A call to our leaders to meet the world’s grand challenges head on

Last week, a letter signed by many of the GGCS speakers, which called on our leaders to meet our grand challenges head on, was published in the UK Times’ letters to the editor column. To see and respond to this letter visit the Times website or alternatively view the letter below:


Just before the World Economic Forum, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon listed a new agreement on climate change as his top priority for 2013. In his inaugural address, President Obama also cited the goal of tackling this threat to our planet.

But after a week where 2,500 of the world’s leaders and thinkers gathered in Davos, the reaction to these statements is telling: there has been discussion but still the political inertia continues – on climate change and many other issues. When so many millions still struggle to achieve life’s basics – shelter, food, healthcare, education, we should be moved to action, not acquiescence.

Our thinking should be radical and unconstrained by convention. We should look ‘outside the box’ to create products and services previously undreamed of and achieve solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

A few years ago, the US National Academy of Engineering (NAE) proposed 14 “game-changing” goals for the world (www.engineeringchallenges.org) including making solar energy economical and developing the technology for carbon capture and sequestration.

This bold vision has inspired the first Global Grand Challenges Summit, an unprecedented international event to be hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering in London this year, in collaboration with the NAE and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

We the undersigned will be among more than 400 engineers, scientists, industrialists and thought-leaders from around the world who will meet for this Summit in March, with the goal of realising our technological dreams and using what we learn to improve global sustainability, resilience, health, education, economic growth and overall quality of life.

The Summit will be disruptive, forward-looking and internationally collaborative.  It starts with the premise that the most valuable global commodity today is not oil, gold or grain: it is ideas. Fresh thinking and collective knowledge must flow between nations as readily as investments and goods.

The issues we face do not recognize borders, national or ideological. We understand that the solutions will be both social and technological. Politics underpins both, so we call on our leaders to join with us in this conversation and meet these Grand Challenges head on.

Dr Frances Arnold, Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry, Caltech

Eric Brown, Research Scientist, Watson Technologies, IBM

Dr Margaret Anne Craig, CEO, Clyde Biosciences

Professor Ara Darzi, Professor of Surgery, Imperial College London

Professor Dame Ann Dowling, Head of the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge

Dr Regina E. Dugan, Senior Vice President, Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, Motorola Mobility

Professor Neil Gershenfeld, Director, Centre for Bits and Atoms, MIT

Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, Design Fellow on Synthetic Aesthetics, Stanford University and University of Edinburgh

Dr Paul Golby, Chair, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Non-executive Director, National Grid

Dr Saul Griffiths, Founder/Principal Scientist, Other Lab

Professor John Hennessy, President, Stanford University

Professor Andy Hopper, President, IET and Head of the Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge

Professor Calestous Juma, Professor of the Practice of International Development, Harvard Kennedy School

Dean Kamen, Founder, FIRST

Dr Robert Langer, Institute Professor, MIT

Dr Mike Lynch, Founder, Autonomy

Professor Robert Mair, Head of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Cambridge

Robert Matheson, Principal, STEM Early College High School

Dr Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Director, Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technology

Professor Helen Storey, Co-founder, Catalytic Clothing, and Professor of Fashion and Science, University of the Arts London

Professor Chris Wise, Co-founder, Expedition Engineering and Professor of Civil Engineering Design, University College London

Dr Craig Venter, Founder, the J. Craig Venter Institute

Dr Jianyun Zhang, President, Nanjing Hydraulic Research Institute

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