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.

Disability and the Urban Homeless Population

As I have continued to work on my final capstone project, I have come across the intersection between PWD and the urban homeless population time and time again. This segment of the population touches on an important aspect of disability that we have not talked about in class that much- psychological disabilities.

Though it is hard to pinpoint the exact number of those who are homeless in America that are living with a mental illness, estimates range from around a quarter to a third. At a global level, around 2% of the world population is homeless. What is more clear is that these debilitating illnesses usually go untreated and perpetuate the cycle of homelessness and joblessness.

https://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/fixing-the-system/features-and-news/2596-how-many-people-with-serious-mental-illness-are-homeless

Because these individuals are considered a part of the common cityscape, their suffering often goes unnoticed. As people consciously choose to ignore the plight of the homeless, they simultaneously want them to disappear without assistance from anyone else.

As cities grow, it is likely that the number of persons experiencing homelessness will rise as well. Cities exacerbate homelessness by raising the cost of housing and pushing those that can no longer afford to live in urban centers to the outskirts of society. Cities are not built for those with severe mental illnesses; they can be overwhelming, confusing and stressful.

At the same time, well-planned cities can provide access to public services such as health centers, employment training and shelters. Expecting homelessness to rise dramatically in the coming years, it is vital that municipal, state and federal governments take into account the needs of this population, especially considering that a large portion of them are living with a disability.

https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/cities-grow-so-do-numbers-homeless

Conceptualizing a Solution for Development Through ‘Moonshot Thinking’

A “grand challenge” is exactly what it sounds like: a complex problem that has a stubbornly defined solution (Branscomb). Tom Kahlil of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy defined grand challenges as “ambitious yet achievable goals that capture the public’s imagination and that require innovation and breakthroughs in science and technology to achieve.” One of the most well-known and inspiring historical examples of addressing a grand challenge is Robert F. Kennedy and his promise of the moon landing: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade.” Kennedy’s mindset of believing in the achievement of something nearly impossible, setting a timeframe, and planting the seeds of action is referred to as “moonshot thinking.” Proposing radical solutions to overwhelming problems through the use of research and science, technology, and innovation.  The Medium lays out a five step framework for the methodology of ‘moonshot thinking:’ (1) reset our ‘operating system’ and start thinking exponentially, (2) launching the moonshot, (3) landing the moonshot through trial and error, (4) transform yourself, (5) transform your company. 

This method can be utilized by any kind of actor in the pursuit of overarching problems, specifically the challenge of international development. The USAID addresses grand challenges for development through programs that mobilize governments, companies, and foundations, source new solutions, and test new ideas. Some of these programs include saving lives at birth, having all children reading, making all voices count, securing water for food, and many more. Even though this list only shows a small percentage of all of the challenges of development, it is easy to see how these issues span across all aspects of people’s lives. The Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) were the first commitment of its magnitude to consolidate the efforts of meeting the needs of the worlds’ poorest people.  Building off of the MDGs, the UNGA created the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The 2030 Agenda is an action plan for “people, planet, and prosperity.” The SDGs are comprised of 17 lofty goals addressing the grand challenge that development poses, each goal accompanied by several targets and indicators in a time-bound fashion to measure the progress towards achieving the goal. Why is ‘moonshot thinking’ relevant for sustainable development? Even though landing on the moon seemed impossible to most, comparable with ending world hunger or poverty, or achieving all of the SDGs, with committed investment in research, innovation and technology, we can achieve truly extraordinary things.

Gender and Intersectionality in Inclusive Development

The term ‘intersectionality’ is tossed around from politics to academia- but what does it truly mean? And can ‘intersectionality’ be a useful concept for inclusive sustainable development? Intersectionality originated from the lived experiences of African-American women facing the dual oppressions and combined effects of racism and sexism; and the term was officially coined by Kimberly Crenshaw in 1989. Since intersectionality’s inception, the working definition has grown to encompass all intersections of identity including gender, race, class, disability, religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status and more. It is also important to point out that these differentiated oppressions are structural rather than individual. All of these social identities must be viewed together, as each one combines to create a person’s experience in society. For example, women who are indigenous may experience gender equality differently than non-indigenous women; the movement for indigenous rights is often prioritizes the group identity, whereas the fight for gender equality tends to focus on the individual rights of women. Intersectionality can be a way to bridge these identities together so as not to fragment varied parts of identities and to understand that inequalities intersect with other oppressions to form people’s lived experiences. Can this concept be used in not only conceptualizing inclusive development but putting it into practice? 

The Gender and Development Network, a network of United Kingdom-based NGOs, is working to promote and prioritize women’s rights in international development. Their website states that, “addressing patriarchy, gender inequality and the abuse of women’s rights remains the primary focus of GADN’s political agenda… But we recognise that gender inequality cannot be understood and effectively confronted in isolation from the myriad of other discriminations and forms of oppression that women face.” Along with this, its pointed out that an individual’s personal experience of intersecting oppressions is unique and their identities can not simply be ‘added up.’ GADN seeks to influence international institutions like the United Nations to propose solutions and shape the gender equality discourse, and GADN also partners with many organizations in the Global South. Along with this, GADN advocates for better gender equality policies and practice in the international development field through providing technical expertise, accessible and well-respected resources, and building a consensus on alternative economic practices. This is a fascinating example of implementing the concept of intersectionality from a feminist lens in both the policy and discourse side of development, as well as actual development practice. 

Considering Intersectionality in Inclusive Sustainable Development

A new term that falls under our study of inclusive sustainable development is intersectionality, which is the “simultaneous experience of categorical and hierarchical classifications” (Cole). Some of these classifications can include race, gender, sexuality, and even disability. All of the different forms of oppression that stem from these classifications (sexism, racism, etc.) are therefore mutually dependent and intersect, creating a whole system of oppression. It is a situation of give and take; people enjoy certain privileges yet others experience discrimination based on their status in society as set by these classifiers. Continue reading

What does the digital divide mean for inclusive sustainable development?

First, the digital divide refers to the unequal distribution of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across and within societies. This includes not only access to but also usage of computers and the internet. This divide can be on a larger scale, between developed and developing nations, or on a smaller scale, between various socio-economic and socially stratified groups within one country. The term digital divide became more regularly used in the later-1990s, with its beginnings found in news articles and political speeches, most notably in a speech by President Bill Clinton. It’s also important to note that differences in technology and their social implications have been recognized before the term digital divide came about, but the term represents a useful label in the discourse surrounding this topic. 

Second, through understanding the origins and definitional basis of the digital divide, the implications and effects of the digital divide on inclusive sustainable development can be examined. According to an article by the World Economic Forum (WEF), four billion people, as of 2016, do not have access to the internet. The WEF lays out four main reasons why the digital divide persists: (1) lack of infrastructure, (2) high cost of devices and connectivity, (3) education and cultural issues, and (4) language barriers. Due to the complex and multidimensional nature of addressing the digital divide, governments, companies, local and international organizations and civil society members are working on increasing peoples’ access to ICTs. What does this all mean for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Many leaders in the Economic and Social Council of the UN discussed how closing the digital gap is vital to attaining sustainable development in a Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation in May 2019.  Many leaders in this Forum discuss the UN Technology Facilitation Mechanism and its effectiveness. According to Liu Zhenmin, in the wake of the 2030 Agenda, the United Nations must help people, especially youth, harness technology, in order to implement the SDGs. Romain Murenzi, the Executive Director of the World Academy of Sciences, stresses that focuses on technology and innovation can and will ensure inclusivity and close the gaps between “haves” and “have nots.” The international cooperation and multilateral action to address and tackle the digital divide is promising. Closing the gap in digital access and usage will push the world closer to achieving the SDGs and minimizing inequality.

Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction and Management

There are several multilateral organizations aiming to address the unequal destruction that is caused from things like earthquakes or floods.  According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, there is no such thing as a natural disaster, only natural hazards. As such, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) aims to decrease damage done by natural hazards.  “DRR can preserve lives and increase the resilience of communities by strengthening their capacity to anticipate, absorb and recover from these shocks.” Through systematic efforts to analyze and reduce the factors behind disasters, the UN and other organizations specifically for DRR and DRM aim to lessen vulnerabilities, promote wise management of land and environment, and improve preparedness and early detection. 

Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) discusses how, at the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 countries pledged to many actions regarding detection. They point out that investments in early warning systems not only save lives but also significant assets. The Global Climate Action Summit 2019 committed to protect 1 billion more people from disasters through investing millions in early warning systems. In order to be effective and sustainable, warning systems must actively involve the communities at risk. With the recognition of benefits by local people, the impact of hazards can be significantly reduced if not avoided. One early warning system, Practical Action, has been working in DRR in Nepal since 2001, and their early warning system for the regular flooding of the Koshi River was built for long-term sustainability and community involvement. Can the technical aspects of reducing risks of disaster be effective without addressing inequality and inclusion? 

Along with the technical aspects of DRR and DRM like warning systems and management of land and environment, its level of inclusivity will no doubt have implications for the resilience of communities to natural hazards. Earthquakes, floods, forest fires, etc affect different people in unequal ways, particularly regarding their level of vulnerability. Vulnerability is complex; it is not just about poverty, but includes physical, social, economic, and environmental factors. Also, vulnerability is shaped by historical, political, and institutional processes. Persons with disabilities are disproportionately vulnerable to disasters and disability inclusion is key to inclusive DRR and humanitarian action. “Achieving disability-inclusive DRM can empower persons with disabilities to take their rightful place as agents of change, and as active contributors to the development and effective implementation of DRM policies, plans and standards.” Being disability-inclusive is necessary in DRR and DRM not only for the resilience of communities but also for society as a whole.  

Why Multi stakeholder Governance?

This weeks discussions builds upon last week’s readings on ICTs by focusing on internet governance. Internet governance (IG) encompasses all the rules, standards, and practices that regulate and shape cyberspace. Because there are multiple networks that cover a variety of regions, internet governance becomes a multi stakeholder issue due to the different actors, organizations, and individuals it affects. Internet governance therefore expands to multi stakeholder internet governance, which aims to bring all those different actors to participate in decision making, solutions, dialogue, and implementation of policies and rules related to internet governance. Multi stakeholder governance was a focal point to understand IG in each of our readings. For example, ISOC spoke about the multi stakeholder approach and how it has three components: infrastructure, governance, and humans (Internet Society). To have successful multi stakeholder decision-making to guide a progressing internet society, there needs to be inclusiveness and transparency, collective responsibility, effective decision making, and collaboration through distributed and interoperable governance (Internet Society). ISOC stated that multi stakeholder decision making is great for the reasons we touched upon; the process helps issues where decisions impact a wide range of people with overlapping rights across sectors. Continue reading