Skip to main content

Global Grand Challenge: The Future

Global Cornell invites thinkers across campus to use their imaginations to reach beyond the immediate, the tangible, and the well-known constraints. For Cornell's second Global Grand Challenge, the challenge is very literal: it is the future itself.

March Update: Full Proposals Due May 6

Thank you to all who submitted letters of intent. If you have received an invitation to submit a full proposal, please upload the proposal to the InfoReady Review portal by May 6, 2024. Make sure to include a budget spreadsheet with the submission. An Excel budget template is available in InfoReady. 

Read more about the submission requirements for full proposals. Successful applicants will be notified of awards by May 31.

How to Apply

Imagining Alternative Futures

2024: The world is a challenging place. Planetary crises loom. Rising temperatures, wildfires, floods, droughts, famines, wars, pandemics, crushing inequality, and accelerating dispossession have evolved at dizzying speed into conditions of everyday life for many across the globe.

At the same time, 2024 feels full of possibility. Fundamental advances in communication, artificial intelligence, new materials, space exploration, and scientific understanding of the social and natural world promise unprecedented capacity to transform—for better or worse—the world around us.

"The future’s another country, man. And I still ain’t got a passport." ~ Zadie Smith

Confronting crises and taking advantage of opportunities are luxuries not everyone has. The university should be a space where the power of knowledge can be harnessed ambitiously to make a real difference.

Thinking rigorously about the future is daunting because it is far away and there are so many unknowns. We have long been captivated by science fiction because it provides charismatic ideas for possible futures—with flying cars or new, habitable planets—but the plotlines are often either frustratingly derivative of past worlds or untethered to reality, flights of fantasy that ignore history and material, social, or physical constraints.

Within the university itself, the future serves as an inspiration, but attachment to foundational ideas and paradigms can keep us tightly connected to well-trodden ground, rather than reaching further out into the unknown. Academic critiques of the present are often silent on alternatives for the future.

Your Team's Proposal

We ask you to choose an issue related to your research that you care about, whether that is language, water, peace, housing, food, or anything! It could be a product, a technology, a political system, or a condition of the body or mind, collective or individual. Then imagine an alternative future for that issue, one that could be deemed "successful"—sound, equitable, and sustainable. (See topic examples below.)

What are the implications of achieving that future in terms of worldwide distribution of resources and development of new regulations, technologies, and subjectivities? What technologies, infrastructures, systems, relationships, norms, and practices would be necessary to enable that sound, equitable, and sustainable future? How would that future play out across radically divergent conditions around the globe? And how do history and the ways in which diverse peoples make meaning of their world provide different perspectives on and for this new alternative?

"The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them to the impossible." ~ Arthur C. Clark

Who decides what the alternative future should be, and how can visions of alternative futures avoid devolving into exclusionary models and short-term solutions that either replicate or exacerbate existing inequities? What is the set of academic disciplines and methodologies needed to imagine, outline, and analyze this future? How will they come together with contributions from the public sector, civil society, and private sector collaborators?

A Future of Global Importance

The challenge is to begin with the future—and to see it as a means, not an end. This will require reaching beyond the immediate, the tangible, the well-known constraints; in other words, it will require imagination, hope, and purpose.

We invite your team to imagine a particular future and then develop the scientific, social, and humanistic framework for achieving that future. The issue your team chooses can be at the smallest scale or the largest—from the individual to the community, nation-state, region, watershed, or international—but it must be of global importance.

We invoke imagination to suggest a turn to the possible, a collective act of creativity, optimism, and desire. We believe that imagining the future will provide conditions and create possibilities for starting dialogues among scientists and humanists, engineers and architects, planners, and artists. This necessitates new pedagogies and relationships centered around "what do we want" rather than "what can I do."

Topic Examples

Example 1

Imagine a future when there are no borders to human migration. This would be a world in which roughly 10 billion people were allowed to live and work wherever they wanted. What could this look like, and what would be needed to make such a borderless world good, equitable, and sustainable—and able to sustain 10 billion healthy lives? What are the implications for labor markets, urban structure, food distribution, and so on? How would demographers, engineers, sociologists, biologists, life scientists, data scientists and modelers, natural resource scientists, ecologists, economists, political scientists, and others come together to imagine that future—and then map out the path from existing conditions to get there? 

Example 2

Imagine a future with sufficient food and water for all life on Earth to thrive. There is significant discussion on the food system that can support this reality, but how much water would be needed for 10 billion people, plants, animals, energy, agriculture, and the hydrological cycle itself? What governance regimes would be capable of overseeing distribution equitably and sustainably? How would scientists, practitioners, implementers working on different aspects of food systems, hydrologists, health experts, climate scientists, economists, humanists, legal scholars, and others come together to imagine that future and plan the path forward?

Example 3

Imagine an equitable and sustainable city where everyone can live, move, and thrive, allowing people to feel connected to nature. Maybe that city exists, or perhaps it is yet to come: a city where every urban resident has access to safe, reliable, and affordable housing and services and access to or protection of natural areas. Where people live in convivial neighborhoods free of pollution, where it is safe and easy to walk around and use other modes of transportation as needed. Where residents work in safe, comfortable environments with dignity, free from harassment, and are fairly compensated for their labor. And where people have access to quality recreational and public spaces and where they have the power to shape their cities. How would city planners, engineers, resource economists, artists, political scientists, sociologists, human geographers, computer scientists, anthropologists, and architects collaborate with public, private, and civil society stakeholders to imagine and create this city?

More ideas, for the sake of illustration: 

  • Imagine a future when we have rapid, accessible space travel.
  • Imagine a future where global warming stops at 1.5 degrees.
  • Imagine a future where healthy ecosystems are sustained globally.
  • Imagine a future where people of color do not face discrimination.
  • Imagine a future where AI democratizes education for all.
  • Imagine a future where green technologies are sourced in ways that are sustainable, equitable, and lead to flourishing.
  • Imagine a future where markets serve society rather than the other way around.

Proposal Requirements

Research project proposals must survey the chosen topic, describe the alternative future envisioned, and then outline the work to be done over the two years of the grant to develop a robust understanding of what would be needed to achieve that future. We are happy to support proposals that are highly speculative—risky and innovative—while being grounded in science and material, social, political, and physical realities.

Each successful team will be supported in developing a proposal for an externally funded center that will provide the resources needed to fund ongoing research, teaching, and engagement to understand and achieve the proposed future.

New courses or programs can be proposed as part of a research project or as stand-alone curricular projects. Stand-alone curricular projects will only be funded if they are supported by at least one department.

Research Project Funding

We will fund up to two projects at a maximum of $150,000 per year for two years. Projects should be grounded in contemporary realities as understood from diverse perspectives and contain sufficient scholarly depth and breadth that a realistic path forward can be proposed—both for attaining the goal and for using the two years of the challenge grant to develop a robust “center-type proposal” to seek external funding.

Selected research projects are expected to result in the submission of at least one proposal for an externally funded center to continue the work outlined. Global Cornell will work with successful project leaders to secure longer-term support. Future funding sources will be determined by the vision itself, and proposers should provide illustrative examples of such funding opportunities.

Curricular Project Funding

We will fund two to three stand-alone projects at a maximum of $20,000 per year. Stand-alone curricular projects will only be funded if they are supported by at least one department, with plans to incorporate the course or program as a core part of the curriculum.

The same general rules will apply for selection, and proposals incorporating international partners (particularly Global Hubs partners) may be eligible for matched funding.

Letter of Intent (open to eligible researchers)

The letter of intent, due by February 26, must include this information:

  • Tentative title (maximum of 255 characters)
  • Names of prospective team members (not everyone named needs to have committed)
  • Statement of proposed idea (maximum of 500 words)
    • Overview of the chosen topic, including identification of current problems
    • Description of alternative future
    • Summary of potential challenges that require examination if the future is to be achieved
    • Outline of disciplines and perspectives necessary to conduct the examination

Full Proposals (by invitation only)

Global Cornell will provide funding for interdisciplinary teams that take up an alternative future on a particular topic and map out the steps required to achieve that future, outlining the knowns and unknowns, the unintended consequences, and the implications.

A small number of teams will be selected by the faculty task force and invited to submit full proposals. In their proposals, teams should reflect the exigencies of the question at hand, pulling in interdisciplinary experts as required from Cornell and across the globe.

Proposals that involve international partners will be prioritized. Where possible, we will attempt to facilitate matched funding or other support from the partner institution for proposals incorporating international team members, particularly faculty and graduate students from Global Hubs partners.

Proposals must outline the chosen topic, describe the alternative future envisioned, and then outline work that would be done over the two years of the grant to develop a robust understanding of what would be needed to achieve that future. Typical work undertaken might include a series of guided brainstorming discussions, in-person workshops, initial research, meta-reviews, and so on. Projects are encouraged to include additional outcomes, such as one or more refereed publications in a nationally or internationally recognized scholarly journal, etc.

Proposals, due by May 6, must include this information and be submitted via InfoReady:

  • Project title (maximum of 255 characters)
  • Project abstract understandable by the general public (maximum of 150 words)
  • Project timeline
  • Project description (maximum 3,500)
  • Brief CVs of project leadership team
  • Project budget (template is provided in InfoReady portal)
    • For research proposals: Budget for up to $150,000 per year for two years, with funding to be spent between August 2024 and August 2026.
    • For curricular proposals: Budget for up to $20,000 per year for two years, with funding to be spent between August 2024 and August 2026.

How to Apply


  • Proposals are invited from researchers from all Cornell colleges, schools, and departments, including Cornell Tech, Geneva, and Weill Cornell Medicine.
  • The lead PI must meet Cornell PI eligibility criteria.
  • Graduate students, postdocs, and research assistants/associates are not eligible to apply as principal investigators, but they are welcome to join the applications.
  • PIs may lead only one proposal but may be a team member on additional funded proposals.
  • All projects must be structured to comply with applicable U.S. regulations, including export controls and the management of regulated technologies and data, and projects must satisfy Cornell’s commitment to the free and open publication of research results.

Eligible Expenses

Grant Activities

Eligible Expense?

Postdoc and graduate student salaries and benefits, and/or hourly student employment (recommended to document team discussions and compose a working essay from each one to be distributed for comments and used to formulate the next meeting discussion prompts, with the goal of framing the design of a center-type project)


Salaries, salary supplementation, and benefits for faculty and staff, including effort for faculty in soft-money positions or teaching buyout


Costs for hosting seminars/conferences or workshops (e.g., venue rental, catering, lodging, etc.)


Travel expenses: Airfare (economy class), train, rental car, lodging, meals, visas, etc.


Conference registration (related to collaborative research)


Consumable materials and supplies


Publications and printing


General teaching or instructional programs


Stipend payments to non-Cornell individuals

possibly eligible

Student scholarships

not eligible

Entertainment costs

not eligible

Computers, laptops, printers, standard software, and basic computing accessories (but access to high-performance computers or other specialized applications justified by the project is allowed)

not eligible

Equipment over $5,000

not eligible

Indirect costs (not required for this internal grant)

not eligible

How to Apply

The principal investigator must submit all applications online via the Cornell InfoReady platform using their Cornell NetID and password. 

Only on-time and complete submissions will be considered. Successful applicants will receive a letter of award outlining the process to accept the award. Feedback on individual applications will not be provided.

Evaluation Criteria

  • Intellectual merit
  • Disciplinary and regional coverage of the team (guided by the topic identified)
  • Innovation, creativity, and strength of ideas
  • Broader impact if goals are achieved
  • Plan for activities for the life of the grant
  • Plan for attaining center status or sustained funding (a clear pathway to external funding to sustain the project) for research projects


  • Mid/late April: In-person proposal pitch session to give a 5-minute overview of your proposal ideas and answer questions.
  • May 6, 2024: Deadline for invited teams to submit a full proposal. Full proposals will be evaluated by a panel of campus leaders and distinguished external partners.
  • May 31, 2024: Successful applicants will be notified of awards. Reports are due to Global Cornell every six months.
  • August 1, 2024-July 31, 2026: Project work. 
  • November 31, 2026: Final reports are due, with template to be provided by Global Cornell.

Additional Information

  • This will be the only call for Global Grand Challenge: The Future.
  • The grants are funded by the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs (OVPIA) as part of the Global Grand Challenges initiative and considered internal grants on the Cornell side.
  • The goal of the research project planning grants is to jump-start initial research and conversations to develop proposals for externally funded center grants.
  • OVPIA will provide limited administrative support to the teams for coordinating workshops, working with the media, and supporting external funding proposals and visibility.
  • Information and resources for planning for and conducting international projects can be found on Global Cornell's travel pages. The Cornell PI should consult their department financial administrator and must request a budget check from that financial specialist before proposal submission.
  • Faculty and staff are required to preregister all Cornell-related international travel with the Cornell travel registry, including trips paid for through this grant. (See University Policy 3.2 University Travel and Risk Management for International Travel 8.5.)
  • Budget line items are subject to review. Finalists and their administrative staff may be put in touch with Cornell’s global operations team to ensure that all relevant costs are budgeted; that the project’s legal, financial, safety, and logistical considerations have been addressed; and that best financial management practices and Cornell standards are followed during project administration.


If you have questions about your application or need further information, please email

Apply Now

About Global Grand Challenges

Meet the Global Grand Challenge: The Future advisory team and learn about Cornell's first Global Grand Challenge: Migrations.