Grand Challenge

The goal is for Alliance schools to collaborate on one or more dimensions of the Grand Challenge in ways that bring multiple perspectives to bear and that will lead faculty and students not just to a more global understanding of the topic, but also to the development of productive ways to engage people internationally in the understanding to significant global problems.

Suggestions for ways to collaborate follow. Others are possible and faculty members are encouraged to take their ideas to their Alliance Liaison.

Through the Global Course Connections program [internal link to Global Course Connections program] two or more faculty members at different institutions connect courses they are teaching that touch on Grand Challenge themes. The instructors collaborate in the design of the course (common readings, viewings, and assignments; co-created lectures, and so on), and students and instructors collaborate in its execution (shared lectures, guest lectures, joint student projects, joint student presentations, and so on). Other faculty members with relevant expertise might give video-conferenced guest lectures.

Faculty or staff members with expertise in an area related to the Grand Challenge topic may share their expertise with other campuses through invited talks (given in person or through video conferencing), class lectures, or recorded talks that become part of an archive of resources.

Faculty members with expertise in a dimension of the Grand Challenge might organize a set of papers or a panel discussion that is offered as a webinar. This might be tied to a series of such webinars or to themed courses. A webinar could also be a mechanism for sharing work done by students and can be archived.

Participating schools are encouraged to interpret the challenge broadly. A “border” can be geographic, national, generational, environmental, religious, political, cultural, economic, or gender-based. The examples that follow suggest the range of possibilities; many others exist.

Conflicts in places such as Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen have forced millions of people to leave home and seek refuge in other communities or countries. The flight of families escaping the violence in Syria is one prominent example. In that case, the volume of people seeking refugee status has tested the unity of the European Union and concerns about national security have had reverberations in other parts of the world where refugees might be resettled.

The largest outbreak of Ebola began in Guinea in 2013, spreading first to neighboring countries and then outside of Africa, causing global concerns about the virus. Efforts to contain it led to travel bans, airport health screenings, closed borders, and traveler quarantines. Travel bans were criticized as being not only unnecessary, but counterproductive. There are now concerns that the recent outbreak of the Zika virus may be a greater threat to global health than Ebola, particularly in its impact on children born with microcephaly.

As new populations enter a country, driven by persecution, fear in the presence of war, the search for economic opportunity, or flight from disease, they bring change to the countries where they arrive. Part of the response from citizens of a nation that receives large numbers of immigrants is a concern about the continued identity and culture of their homeland. The issues surrounding identity can center on a wide range of dimensions of difference between the resident population and the new arrivals.

A key motivation for those who depart one setting in search of another is that their former habitat no longer provides a sustainable means of existence. Whether it is through flooding, desertification, pollution from human sources, or other forms of disaster, changes in the natural environment contribute to the displacement of peoples in search of better living circumstances. The physical sciences in particular have a key role in furthering the understanding of natural forces contributing to the displacement and migration of peoples in different parts of the world.

Mass migration accentuates differences, and the tension that can arise between a resident population and immigrant communities can become more pronounced in places where the two are brought into close interaction. In the larger context of nations, attempts can be seen to bridge borders through acts of cooperation that have both symbolic and economic value to participant nations; examples are the Pan-Islamic, the Pan-African, the European Union, and other monetary unions. In the more closely confined space of an urban region, however, the issue often presents itself as one of security, as a means of separating one population from another.

Economics are often a central factor in the decision to migrate across borders, leaving behind a former homeland to seek better opportunity in places unknown. Crossing into another country in search of work and income may be done legally through certain visa provisions, or it may be done under cover in hopes of securing longer-term footing in a more promising future. Beyond the economics of the individual migrant are larger factors that define the landscape of opportunity for those of different countries. Often the disparity between the economic prospects of nations that share borders becomes a powerful incentive to migrate regardless of risk.

Migration often stems directly from the actions – or inactions – of governments in sustaining the security and well-being of its citizenry. A government that neglects the basic needs of its people, all but ensures that the social bonds among families, the strengths of its institutions, and the fabric of society will deteriorate. Governments have a strong influence on the actions of their citizens, whether to remain within the homeland or migrate to another future. There is also an important role for supranational organizations and institutions, such as the United Nations and the European Union.

Some financial support for projects and programs related to Grand Challenges is available through various Alliance funding sources (e.g., Global Course Connections, Global Scholar, and Inter-institutional Visits). Check with your Alliance Liaison [Internal link: to Liaisons on About Us page] to learn about other opportunities and how to apply.