At the turn of the nineteenth century, German mathematician David Hilbert attended the International Congress of Mathematicians in Paris, and asked his colleagues a simple question: “Who of us would not be glad to lift the veil behind which the future lies hidden?”
In a call to action, Hilbert presented a set of ten unresolved problems, which if solved, would signal major breakthroughs in the fields of mathematics and science. Over a century later, Tthe Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation launched Grand Challenges in Global Health, an open innovation program inspired by Hilbert’s bold question.
Originally focused on 14 scientific challenges that could lead to breakthroughs in combating disease in the developing world, the initiative was relaunched in 2014 as Grand Challenges to reflect its broadened scope. Grand Challenges co-opts Hilbert’s approach and applies it to the world of philanthropy, inspiring innovators to come up with solutions to essential development problems and funding the best ideas.
Just as Hilbert expanded his original ten problems to a later published 23 this month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is adding to the list. Sponsored by its Explorations program, Grand Challenges has outlined three new problems designed for early-stage ideas.
After submitting a two-page application, recipients receive $100,000 over 18 months to implement their visions. Here are three new calls to action from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
1. Reducing Malnutrition
One in three people worldwide suffer from malnutrition, which can have devastating ripple effects on health, cognitive development and productivity. This new challenge seeks to address three essential problems in the fight against malnutrition — making food accessible, affordable and appealing.
People suffering from malnutrition often live in places where nutritious food is hard to find, or is so expensive that they are priced out of a healthy diet. In other cases, people simply don’t know the vital benefits of eating nutritious food.
This challenge seeks solutions that work with existing food systems in low-income countries to improve people’s diets through food product development, processing, packaging, distribution, consumer education and marketing.
2. Combating Crop Disease
Pests and crop disease threaten the livelihoods of not only farmers, but the millions of people who rely on their harvests. Grand Challenges has identified the dearth of information on diseases and pests as an essential problem in responding to protect farmers’ fields.
This call to action seeks to harness the emerging research in data science, engineering, biology, chemistry, computer science and telecommunications to improve pest and disease surveillance in low-income countries so that smallholder farmers can mitigate their risks.
3. Improving Immunization
Each year, about 21.8 million children do not receive vaccines necessary to protect against serious infectious diseases. This year, at least 1.5 million of these children will die from diseases vaccines could have prevented. In a two-pronged approach, this challenge encourages innovators to find new ways to collect and use data, and develop efficiencies that improve existing immunization systems to work better for both health workers and patients.
Much like Hilbert’s problems, two of which remain unresolved to this day, identifying and implementing solutions to the problems facing developing countries remains immensely complex. These new calls to action from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation represent an important continuation of Hilbert’s legacy.
By offering competitive, accessible grant opportunities aimed at pre-targeted problems, the Grand Challenges program is spurring innovation to lift the veil over a better future.
– Whiting Tennis