Global Critical Issues

Global Critical Issues

Today’s world is faced with challenges that are exceedingly complex and difficult to solve. Human rights abuse, systemic inequality, environmental degradation — our global challenges cross borders, languages, and cultures, and the path forward isn’t always clear. We believe the best place to start is to build an understanding of global issues as they are lived on the ground.

Our Critical Issues programs involve deep cultural immersion experiences that bring together a group of like-minded peers, spark dialogue, and encourage participants to take action.

Aging Population

The world is getting older. Most of the developed world is seeing an increase in the median age and a decrease in birth rate. As the world ages, how does society change? How will we become more inclusive? How will work, housing, labor, transportation and development change? Students today need to be prepared to tackle this tomorrow.

Changing Climate

The industrial age and the ensuing technological age have lifted billions out of poverty. But, the attendant increases in greenhouse gasses have led to extreme weather, unreliable agricultural yields, increased flooding and droughts and rising sea levels. How will humans adapt or react in the face of increasing meteorological volatility?

Gender Equality

Half the world’s population is women. But around the world access to education and a better tomorrow is limited by the restrictions placed on women. If the world is going to reach its true potential, we can only do so by empowering everyone.

high school student performing community health service in Thailand


Half of the world’s population are not receiving essential health services they need. The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare these deficiencies in healthcare around the world. How do we address issues such as the rise of noncommunicable diseases, increasing life expectancy, and threats like climate change and antimicrobial resistance? How will we make access to quality health care and health outcomes more equitable? We must be actively involved in promoting and protecting health worldwide.


Global poverty rates have been cut by more than half in the last 20 years. But, one in ten people in lower income countries still live below the international poverty line. Poverty means more than a lack of income and a sustainable livelihood. Poverty gives way to hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and basic services, and social exclusion. How will we take global action to provide for basic needs for all and ensure access to education and skill training?

Rise of Asia, Africa and the Americas

Following the era of imperialism and colonialism, independent nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America have emerged over the last 200 years. The wave of decolonization has changed the face of the planet. How will we continue to move forward as a global community as we set aside our beliefs and biases of the past about which nations hold power on the international stage?

home construction in Dominican bateyes with Rustic Pathways


Conflict or environmental disruption has led to the largest mass migration in recorded world history. A stateless person is someone without any nationality or citizenship anywhere. They are often excluded and don’t have the basic rights of citizens, including socioeconomic, civil and political rights. How will we work to identify and protect stateless persons,  and prevent and reduce statelessness?


Fresh water is essential for human life, and along with sanitation, for human health. It is at the heart of sustainable development. Water is vital for energy and food production, healthy ecosystems and socio-economic development. Yet, over a quarter of the global population does not have access to safely managed drinking water services, and over half lacks safely managed sanitation services. How do we ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all?


Following the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization coined the word: “infodemic — an overabundance of information and the rapid spread of misleading or fabricated news, images, and videos.” Infodemics have happened in the past, but currently we face the spread of misinformation on a global scale. People are connected through the internet or other means and share information more quickly. The spread of misinformation can have negative, even fatal, consequences. We must learn how we can  identify and stop the spread of disinformation.


Political divisions are intensifying globally. Even in strikingly different democracies, studies have seen that the drivers of polarization have the same roots. Often seen as a divide in ethnicity, ideology, or religion, polarization in the United States uniquely has all three distinctive features. Polarization weakens democratic norms and increases violence. With deep polarization, what can societies do to start healing their divisions? How do we learn from these divisive fractures, overcome, and unify?


Human activities have had devastating effects on the health of the world’s oceans. Unprecedented amounts of plastics have entered our oceans. Overfishing is a serious problem that threatens food security and destroys ecosystems worldwide. Global warming is causing alterations in the ocean’s chemistry – from coral bleaching to sea level rise and higher temperatures, entire marine ecosystems are threatened. How do we conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources?

Access to Education

The world is currently in a learning crisis. Many children face barriers that prevent them from attending school. Across all groups, girls are the most marginalized and have the hardest time accessing education. Even with access, attending school is not the same as learning. Schools lack trained teachers, adequate learning materials, and proper sanitation facilities which makes learning difficult. COVID-19 has only exasperated the fragile education system. School closures kept 80% of students out of school and 30% of youth lack technology to participate in digital learning. How do we realize the promise of education for all students, in every village, city and country?

Tackle Critical Issues in Rustic Pathways’ Climate Leaders Fellowship

The Climate Leaders Fellowship is a leadership development program for students interested in climate change and environmental sustainability.

The program is provided by a collaboration between the Center for Deliberative Democracy at Stanford University, the Rustic Pathways Foundation and Rustic Pathways.