ICTs and Sustainable Development

During week five of class, we focused greatly on ICTs and inclusive sustainable development. While I have previously been aware of the disparities existing around the world regarding the availability of telecommunications technologies, it had never quite occurred to me the extent to which the lack of these technologies also greatly impacts the level of success and development that different regions are able to reach. In one of the readings on the WSIS Forum, there is a chart that outlines each of the SDGs and how telecommunications technologies are involved in reaching that goal. For example, telecommunications technologies are necessary to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture” (WSIS 7), since they can aid in providing farmers with access to necessary information such as information on new farming methods, as well as information on market prices for agricultural products. Access to more relevant information has the potential to empower farmers with the ability to improve their businesses while also encouraging external benefits to society such as more environmentally sustainable agricultural.

The discussion from week five’s class also better informed me on which social groups tend to lack access to telecommunications technologies. For example, we learned that much of the disparities happen within “the poor in central cities and rural areas” (NTIA)– including issues pertaining to the lack in telephone and computer penetration. This lack of connection to available knowledge and communication essentially inhibits people’s capabilities to communicate with outside communities and gain knowledge that may be useful to their daily lives such as new job postings. In relation to upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I think it is important that the UNGA has reaffirmed their commitment to “build a people­-centred, inclusive and development-­oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge” (Outcome Doc of the High­-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Overall Review of the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes). Equal access to information technologies should essentially shrink the knowledge gap and increase individual’s capabilities to keep up to date with necessary information that may not always be so readily accessible. Greater access to information also has the potential to contribute to vital development factors such as economic growth and social mobility. Finally, I think one of the most important aspects from the, Outcome Document of the High­-Level Meeting of the General Assembly on the Overall Review of the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes, was recognizing the fact that shrinking the digital divide will also require many policy and institutional changes around the world such as promoting gender equality as well as affordability of information technologies (as these are both issues that contribute to the digital divide).

Inclusive Cities, Habitat III, New Urban Agenda

In this class we had a long discussion on what entices people to move to and continue living in cities. It’s important to acknowledge these factors when considering how to design and/or rebuild smart cities. Based on what others said in this discussion, I think smart cities have a lot to do with Sen’s idea of development in terms of freedoms and opportunities available to individuals. People want choices and opportunities no matter where they are and the more choices they have available to them, the happier I believe people will be. People want places for recreation and leisure, but they also desire security and a sense of community. When city planners and councils determine the population they wish to attract to cities, they need to make sure the area provides such opportunities. When a city lacks what its inhabitants want and need, it will quickly deteriorate as opposed to develop. Moreover, it’s important to enact “right to the city” policies and practices so that all individuals, and not just certain groups, have equal right and access to the cities’ amenities. Often this involves significant strategic planning and immersion in order to make sure all are included and no one is marginalized.

In accordance with the New Urban Agenda, developing smart cities is a political, social, economic, and environmental task. All these aspects need to be addressed in sustainable urban development. With Habit III taking placing in Quito, Ecuador this October, now is the time more than ever to reconsider and discuss how our world’s future cities will be and what policies need to be immediately implemented. Governments are the main actors and drivers of smart cities, but there are also opportunities for non-governmental organizations and partners to engage and participate in discussion of these issues. For instance, the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) was formally launched at the Seconding Preparatory Committee for Habitat III in April 2015, and allows for all stakeholders to participate and to better collaborate in the conference in order to promote and establish sustainable urbanization.

 

ICTs and Sustainable Development

There is extensive literature supporting the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) in development, but less on its role in inclusive sustainable development and benefits of technological innovations for persons with disabilities. There is a need for socio-technical infrastructure for persons with disabilities, and  technology  that can effectively help all of a country’s population, with the understanding that  additional provisions or forethought may be necessary in ensuring equal access to such technologies.  

Reports such as the Maitland Commission Report contain a very relevant message  which is the fundamental importance of equal access to ICTs for the social and economic development of any country and all of its citizens. The Maitland Commission Report explained how in most developing countries the telecommunications system is not adequate even to sustain essential services and that in many areas there is no system at all, and regarded this disparity unacceptable. While much improvement has been made since 1985, disparities in technological access to essential services continue to affect persons with disabilities in the developed and to an often greater extent the developing world. The report also described the free exchange of information as a leveling of the playing field, and so by not ensuring equal information and communication technology access, a sector of a country’s population or say 15 percent,  would be disadvantaged.
These challenges highlight the extreme importance of continuing the work of organizations such as The Global Initiative for Inclusive ICTs which works to promote the rights of persons with disabilities in the digital age. The  G3ict relies on an international network of ICT accessibility experts to develop and promote good practices, technical resources and benchmarks for ICT accessibility advocates around the world.  One of the ICT innovations in support of this work is the Disability Inclusive Development (DID) Policy Collaboratory. The Collaboratory leverages accessible cyber infrastructure and cyber learning environments to enhance the participation of persons with disabilities in global governance processes.With the creation of the Collaboratory, ICTs will play an increased role in facilitating disability-inclusive contributions to the UN Habitat III process and the New Urban Agenda. Because the  Collaboratory is an online work space,  it allows for increased human interaction between practitioners all over the world. These kinds of online tools are also instrumental in providing access to announcements, briefings, discussions, and reports from pertinent international conferences that many participants of the global disability community may have otherwise been excluded from.  

Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

An important point that came out of the discussion on smart cities, Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda was the concept of the “Right to the City”. The Right to the City is a concept that  works to ensure that each inhabitant of the city space should have equal access to what the city has to offer, and prevent the leaving of people behind.

In the Habitat III New Urban Agenda Draft Outcome Document there is one explicit mention of the right to the city that comes in the first paragraph under the subheading of “Our Shared Vision”. The paragraph tells of a “vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient, and sustainable cities, to foster prosperity and quality of life for all.” The paragraph concludes by noting the efforts of some national and local governments to enshrine the aforementioned vision, referred to as right to the city, in legislations, political declarations and charters.
During the October 15th meeting of Habitat III General Assembly of Partners in 2015, Aromar Revi, co-chair of SDSN Thematic  Group 9 offered interesting remarks on the the right to the city in relation to the SDGs. He mentioned the importance of  cities and the intersectionality  in the SDGs, highlighting Goal 11. He emphasized that fact that sustainable urbanization in all  its complexity offers multiple opportunities for partnerships.  In looking at SDG 11, Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, there are two targets that speak for the right to the city of persons with disabilities. Target 11.2 aims to  provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities by the year 2030. Similarly, target 11.7 aims to provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities by 2030. The language in these specific targets in SDG 11 represent a tremendous achievement for persons with disabilities, as does the addition of  persons with disabilities GAP Partner Constituent Group, highlighting the progress this stakeholder group has made moving forward with Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda.

SDGs, HLPF, and Half of Humanity

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the new development goals set forth by the United Nations to be achieved by the year 2030. Like grand challenges discussed in Week 1, the seventeen different SDGs aim to tackle massive, society pervasive issues that affect all people. For example, goal 1 is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere and while goal 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The goals also include issues that range from creating sustainable cities and communities to obtaining clean water and sanitation for all people. As I said, they’re grand challenges.

In a way, the SDGs are a response to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were set during the Millennium Summit of the UN in 2000 and expired in 2015. Despite attempting to cover a wide range of development issues, critics argued that the MDGs were at the same time too broad and not inclusive enough of groups like persons with disabilities (PWDs). The SDGs, in contrast, became much more specific setting seventeen goals instead of just eight. In addition, the SDGs were much more inclusive of minority groups. For examples, PWDs are mentioned fifteen times giving PWDs a seat at the table they were previously denied.  

To oversee the implementation of the SDGs and ensure they are reached by 2030, the UN created the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). The HLPF meets annually every year under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and every four years under the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA). Despite being coined as one of the most inclusive forms of the UN, overseeing the UN under the auspices of the HLPF has some very clear advantages and disadvantages. A clear advantage is that the HLPF can use its power and influence to gather the world’s most influential movers and shakers. However, groups that need to be involved – like PWDs and other minorities – have to overcome financial, political, and physical barriers to get a seat at the table and contribute to the implementation of the SDGs.

Just as with the MDGs, the SDGs have not gone without criticism. However, organizations – like Half of Humanity (HoH) – are doing vital work to help chip away at the SDGs. More specifically, Half of Humanity is supporting SDG 5 which is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” and SDG 6 which is to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” HoH works towards these goals by providing Syrian refugees with culturally appropriate feminine hygiene products. By providing essential hygiene supplies, HoH is helping combat health risks and social stigma refugee women face every single month. Through focused efforts on a few SDGs at a time by organizations like Half of Humanity, the global community is one step closer to reaching its goals by 2030.

The HLPF and the SDGs

When looking at  the  High level political forum as a body for monitoring and implementation for the Sustainable Development Goals, a notable aspect that should be highlighted is its inclusion of the Major Groups Framework (MGOS). The Major Groups Framework served to formalize the participation of the nine major groups and other stakeholders in the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals. The inclusion of MGOS not only created a more inclusive and participatory forum, but also encourages the other stakeholders, such as persons with  disabilities, to autonomously establish and maintain effective coordination mechanisms for participation in the HLPF at the global, regional and national  levels, ensuring effective, broad and balanced participation by region and by type of organization.

By formalizing multi-stakeholder partnerships, and giving the major groups a formalized space to make contributions and recommendations, the MGOS framework has laid important groundwork for achieving Sustainable Development Goat #17, to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. Many of the multi-stakeholder partnership indicators for goal 17 align with the roles and responsibilities of representatives of the major groups.
Indicator 17.16 focuses on  mobilizing and sharing knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals in all countries, in particular developing countries. The MGOS framework works to fulfill this indicator as all representatives and stakeholders attend all official forum meetings where they  have access to all official information and documents, can intervene in official meetings, submit documents and present written and oral contributions, and make recommendations all of which facilitate the aforementioned knowledge sharing and exchange of expertise.  Indicator  17.16.1 addresses the number of countries reporting progress in multi-stakeholder development effectiveness monitoring frameworks that support the achievement of the sustainable development goals, thus incentivizing  individual state support for the MGOS framework at the domestic level.  Lastly,  indicator 17.17 encourages and promotes effective public, public private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships. This indicator is mirrors the multi-stakeholder partnerships at work in the MGOs framework as their are major groups such as local authorities representing public sector, business and industry representing the private sector  and non-governmental organizations representing civil society. UN DESA acknowledges the importances of the MGOS within the HLPF as major groups and other stakeholders have played a significant role in the process to formulate the universal and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs that are at its core.

ICTs and Sustainable Development

The fast pace growth of information and communications technology has allowed the world to advance at rapid speeds, yet at the same time, those left behind are quickly falling behind and suffering the consequences. This phenomenon is known today as the “digital divide” and it was first internationally recognized when the Mainland Report was published in 1985. The report highlights the huge imbalance in telephone access between the developed and developing countries and makes it clear that this imbalance is intolerable for the healthy sustainable development of our world (Mainland Report). This telephone imbalance has expanded to include cellphones, computers, the Internet, etc., and with the increasing dependence on these technologies, it is crucial that this imbalance be corrected.

As we analyze the imbalance, whether at an international level or here in the U.S., certain areas and groups of the population are always disproportionately affected. Patterns show that rural areas, communities of minority groups and areas with low economic activity suffer from lack of access to ICTs that other parts enjoy and depend on to thrive (Falling Through The Net). This lack of access further isolates these communities and inhibits people from making the proper decisions because they have inadequate information with which to make their choices (Class Lecture). With the example of the more developed countries, it is easier for those trying to catch up to follow the leapfrog model of development, yet this does not mean that it is in anyway easier to help those left behind catch up. Cutting down the access gap and improving the penetration of ICTs has been a prominent issue in development as of recently and certain international agreements have been made to help work towards this goal. Out of the World Summit on Information Society, convened by the UN, came the Geneva Declaration of Principles that declares a commitment to building a more people-centered, inclusive and development oriented information society where everyone can create, access, utilize and share information and knowledge, enabling individuals and communities to achieve their full potential and promote their sustainable development and quality of life (Geneva Declaration of Principles). Many steps have been taken by the international community to not only improve access but also to harness that access and use it to promote sustainable development goals. Linking these two is crucial for the future.

However, there are many challenges that impede the proper implementation of this plan. One of the clearest obstacles is access to electricity because without proper access to this amenity first, it is impossible to provide access to ICTs. However, there are other challenges that are less obvious and more intricate. One of these deals with indigenous communities and ICTs. While on the one hand it is important to include these communities into the global net, on the other hand, it is important to respect their traditions and land and not forcefully make them change in order to fit into our modern world. This is a highly sensitive and debated topic that must be addressed as we work towards creating a highly connected technological world.