A decade of Grand Challenges

10th Anniversary of Grand Challenges

This year’s Grand Challenges Annual Meeting commemorated a decade of grant-making focused on finding solutions to some of the world’s biggest health problems. The meeting took place from October 5-8 in Seattle, Washington, home of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, who launched the initiative in 2003. With a pledge of 200 million dollars, the Gates called for research and innovations that could have a global impact on diseases that disproportionately affect the world’s poorest countries. As Melinda Gates described in her opening plenary, ‘There wasn’t a Silicon Valley out there for global health,’ yet a decade after the Grand Challenges were launched, the movement has evolved into a global community leading collaboration and innovation.  

Putting Mental Health on the Agenda

Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda and Melinda Gates

Although mental health is still conspicuously missing from the Grand Challenges themselves, it was not far from the agenda. Keynote speaker Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda, a human rights lawyer by training and General Secretary of the World YWCA, described her own experiences born into a family affected by mental health problems in rural Zimbabwe. As in many low- and middle-income countries, essential medications and care remain difficult to access, stigma is high, and the issue of maltreatment — even by health professionals — is unresolved.                        

Nyaradzayi spoke passionately about mental health specifically as a woman's issue, highlighting that not only do women suffer from mental illness, they are also primary caregivers in most countries: “The moment you talk about mental health, you’re talking about the person with the mental health problem and the caregivers around them—that includes a woman.”  Often, these women do not have access to the resources necessary to support their family members. As Nyaradzayi stated, “There is not enough resourcing around mental health, full stop".

In a panel session the same day, Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada (GCC), reaffirmed his organization's commitment to support innovative research in global mental health. GCC also announced a new short term project, which will document service user involvement and the personal value of the current work being undertaken by the global mental health community.

Later in the week, at the GCC Global Mental Health Community Meeting, Director for Research on Disparities and Global Mental Health at the US National Institute of Health Pamela Collins invited comments on a potential future funding initiative to support ‘going to scale with mental health innovations in low- and middle-income countries.’ (See the link at the bottom of the concept page to share your comments.)

While the Grand Challenges’ original architects at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation do not currently invest in global mental health, the impact of investment by funders like GCC was evidenced by the lively interactions at the Community Meeting. Well over sixty innovators working in more than twenty low-and middle-income countries around the world engaged with topics as diverse as traditional healing, battling stigma and the implementation and scale-up of e-health for mental health, sharing their own experiences from the field.

As many remarked at the meeting, this global community of innovators would not exist without the increasing attention of funders to the needs of people living with mental health problems in low- and middle-income countries—but as Nyaradzayi observed, there is still not enough. 

New Partnerships and Challenges 

A key theme of the meeting was to set the tone for the next push in Global Health, with the announcement of several new countries taking up the Grand Challenges call to action and the launch of three new Challenges. Repeated throughout the meeting were calls for more collaboration between stakeholders.

There have been several reflections written by partners and attendants on the meeting and the way forward:

· Blog by Peter Singer: Grand Challenges: Success and Surprise, Impatient Optimists

· Blog by Carlos Gadelha: Joint Solutions for Common Health Challenges, Impatient Optimists

· Blog by Bill Gates: Why Our Foundation Takes On Grand Challenges, Gates Notes

· Blog by Melinda Gates (features several Grand Challenges partners): Empowering Women, Tumblr

· Storify by Ananada Galappatti:Grand Challenges Annual Meeting 2014 Seattle,  MHPSS

· Blog by Sue Desmond-Hellmann: Science or Science Fiction? Take the Quiz, Impatient Optimists

· Blog by Steve Buchsbaum: Announcing the Next Phase of Grand Challenges, Impatient Optimists

· Interview with Steve Buchsbaum: How Bill Gates Has Been Quietly Trying to Transform Global Health, Nerdist

· Blog by Gary Darmstadt: Grand Challenge: Putting Women and Girls at the Center of Development, Huffington Post

· Vine video by the Gates Foundation

North America
Policy and legislation
Human rights
Empowerment and service user involvement
Task sharing
Prevention and promotion
Detection and diagnosis
Treatment, care and rehabilitation
Training, education and capacity building
All disorders
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