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.

Inclusive Smart Cities

Cities can be made inclusive and accessible once old models of disability that ignore spatiality are replaced by new models of disability that address spatiality. Pineda’s article, Enabling Justice: Spatializing Disability in the Built Environment,” reaffirms the importance of how physical space and the environment can enable or disable individuals (111). Further, Pineda explains how “contemporary legal definitions of disability are not overtly spatial” (112) when spatiality is an essential part of how persons with disabilities navigate their environment. Challenging the definition of disability to include spatiality, a central component of the environment that brings about discrimination and injustice for persons with disabilities, would “radically and fundamentally alter our understanding of equal rights” (Pineda 112). Pineda offers a new socio-spatial model of disability that aims to challenge dominant models of disability, such as the charity, medical, and personal tragedy models, that assign blame to individuals and ignore the importance of the environment in hindering persons with disabilities. The socio-spatial model of disability recognizes how “physical barriers are unjust and oppressive” (Pineda 117), which reveals that under this new model of disability, personal freedom is inherently valued. In sum, cities can be made inclusive and accessible once the distribution of space is realized. Pineda argues that this recognition “is an important aspect of realizing justice for disabled persons” (122). 

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The Role of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) “has a central role in the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs,” according to the Sustainable Development Goals site page dedicated to the HLPF. The HLPF meets annually under the Economic and Social Council and meets every four years under the General Assembly (“High-Level Political Forum”). Notably, the Forum asks member states to “conduct regular and inclusive reviews at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven” (“High-Level Political Forum”). These national reviews are used by the HLPF when they conduct their review process (“High-Level Political Forum”). The HLPF works well in the sense that it allows countries to conduct their own, voluntary reviews that are used as the basis for the Forum’s review. This allows for experts, government organizations, and civil society organizations to participate in the specific country’s Voluntary National Review. Further, this allows for the report to be grounded in the country’s specific context, which is often left out in development discourse that traditionally imposes the West’s perception of global development. Country context is essential to assessing the progress of the SDGs. The HLPF could be improved to promote inclusive sustainable development by implementing accountability measures for those members on the Forum. How are these members chosen for the Forum? Do these members represent the diversity of both the SDGs (including experts on poverty, education, water, energy, etc.) and the member states (including representation from different countries in different regions)? 

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Sen’s Development as Freedom

Conceptual frameworks are important in development studies because they provide a lens through which research is conducted, showing what types of data are needed to address the problem at hand (Sumner and Tribe 82). Frameworks also provide a more nuanced analysis of research and analysis. To begin, it may be helpful to describe Sen’s concept of development as freedom before discussing how the framework can inform disability-inclusive development projects. In simple terms, Sen’s development of freedom concept states that development should allow individuals freedoms and capabilities to live the lives they desire and value (Sen 18). Sen’s framework involves both the processes of allowing freedom of behavior and the substantive opportunities to live freely (Sen 17). In other words, development as freedom entails securing the processes by which individuals can attain freedoms and the resulting opportunities that such freedom allows. Two important reasons for prioritizing individual freedom in development are the ability to evaluate society and the promotion of societal effectiveness. Success of society can be evaluated based on the freedoms that people have (Sen 18), a view that is not utilitarian but rather is more humanizing. Freedom also determines individual motivation and hence, social effectiveness (Sen 18). Thus, people’s ability to help themselves in turn helps society. Sen’s framework aligns with the notion of development as a “friendly” process, a view that exchanges can be mutually beneficial, similar to Adam Smith’s argument regarding international trade (Sen 36). Sen’s framework highlights the need to ignore common conceptions that human development (Sen 143), the establishment of social opportunities that benefit human’s capabilities and quality of life (Sen 144), is a luxury in which only rich nations can afford to engage (Sen 143). Sen argues that this belief hinders human development globally and believes that the ability for human development to take place is not limited to a country’s economic situation. 

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Disability-Inclusive Development as a Global Grand Challenge

In a presentation by Tom Kalil, grand challenges are defined as “ambitious yet achievable goals that capture the public’s imagination and that require innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology to achieve” (Kalil). Disability-inclusive development can be considered a “global grand challenge” as the goal is “ambitious yet achievable” (Kalil) without current solutions/means to reaching the goal. The goal is ambitious as it represents a reality not currently experienced and involves making the world more accessible to persons with disabilities, a long contested issue. The fact that disability rights and accessibility have been considered a political issue has made the global grand challenge of disability-inclusive development more challenging to achieve. This goal is achievable as some progress towards reaching disability-inclusive development has been made, such as through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits discrimination based on disability and provides reasonable accommodations to employees. While the ADA represents some progress towards disability-inclusive development, there is much more progress to be made in order for such development to be truly inclusive. Kalil also writes that grand challenges “should capture the public’s imagination;” while the challenge of realizing disability-inclusive development is of public urgency, it is also one that will likely require innovation and/or scientific discovery, which is motivating and exciting. This challenge is compelling as disability-inclusivity advocacy is gaining ever-more strength in the political and social worlds today with the fight for disability inclusivity focusing on different areas, such as public policy, education, politics, and transportation. 

The USAID’s web page titled “Grand Challenges for Development” states that through USAID’s programs that involve governments, corporations, and foundations to focus on certain issues, “USAID and public and private partners bring in new voices to solve development problems.” USAID’s approach of utilizing new voices to confront grand challenges represents a model that the challenge of disability-inclusive development can follow, as diverse resources and voices that perhaps have more experience and/or knowledge on disabilities and disability-inclusivity can lead to more effective solutions to the issue. Have “new voices” been brought in to examine the grand challenge of disability-inclusive development in the past? If not, could this be a reason for why the goal of reaching disability-inclusive development has not been fully recognized? 

How do the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promote disability-inclusive development? The United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs published an article titled “Mainstreaming disability in the development agenda” which argues that “there is a strong bidirectional link between poverty and disability.” As the first Millennium Development Goal is to “eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” while the other MDGs also aim to reduce poverty in different ways (“Millennium Development Goals and Beyond 2015”), the MDGs must have, in some way, promoted disability-inclusive development. I need to do more research to understand better the specific ways in which progress in disability-inclusive development has been achieved as a result of the MDGs and SDGs.The article states that while the MDGs brought attention to persons with disabilities, there is little discourse over the significance of how persons with disabilities are disproportionately represented in the population that the MDGs seek to help. Additionally, leaving persons with disabilities out of all development activities will hinder achieving the MDGs. I will infer that the same logic applies to achieving the SDGs: ignoring persons with disabilities when aiming to reach every SDG will hinder achieving the SDGs. I am interested in learning more about if disability-inclusivity had any explicit influence, if any, when crafting the MDGs and SDGs.

For my capstone, I am interested in incorporating my interests in global health into the discussion of disability-inclusive development and sustainable development. Sustainable Development Goal 3 aims to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” (“Goals”). Do health and well-being include health for persons of disabilities as well? For example, are physical access, treatment, and medicines for persons with disabilities included in the promotion of health and well-being? I need to do more research on this question to understand how persons with disabilities are either included or excluded from this goal. I am interested in how health and well-being for persons with disabilities can be included in SDG 3 sustainably in regard to cost, resources/resource allocation, and longevity.

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