The Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Sustainable Development

On the first day of our Inclusive Sustainable Development course Professor Cogburn introduced the concept of a “Grand Challenge”.  Throughout history humanity has faced many of them, my favorite example used in class was humanities race to get to the moon. There was a period of time where great minds were coming together to solve this problem of taking humanity where they have not gone before. To understand whether or not we are alone in this vast universe or if there are others out there. Professor Cogburn related to this topic to the concept of a “moonshot”. A moonshot is taking a chance to find something great no matter how out of reach it may seem at the beginning.

The millennium development goals were a moonshot; great minds working on development looked at the overall work individuals were doing and realized that there should be a collection of goals that focus overall efforts. Although highly criticized for their effectiveness and inclusivity, the millennium development goals led to our present day Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are more inclusive, effective, and create frameworks for tracking progress. Every moonshot leads to a bigger and greater discovery that is improved with time. Before humanity commended itself for sending a man to the moon, now we have people like Elon Musk who are working to put man on mars permanently.

Back when things were a little more sane, the Obama White House put forth 21st Century Grand Challenges and viewed them as an opportunity to change the lives of Americans. The White House invested in missions to expand our understanding of the human brain and treat diseased like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism and epilepsy. The Department of Energy also invested in the “Sunshot Grand Challenge” which aimed to expand solar technology and apply it to vehicles. NASA has a very sobering Asteroid Challenge that aimed to “find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them”. All of these challenges led to new discoveries that pushed forward new initiatives that continued to help humanity.

Professor Cogburn’s final message for the day was to have this “moonshot” mentality throughout the semester when perusing our project on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Understanding that the path to inclusive sustainable development still has a lot of work to be done but every project will be an important step towards progress.