Share this article

print logo

Lisa Earle McLeod: Ready for a Grand Challenge

If you could wave a magic wand and solve one big world problem, what would it be?

Perhaps you’re ready for a Grand Challenge. A Grand Challenge is more than just a moniker; it’s an official designation. WhiteHouse.gov provides a definition:

“Grand Challenges are ambitious but achievable goals that harness science, technology and innovation to solve important national or global problems, and that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination.”

Organizations, and individuals, tackle Grand Challenges to move the needle forward on important issues. For example, the American Nursing Association recognized that, due to among other things, challenging work hours, family responsibilities and an ethos of putting the needs of other above their own, many nurses are leading unhealthy lives. An unhealthy nurse compromises not only his/her future but also the future of their family, and by extension, their community. The ANS is launching the Healthy Nurse Grand Challenge in January 2016. The goal is to “increase the personal wellness of 3.1 million registered nurses and by extension members of their family, community, co-workers and patients.”

Grand Challenges aren’t limited to big nonprofits. Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was founded by a single person, Candace Lightner, after her 13-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver. MADD changed public perceptions about drinking and driving, according to many; they cut drunk driving in half. Corporations launch Grand Challenges to bring their organizational purpose to life. When CVS Stores gave up selling cigarettes and launched their Let’s Quit Together campaign, they made national news.

Seth Kahan is an expert in Grand Challenges. Kahan is the Washington, D.C.-based consultant who works with associations like the American Nursing Association and the American Geophysical Union to implement their Grand Challenges. When CVS kicked its cigarette habit Kahan said, “With that one decision, they shifted their public identity one giant step toward becoming a trusted source of health and well-being, and an equally giant step away from being seen as a money-drive-all retail outlet. They were gambling on what every Grand Challenger knows; take bold, visible action toward the betterment of humanity and your organization will organically generate forward movement that includes: favorable public sentiment; advantageous new partners and stakeholders; media appearances that underscore your contributions to society; and of course, greater financial rewards in the medium-term, in exchange for a bit of cost up front.”

Kahan says taking on a Grand Challenge often brings seven key returns:

1. The business return – Grand Challenges grow profitable revenue and other resources, which can be used for organizational wealth-building.

2. The mission return – Grand Challenges amplify and scale your mission, improving your impact in both size and quality.

3. The public sentiment return – Grand Challenges dramatically improve public sentiment, garnering press and other visible accolades.

4. The stakeholder return – Grand Challenges attract new, powerful stakeholders aligned with your mission and goals.

5. The engagement return – Grand Challenges provide greater engagement for volunteer leaders and are exceptional for attracting next-gen-minded members.

6. The relevance return – Grand Challenges establish beyond the shadow of a doubt your organization’s relevance to your members, potential members, and every beneficiary.

7. The customer and member return – Grand Challenges open up new career and learning opportunities, establishing new connections and expanding professional networks.

What’s your Grand Challenge?