As this post is published on Wednesday afternoon, we are wrapping up our annual Grand Challenges meeting. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the meeting and a decade of grant-making using the Grand Challenges approach. To celebrate this milestone, a global network of partners made a new set of commitments to Grand Challenges.
In the last ten years, the annual meeting has grown from a grant management gathering to one of the year’s most creative and exciting gatherings in discovery science focused on impact in health. The meeting has been a helpful tool to accelerate the translation of innovation to impact for global public health by providing a platform for researchers and funding partners to exchange ideas and build collaborations. We write often that Grand Challenges is a family of grant programs, meaning that the different programs cooperate and make up more than their individual parts – but this week, surrounded by a growing network of people committed to Grand Challenges work, I am particularly optimistic about what the next decade will bring.
It would have been hard to anticipate this a decade ago, when Bill Gates announced the Grand Challenges initiative in Switzerland. The 14 original challenges issued by the Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust, the Foundation for the National Institutes for Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have inspired groundbreaking research on issues such as infectious diseases, malnutrition and drug resistance.
We were later joined by several other traditional donors, most prominently Canada and the US but also Norway, the UK and others, who have used their resources to focus on diverse new topics such as agriculture, mental health and early childhood development. In the last two years, the governments of India, Brazil and now South Africa have adopted the Grand Challenges approach to support innovators in their own countries and tackle problems, including preterm birth and sanitation, of both domestic and global concern.
In order to overcome the obstacles that trap billions of people in poverty, we needed to take risks and seek ideas from a large number of researchers, both traditional and new. In that, we’ve been successful – collectively across the funding partners, there have now been more than 2,000 Grand Challenges grants awarded in 80 countries.
Building on the lessons learned from the last decade of our collective work, we are now entering the next phase of Grand Challenges. Yesterday morning, the Grand Challenges partners affirmed their commitment to the Grand Challenges by announcing three new calls:
This new Grand Challenge, launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focuses on new measurement tools and new combinations of approaches to ensure all children thrive – that they not only survive, but also have the chance to live healthy productive lives
This new Grand Challenge, launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focuses on how to effectively reach and empower the most vulnerable women and girls to improve health and development – including economic – outcomes as well as gender equality
This new Grand Challenge, launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, focuses on innovative concepts for vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics with the potential to be translated into safe, effective, affordable, and widely utilized interventions to protect against the acquisition, progression, or transmission of infectious diseases, or to provide a cure for infectious diseases, in resource‐limited settings
More in-depth descriptions of each of these challenges are online here; the application period opens November 4 and will remain open until January.
As excited as we are, these announcements are only half the story. We need the passion of investigators from all walks of life to make Grand Challenges a success. I hope that these new challenges will inspire you to join the next phase of Grand Challenges and participate in the discovery of the technologies that will revolutionize global health and development. We also have a number of Grand Challenges Explorations topics currently accepting applications, and I hope we continue to receive your creative and out of the box new ideas for those as well.
If your curiosity is piqued and you’re thinking of submitting an application – or if you just want to be part of the conversation about innovation – please join me for an Ask Me Anything on reddit tomorrow at 10am PT.