Grand Challenges

Despite the constant improvement of science and technology and social development, some monumental problems defy solution. These grand challenges can be social, such as inclusivity and equality, technical, like cures for cancer and finding new energy sources, or both. Tom Kalil, formerly of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy described grand challenges as “ambitious but achievable.” Grand challenges should be measurable with defined targets and indicators. Their goals should motivate people, inspire individuals to spend a significant proportion of their lives working to solve these complex issues.

Some of the most popular grand challenges have been proposed by the UN in the form of the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MDGs, set in 2000, consisted of eight goals with 21 targets, which were set to be achieved by 2015. With the aid of the MDGs, development communities around the globe focused on the same issues, and partnerships were formed that led to the accomplishments that were made regarding the MDGs. There were issues with the MDGs, however. Different starting points from existing issues and the lack of inclusivity led to uneven progress between countries while the poorest and most vulnerable populations were being left behind. In 2015, a new set of development goals were established for the next 15 years – the SDGs. This time the list of goals was longer, more diverse, and more inclusive. Hopefully, the language of this new framework, which includes specific mentions of persons with disabilities and vulnerable populations, will yield more successes for diverse populations around the globe.

The second SDG (Zero Hunger) and relates to persons with disabilities through Article 28 of the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD): Adequate standard of living and social protection. This article includes the right of persons with disabilities to adequate food. A grand challenge that links these two agendas is the issue of malnutrition and food insecurity for persons with disabilities and older adults. This is a problem that is emerging around the world, especially in developed countries, where large generations are nearing 60. Worldwide, more than 46 percent of older adults (60+) have disabilities and this number will likely increase as populations age and increase their risk of disability. Food insecurity can also increase the risk for adverse health consequences that can lead to disability. For example, older adults in the US are 60% more likely to have congestive heart failure or a heart attack and are 30% more likely to have at least one Activities of Daily Living (ADL) impairment. It is important to address this grand challenge now so we can develop a plan for the future.