Summary: Grand challenges have shaped the way countries set out to achieve their goals. Grand challenges are ambitious, time-limited, and clearly defined. The Millennium Development Goals were an incredible start at setting collaborative worldwide grand challenges, and the Sustainable Development Goals will continue the quest for sustainable development in a more inclusive manner.
There is no doubt that society faces an innumerable amount of challenges. However, the difference between daily challenges and what is known as a “Grand Challenge” sets apart general aspirations from specific set goals. In his piece “A Focused Approach to Society’s Grand Challenges,” Lewis Bradcomb defines grand challenges as “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution.” Grand challenges set themselves apart by having clearly defined, time-limited, and ambitious yet achievable goals.
One of the most famous grand challenges was presented in President John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1961, where he declared that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. This was never done before by any country, so the challenge was extreme, but President Kennedy’s clearly defined goals and determination contributed greatly to achieving it.
On a worldwide scale, the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals are perhaps the most ambitious grand challenges yet. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were conceived at the beginning of the twenty-first century and consisted of eight goals to be achieved by 2015. Though these goals were very ambitious and covered topics from child mortality to gender equality, they were very specific and had twenty-one clearly defined endgames. For example, MDG 1 was to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Within this, there were clearly defined dates, a clear definition of poverty, and specific numbers to meet.
The MDGs were not all achieved by 2015, but many nations achieved their country-specific goals and millions of people were lifted out of poverty. After 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came into effect. Though similar to the MDGs in their ambitious, clearly defined goals, the SDGs focus more on sustainability and protection of natural resources as a way of achieving development goals. The SDGs also include language about people with disabilities eleven times, whereas the MDGs don’t mention disability once.
Grand challenges are a great way to achieve what was once thought impossible. With technology, innovation, collaboration, and determination, more is possible today than ever was before. Though grand challenges aren’t always met, their clear definitions and high ambitions will get us closer than ever before. The Sustainable Development Goals are the world’s next step into a more inclusive, more sustainable future.