.  The United Nations has also placed a focus on Grand Challenges and “moonshot” ideas creating the SDG goals that attempt to solve 17 Grand Challenges that the UN has outlined, by focusing on numerous aspects of the issues and promoting creative and interdisciplinary ideas.


However, with the focus on Grand Challenges also comes a focus on science and technological innovations as being the moonshot ideas that have the potential of solving the numerous issues. A large amount of funding is put towards creating new vaccines, studying technological efforts that are already in place, inventing new forms of sustainable energy, and while science and technology have the potential to make a great impact, unfortunately, there are shortcomings. As Branscomb discusses in his paper, the emphasis on research is not as effective as governments and independent actors would hope, often producing ideas that are just theoretical and not able to be easily applied. Branscomb argues the need for more of a focus on applied research, to be able to “create knowledge that is as socially useful as it is scientifically meritorious”. Furthermore, I would argue that there is also a need for an emphasis on ideologies and public support in order for Grand Challenges, particularly the SDGs, to make progress.


When we look at the ideas, the Apollo 11 mission, it wasn’t completed and wasn’t successful simply because of government-funded technological innovations made by NASA that allowed for the first humans to reach the moon. Apollo 11 mission was so successful because they had support. NASA and the “Space Race” had many Americans’ full support. In the US, for instance, pushed math and science in schools to get kids interested and publicized the space race heavily. This need for public engagement is necessary with the SDGs in order to create a passion for solving Grand Challenges among the public. In order to ensure that Grand Challenges will continue to be funded, continued to be actively researched, and continue to be in the forefront on peoples’ minds, the individual member of the public needs to feel connected and part of the solution.