The Mauritian economy is at the dawn of its 50th independence anniversary whereby the prime thrust of the government is to build a strong framework for economic revival and sustainability. The ultimate goal is to drive the economic growth rate to a higher level in the years to come. The vision is therefore for Mauritius to move away from the middle income trap to become a high income country.
Similar to other countries, Mauritius is facing a number of problems which are acting as barriers in the process of economic development. It is widely recognised that overcoming those problems/barriers is a real challenge for any developing country. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to have a structure in place for the timely identification and resolution of those challenges.
Defining Grand Challenges
The concept of grand challenges has been used in a number of countries across the globe to address very pertinent national issues that could lead to detrimental effects if left unattended. The purpose of coming up with grand challenges is to identify and support clear priorities for a coordinated research effort with a view to solve important development problems.
The aim of this approach is to create ambitious but achievable goals that would harness innovation and technology to address important problems through collaboration and joint leadership.
A proper definition encompassing all key aspects to be considered while defining a specific problem as a grand challenge is presented as follows:
“The Grand Challenge is a strategic platform that helps to identify critical barriers holding back progress in addressing critical problems, develops targeted programs to fund teams to develop solutions to overcome these barriers and implements strategies to help to bring these solutions to scale in order to address the pressing challenges faced by the Republic of Mauritius”.
Core Elements of Grand Challenges
The core elements of grand challenges are based on the principles that the identified problems:
- are widely recognized problems;
- are specific and significant bottleneck/barrier/problem;
- prevent/hinder problem solving;
- are complex problems;
- are important problems;
- are not impossible to address;
- require Innovation, Collaboration, Joint leadership and concentrated efforts;
- if solved, are likely to have significant impacts.
Criteria for Identification of Thematic Areas for Exploration
The criteria to be used for identification of specific areas of national concerns that could aid towards defining precise and explicit grand challenges are based on the following:
- Severity of the problem – should be a challenge of significant scale and complexity, which requires urgent resolution.
- Tractability (Manageability) – to assess the feasibility of developing potential solutions to address identified issues which are causing significant problems.
- Impact – the extent to which the challenge may be detrimental. If the problem is left unattended, it may lead to negative developmental impacts but if addressed, it may have the potential to yield very positive results at individual, societal, organizational, local, regional or even international level.
- Integrated Innovation – given the complexity and sensitivity of specific challenges, the use of a combination of different types of innovation may be required including scientific/technological, social and business innovation to develop custom-built solutions to address complex challenges.
- Ability to attract funding – to examine the availability or need for funding requirements and to assess the ability of specific challenges to attract potential investors/funders.
- Expertise – to survey the existence or absence of local strengths/experts in the relevant areas and the need for international expertise.
- Specificity (Potential topics/themes) – the identified problem should be precise and under a specific theme.
- Of relevance to the Republic of Mauritius – the challenge should be country specific, trying to address important issues of national concern.
Benefits of Grand Challenges
There are a number of benefits associated with the implementation of this method:
- It provides a sharp focus (a Grand Challenge is both highly specific and highly focused);
- It brings the best minds to the table with a view to work collectively towards solving specific problems;
- It builds and strengthens communities of innovators (communities that are collaborative, interdisciplinary, and global);
- It helps to capture the public’s imagination (Media’s attention and Public’s interest);
- It provides the ability to use the Grand Challenges as a platform for governance;
- It provides a shared approach and set of principles;
- It provides an opportunity to attract and coordinate contributions from Government and the private sector;
- It provides a simple mechanism for funding agencies to effectively coordinate their investments;
- It encourages collaboration to achieve outcomes in high priority areas while reducing overlapping and duplication;
- It provides the potential for significant networking opportunities.
-Adapted from Grand Challenges Canada.