Welcome to the Capstone Seminar on Inclusive Sustainable Development, where we highlight the Global “Grand Challenge” of Disability and Development

In September 2000, world Leaders gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York for the Millennium Summit.  At this summit, they adopted the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which included 8 time-bound targets called the Millennium Development Goals (or MDGs).  These MDGs were aimed at developing a new global partnership to reduce poverty by the year 2015.  Unfortunately, disability issues were completely absent from the MDGs.  Subsequently, on 13 December 2006, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted, and became the first human rights treaty of the 21st century. This seminar will enable you to explore these policy developments and focus on enhancing your understanding of disability-inclusive development.

Weekly Blog Posts

Throughout the semester each seminar participant will submit at least ten (10) blog posts. Blog posts should address your thoughts and reflections on any issue being discussed that week. Each blog post should be around 400 words, and will be organized under one of ten pre-determined categories: 1. Grand Challenges; 2. Development Theory; 3. SDGs and HLPF; 4. Efficacy of Global Frameworks; 5. ICTs and Sustainable Development; 6. Digital Divide(s); 7. Multistakeholder Global Governance; 8. Smart Cities and Employment; 9. Inclusive Education; and, 10. Intersectionality in Sustainable Development.

Development Theory

 

            As aforementioned on my previous blog, Development is a complex term and its understanding is conceptualized in many ways. Personally, I find issue in defining development by using economic terms and growth rates or GDPs that many times say very little about the situation and are inflated/manipulated by public officials and/or represent a privileged minority. This is why I believed I found much interest in the way Amartya Sen correlated development to freedom. I found much understanding to her perception of development, yet I also found it limited to an extent. There is an imperative need for politicians, economists and anyone who has influence over policies to understand that development is not and cannot be represented by poverty alleviation. It is and extremely limited and mainstream perception that will not bring any substantive change. This is why I resonated with Sen’s argument which focused more on the humanity of developmentand the experiences of individuals; more specifically their freedoms. However, while I believe this is an important element of development and how it can be defined it is also limited. There are several factors such as health, education, equality that fall under one of the five categories Sen used to define freedom. However, there are many other examples of freedom that do not influence the overall well-being of a society. Freedom most definitely is an important element and an ultimate goal; but by fixating ourselves in specific ideals of freedom we once again lose the complexity of developmentand its priorities. Development is a very complex area of study that has very diverse beliefs; I personally have obtained my idea of development by incorporating many of these ideas together. 

            This idea of development, however, is also extremely based on what I have conceptualized freedom and development to be defined in the context of what I have seen, Honduras. This is why there is such difficulty in reaching consensus, because the context with each one of us defined development is incredibly distinct. As a result, I don’t believe there is or there should by one overarching definition that applies to all, as it would have to be incredibly vague and lack character. Just as there are different means and strategies through which countries reach development there should also be different way of conceptualizing it. This becomes a little difficult whenever professionals would like to compare and contrast the degree of development between countries, and for that I have yet to find a solution. But I believe and important first step is to come to the conclusion that development is complex and different in every country, and as a result the way it is defined is incredibly influenced by the context of the region one was in. 

Grand Challenges

            Being a Honduran and having lived in Honduras I was able to understand the grasp and complexity of development. We live in a time and age where poverty-ridden countries are expected to combat poverty, economic stagnation, and a myriad of other problems through sustainable means. And while this is a necessary and primordial clause; it is an incredibly difficult one to understand. I have personally seen, how for many political leaders, sustainability is not a priority. However, as we have seen and continue seeing, it is one of our biggest threats. It is easy to look at the past and find a plethora of activities that led to progress and economic achievement through the exploitation of natural resources at the expense of the environment. For many countries, this was the fastest way they believed growth and development could be achieved. Today, however, those countries who want to achieve the same level of growth and economic stability, are forced to find different and more complex and costly means to do so. There is an exponentially alarming call for countries to achieve these development goals sustainably, for there to be a change in our modus operandi. This, however, is a challenge that must be implemented by every country collectively. 

            As expected, every country will have different ways and different priorities in their implementation of these sustainable development goals, in fact, even different strategies of implementation. It is important to take into consideration how the level of difficulty for developing countries increases, and what the expectations for those countries should be. I am a firm believer that every country should do their best to implement these sustainable development goals; yet, I also do believe that many of these developing countries will need the support of the international developed community to do so most effectively. As well as the contribution of different fields of knowledge and experience that will lead and provide the guidance necessary for the achievement of these goals, leading to the innovation of new strategies and methods that’s will compel leaders in these disciplines to continue and expand their efforts. 

These sustainable development goals fall under the definition of Grand Challenges for a reason. Grand Challengescan be defined as 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”. SDG’Sare the perfect example of Grand Challenges, as they fall under every criterion that defines one.  In fact, even its name is an accurate representation of what these goals are for most developing countries; however, despite their difficulty, it is imperative for them to be achieved. 

Intersectionalities in the SDGs

Intersectionality is defined as the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group. Simply put, intersectionality is the overlaps of systems, experiences, or identities. This term is a huge buzzword in the social sciences field and in academia broadly and is taught as a theory or lens of which to look at social situations critically through. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a great framework to critically look at with an intersectional lens. The SDGs are categorized by People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships which all overlap with each other, are codependent on each other to be achieved, and are therefore intersectionality related and should be approached as such. You cannot achieve SDG 1: No Poverty without addressing SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, which can’t be achieved without the implications that come with SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities which is directly tied to SDG 13: Climate Action which is has extreme implications for both SDG 14 & 15: Life Below Water and Life on Land which cannot be achieved without SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals, upon which all the goals are connected to. The overlaps and the realities of all the SDGs are tied to, hinged on, have implications for, and are only achievable through addressing one another – that is at the heart of intersectionality and arguably sustainability broadly.


Sustainabilty like intersectionality depends on the observer to look critically at the overlaps, the points of contact, that social, environemtnal, and economic realms make with themselves and with each other. How decisions in one realm have implications and ramifications for the others and the decoupling of them in most cases is not an option. The SDGs are a great global framework to look to in how intersectionality is both vital for success an easily interpretable. Intersectionality for the SDGs isn’t an option it is the only viable avenue.

https://sdg.guide/chapter-1-getting-to-know-the-sustainable-development-goals-e05b9d17801

Global Framework Limitations and Opportunities

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were the first of their kind as a global framework, goals approach for global development. Created in 2000, the MDGs sought to eradicate poverty, hunger, achieve primary education, promote education gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat common disease, ensure environmental sustainability and develop global partnership to achieve the MDGs. All the MDGs were grand challenges that were measurable, timebound, and pushed forward by the United Nations. However, the MDGs had extreme limitations, marked by the fact that by the year 2015 none of the goals were achieved. Although the MDGs were good intentioned, had widespread international support and multilateral engagement, as well as targets that were comprehensive it simply did not have the power of sanction to achieve these goals. They also did not change the discourse on development.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the predecessor to the MDGs. There are 17 SDGs that build upon the MDGs and are more comprehensive, inclusive, as well as timebound, quantifiable and measurable targets and indicators, and forwarded by the United Nations. In many respects the SDGs built and learned from the MDGs failings to try and achieve these grand challenge goals. The support for the SDGs is widespread from countries, nongovernmental actors, and industry actors as well however, the same issues of achieving the goals, sanction to achieve the goals, and changing discourse on development may not be attainable. Arguable, the SDGs have started new discourse and reshaped how development discourse is being formulated but achievability and the authority to do so are still not in reach. According to the 2019 UN SDG Progress Report, all 17 SDGs are not on track to be achieved by the year 2030 and the UN still lacks the authority to go about achieving these goals in every country.

So is it just better to have more timebound, grand challenge goals rather than no global framework at all to address these grand challenges? I would argue that is better to have something rather than nothing. We must keep in mind that this goals approach framework from the UN is relatively new, since 2000 and would feasibly require a learning curve of some sort to increase desired results for success. The MDGs were a test run and the SDGs are the better next steps to the MDGs. If the SDGs are not achieve another set of goals will precede it filling in the gaps were the SDGs did not succeed and so on. With nothing in place there would be no framing for the world to look to and address these grand challenges together and I believe that even if slow it is vital to keep and have to forward sustainable development of any sort.

https://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/deepak_nayyar_Aug.pdf

Multistakeholder Internet Governance and Sustainable Development

Globalization of our world has been larger due to and rapidly pushed forward by the Internet. Since its inception several decades ago, the internet has offered expansion and new opportunities for businesses, schools and education, news and information sharing, as well as institution creation and sustainment. The fluidity and accessibility however, poses a challenge for international and governmental bodies to control; I would even argue more so hard for them to adapt to as well. While some countries, such as China, have found ways within their governance strategies to have a better grasps of control over the internet, versus other countries, such as the United States that have a different governance strategies that make internet governance a grand challenge, no one governmental body will be able to properly govern the internet alone. This is why it is important to have a multistakeholder approach and collaborative effort between governments and international bodies to properly and efficient govern the internet.

According to the Internet Society, an organization dedicated to global internet development, the best and most efficient way to govern the internet is through the multistakeholder governance framework which consist of three components of open-ended unleashed innovation and infrastructure, decentralized governance institutions, and open and inclusive processes. These three components are intentional as they are formulated to approach the international norm that the Internet lives in as well as make the policy formulation process more optimal for a globally distributed network. The Internet society’s markers for success for a multistakholder approach is if decision making was inclusive and transparent, collective responsibility, effective decision making and implementation, and collaborative through distributed and interoperable governance. This approach forwards SDG 17: Partnership For The Goals, which is intended to strengthen the means of global partnership for sustainable development. Notable as this approach can be a driver for sustainable development through partnership but also could be a threat to countries were strategic partnership for internet governance can be seen as an encroachment off their countries governance.

 The issue of internet governance will not go away as the Internet is so ingrained in the world and interconnects us all to each other. The multistakeholder approach seems the most feasible way to govern the internet, if governance is what is to be sought for the protect of citizens. However, it should be noted that this process may not be adopted as it is also a door for countries to garner influence over other countries and through which can be a threat of encroachment in how a country is governed.

https://www.internetsociety.org/resources/doc/2016/internet-governance-why-the-multistakeholder-approach-works/

https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sustainable-development-goals.html

Digital Divides in Sustainable, Inclusive, and Smart City Development

In 1982 the Independent Commission for World-Wide Telecommunications Development was created to identify the obstacles hindering communications infrastructure development and how to bridge the telecommunication gaps globally. These efforts resulted in the Maitland Report which drew attention to the huge imbalance in telephone access between developed and developing countries – calling developed nations to action in rectifying this imbalance. Translated to modern-day, digital divides have expanded that of which is purely telecommunications. In the 2000s, the terminology of the missing link was relabeled the: digital divide” and the digital divide that interest me the most is the integration of smart technologies for cities and how this translates a city to become more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive. Smart cities forward sustainable development goals 11 and 7 for sustainable cities and affordable energy respectively but are completely reliant on technological and digital advance means in integration to create a smart city. This created digital divides and exclusions to areas of the world that are more low-resource or lack access to capital to implement on their own. However, smart cities, smart grids, and smart city technology implementation will and already is the future for sustainability, resiliency, and ultimately inclusivity in developing and retrofitting a bright future.

The question to ask is how do we bridge a digital equity bridge so that areas of low resource can also engaging in smart city development to protect their civilian populations from the ramifications of climate change, including the diversity of their population in cities, and be more sustainable overall? One way is through social impact investment from foreign countries that are already highly engaged in smart city development; not much different from the call to action the Maitland Report pushed. In the fight forward for a more sustainable future, which is increasingly becoming reliant on technological advancements to see it realized, we as a world cannot leave anyone behind. A steady flow of information and data sharing as well as project development fo smart city initiative s in low resource areas will ensure that no one is left behind in retrofitting their cities, protecting their citizens, and seeing a more sustainable future that is smart together.

https://www.itu.int/en/history/Pages/MaitlandReport.aspx

https://thinkbigpartners.com/smart-streetlights-are-bridging-the-smart-city-digital-divide-gap/

http://longbeachmc.org/to-bridge-the-digital-divide-some-cities-have-taken-the-matter-into-their-own-hands/

https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/economic-growth-and-trade/information-technology/closing-urban-rural-digital-gap-grid

Sustainable Development and Intersectionality

In recent years, the word intersectionality has become a buzzword in many different academic disciplines from public health to environmental sustainability to education. The concept of intersectionality is actually quite self-explanatory. Within the context of international development, intersectionality is the idea that you cannot address development issues as stand-alone issues, because sustainable development is intertwined and what occurs in one area can have effects on other areas. There are both positive and negative examples of this. For example, if a person receives a quality education, this could also have positive outcomes for their economic status, their future employment, their health, and other factors. Similarly, if someone is struggling with extreme poverty, this may have ramifications for their education, health, and access to decent work. All aspects of sustainable development are interrelated which is why it is important to look at development comprehensively rather than as individual issues. This is why it is important to look at all 17 Sustainability Development Goals as a set rather than 17 individual goals. The success and progress of each goal effects the others, so for sustainable development to be successful, it is critical to understand how different aspects of development effect one another.

Another important aspect of intersectionality in the sustainable development field is the collaborative efforts between many different stakeholders to achieve goals. For example, one of the important aspects of urban sustainable development going forward is the idea and implementation of smart cities. This is discussed in the New Urban Agenda developed at Habitat III and Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. Creating smart cities needs a combination of information and communication technologies (ICTs), urban planning, clean energy, infrastructure, and most importantly, the people who live there. The intersectionality between all of these sectors is what makes smart cities possible. I think that international actors and sustainable development stakeholders have successfully understood the importance of intersectionality in the sustainable development field, with the SDGs as a wonderful example. The SDGs predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, did not have the same understanding of the intersectionality between the 8 different goals, which is one reason I think the SDGs will have more success in achieving their goals compared to the MDGs. I am hopeful that with the continued focus on intersectionality in sustainable development, we will continue to see improvements and successes around the world. 

Inclusive Education: All Children Reading

Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. However, as stated in the progress report for 2019, SDG 4 may not be met by the year 2030. 262 million children and youth aged 6 to 17 are still out of school and more than half of children and adolescents are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) addresses the issues of inclusive and equitable education in their Grand Challenges. All Children Reading is a USAID initiative that is advancing edtech innovation and research to improve reading outcomes for marginalized children in low-resource contexts. Through the use of technology, USAID has been able to reach over 600, 00 children with early grade reading materials and approaches, distributed 1.3 million learning materials in over 140 languages spoken. All Children Reading also source and test solutions that address barriers to child literacy in the books in underserved languages, foundations of literacy, and children with disabilities. The use of technology to make education inclusive and accessible has been a major turn in realizing SDG 4 as it has not only connected our world to share resources but also given the ability for these resources to be put to good use such as meeting the need for education for all children regardless of their background, language, culture, or ability.

The challenge is how do we expound on these efforts to use technology to forward quality education for all that is inclusive more rapidly to meet SDG 4 by 2030? I believe that a greater spread of data and information, increasing the number of teachers that are properly trained to meet diverse student needs and technological capabilities for education, as well as use technology to shape the classroom environment are all ways to investigate and forward to potentially close gaps in meeting SDG 4 by the year 2030. USAID’s All Children Reading initiative is a great example and leader in pursuing technological capabilities to create quality education for every child around the world and other efforts should follow suit in using technology to advance SDG 4 by the year and beyond 2030.

https://allchildrenreading.org/

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg4

Limitations in Global Strategic Frameworks and Institutions

The MDGs were ultimately unsuccessful due to a variety of issues that left weaknesses in the international framework. According to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the lack of progress was the result of “unmet commitments, inadequate resources, lack of focus and accountability, and insufficient interest in sustainable development.” While the MDGs have promoted increased health and wellbeing in many countries, they were unable to adequately meet international goals for sustainability. In 2000, all 191 United Nations member states committed to help achieve the MDGs by 2015. However, there were large disparities in commitments. The Declaration emphasizes the role of developed countries in aiding developing countries in the global fight to minimize and manage climate change and encourage sustainable lifestyles and development. Developed countries had more ambitious objectives and targets than developing nations which left most of the international community unaccountable. However, results in developed countries were uneven and uninspired. There was limited accountability to achieve commitments in developed countries as well. A lack of emphasis on environmental sustainability failed to portray the urgency of climate change. Much of the international community didn’t view the goals and working together in their self interest.

The MDGs were powerful because they marked a departure from typically overloaded international agendas. This framework was comprehensive and easily understood by an average individual. Further, the goals presented the issue of sustainable development and its increasing importance on an international stage. The problem has since attracted more attention and participation due to the mistakes and shortcomings we have learned from in the past. The MDGs also provided a framework for the 2015 agenda to be more successful and stringent in regard to international commitment and accountability. 

The overall failures of the MDGs calls into question the efficacy of international and multi stakeholder institutions. International Relations theories often debate whether states will always act in their own self interest, regardless of international agreements or treaties. Liberals believe that these institutions can generate widespread positive change. They argue that international institutions provide collective security while encouraging nations to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. Realists believe that institutions don’t impact international stability because countries will always act in their self interest by assuming the worst in other nations and thinking strategically. These theorists claim that states will always be in competition with one another. If international institutions can provide more accountability, incentive, and focus to sustainable goals, the results will be more successful.

ICTs and Sustainable Development

Throughout the 21stcentury, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have drastically changed the way we live our lives. Even more incredible, ICTs have the ability to completely change the sustainable development field. In a recent joint study performed by Huawei and SustainAbility, experts found a high correlation between countries that are progressing well with the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) and those that have performed well in the ICT field. 

ICTs have many uses in all aspects of the sustainable development world. First and foremost, ICTs facilitate worldwide communication and networking which allows experts to assist and work with people from all around the world without even having to step outside their own homes. This fact alone can be incredibly helpful in providing information and knowledge to those who may not have access to it without the use of ICTs. Another use of ICTs is in the education field. With the use of different technologies such as webconferencing, students from around the world can learn without having to have the funds to afford costly travel. This is also had tremendous success in increasing inclusive education because persons with disabilities are able to use ICTs to communicate and receive an inclusive education that might not be available in their community. Another factor of ICTs in sustainable development is that eCommerce allows businesses around the world to connect to customers anywhere and everywhere. This can have big impacts on economic growth and employment. 

However, one problem to consider is that countries with extensive ICT use and development are beginning to drastically overtake countries still developing their ICT infrastructure and industries. This means that, if steps are not taken to mitigate this, the divide between countries with high use of ICTs and those still developing ICTs may grow exponentially and leave a massive gap, a digital divide, between large portions of the world. While ICTs have incredible potential in their application to the sustainable development field, more focus needs to be placed on bridging the digital divide between countries or else sustainable development will suffer. Greater emphasis should be placed on catching those countries that have less developed ICTs up so that they do not fall so far behind. This will also have a very positive impact on sustainable development as ICTs open up many opportunities in the field.