The Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Sustainable Development

According to Lewis Branscomb, grand challenges are “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution” (Branscomb 2015). Global “Grand Challenges” are such issues in international development for which international cooperation is necessary in order to reach a solution. Since 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its public and private partners have launched ten Grand Challenges around which their programs and resources would go to addressing. These Grand Challenges include: Saving Lives at Birth, All Children Reading, Powering Agriculture and Combating Zika and Future Threats (USAID).

Persons with disabilities have historically been left out of opportunities and conversations. According to the WHO/World Bank Report, more than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability. It is estimated that about 15 percent of every country’s population is persons with disabilities, it is long overdue that they are now finally being slowly included into the conversation. The UN High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development called on the international community to enhance cooperation to “seize every opportunity to include disability as a cross cutting issue in the global development agenda” (WHO). Progress is beginning to be made, as the Sustainable Development Goals, which will run from 2015-2030, have 11 specific references to persons with disabilities and are focused on development for all. This is an improvement from the Millennium Development Goals, which ran from 2000-2015, in which persons with disabilities were not mentioned once.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted on December 13, 2006 as a human rights instrument to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” The CRPD currently has 161 signatories, and has been ratified by 177 countries which have adopted national law to put it into place. The CRPD transfers disabilities from a medical model to a rights-based model, with the understanding that persons with disabilities should have equal access, and be included in issues that affect them (CRPD 2006). Inclusive Sustainable Development is itself a Grand Challenge that requires international cooperation, and the CRPD is one example of how states can commit to inclusion of persons with disabilities. In order to overcome this grand challenge of inclusive sustainable development, the international community must follow through with their commitments to inclusion of persons with disabilities.



Works Cited

Branscomb, L. (2015, May 15). A Focused Approach to Society’s Grand Challenges. Retrieved from

USAID. (n.d.). Grand Challenges for Development | U.S. Global Development Lab. Retrieved from

WHO. (2016, February 27). UN High-level Meeting on Disability and Development. Retrieved from