“Grand challenges” are defined as “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution (Branscomb 2009). Although the world faces many “grand challenges,” there are individuals, organizations, and governments working tirelessly to make strides towards finding and implementing effective solutions. Tom Kalil of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology wrote that, “Grand Challenges can catalyze innovations that foster economic growth and job creation, spur the formation of multidisciplinary teams of researchers, encourage multi-sector collaborations, bring new expertise to bear on important problems, strengthen the “social contract” between science and society, and inspire the next generation…” (Pescovitz 2012). In this way, the concept of “grand challenges” should be looked at as an opportunity for the world to grow, advance, and innovate.
For the grand challenges of inclusive sustainable development in particular, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) partners with public and private actors to “bring in new voices to solve development problems” (USAID.gov). USAID and its partners launched ten grand challenges since 2011, including saving lives at birth, securing water for food, and creating hope in conflict. The initiative has since raised over $508 million in grants and assistance to fund over 450 innovations in 60 countries around the world (USAID.gov).
Two other examples of global initiatives taken to work towards grand challenges in inclusive sustainable development are the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MDGs were created in 1990, and detailed eight goals such as reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, that leaders around the world can work towards (UN.org/milleniumgoals). The MDGs were important because they provided an organized set of goals with a timeline, that could be applied on a global scale. The SDGs built upon the MDGs in 2015, with a more expansive set of goals and more of a focus on inclusivity. In particular, the SDGs had more references to persons with disabilities than the MDGs (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/).
The development of the MDGs and SDGs show an advancement in the approach to development, as they represent a greater focus on international collaboration and using a multistakeholder approach to solving problems. In addition, while the MDGs focused on inclusivity, the subsequent SDGs became even more inclusive. The increasing emphasis on inclusivity shows that international development is moving in the right direction by recognizing that advancement means including everyone in society. If global approaches to development continue to focus on collaboration and inclusivity, there is a remarkable opportunity for the world to make greater and faster strides towards solving the “grand challenges” in inclusive sustainable development.