Development & its freedoms

What is “development”? How do we know if a country is “developed”? Who decides that a country is “underdeveloped”? Is development a short term or a long term process? All of these questions are difficult to answer in simple, clean, and concise answers. However, there are leaders in the field – such as Amartya Sen – who offer valuable and irreplaceable insights into the field that build on and move past traditional conceptions of development.

If we look at history, development as a field of practice has gone through cycles. Post-World War II, development was seen as a long-term process with emphasis on economic institutions and having nation’s shift from agrarian economies to industrial economies (Sumner). Since the 1990s, development has taken a much shorter-term view focusing on policy objectives and performance indicators (Sumner). In addition, the scope of development work has shifted from just focusing on “Third World” nations to focusing on newly industrialized countries (NICs), middle income countries (MICs) and low income countries under stress (LICUS) (Sumner). In short, as time has progressed development has become broader in scope and has grown from the traditional view of only looking at economic growth.

Development scholar Amartya Sen fits in nicely with the post-1990s, broader, more diverse view of development. Sen departs from the traditional notion that development should be entirely economic in nature in his book Development as Freedom published in 1999. Sen posits that development must remove “unfreedoms” that prevent people from having access to crucial freedoms, including economic opportunities, political freedoms, social facilities, transparency guarantees, and protective security (Sen). This shift from the economic prosperity, GDP model is huge. With Sen development became much more focused on the individual and their capacity to access freedoms.

I’ve personally had the privilege of interning with an organization that takes the “freedom” approach to international development. I worked for the International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) for about six months and was amazed at how inclusive IFES is when creating programs to increase participation globally in elections and democratic processes. In addition, IFES has a publication, in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), titled “Equal Access: How to Include Persons with Disabilities in Elections and Political Processes.” By ensuring that PWDs are not excluded from exercising Sen’s political freedom, IFES is actively working to push this post-1990s, human oriented view of development that is so crucial moving forward.

ICTs and Capacity Building

Bridging the so-called “digital divide” that has resulted from the gap in information and communications technology between developed and lesser developed communities is one of the Grand Challenges facing modern society. The Report of the Independent Commission for World Wide Telecommunications Development suggests that  other Grand Challenges have taken precedence over telecommunications development. However, there have been improvements in international commitments to increase access to ITCs.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)+10 Outcome Document outlines measurements of implementing policies focused on expanding communications infrastructure and access. These policies were decided during the 2003 and 2005 conferences, and represent a “common vision on the information society.” It seems to be widely accepted now that telecommunications should be just as crucial of an element in development as topics which attract more attention – such as agriculture and clean water policies. The WISIS+10 document emphasizes the creation of partnerships to overcome this Grand Challenge of ITC disparities. Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and Multi-Sector Partnerships (MSP) are the two which are directly mentioned in the document. One key partnership which is less highlighted, however, is that between ITCs and energy companies.

It goes without saying that electricity is necessary for making use of modern communications technology. Although, while a concern for capacity building is articulated in the WSIS+10 documents and other ITC related policies, it should also be noted that there is a potential for ITC development to compliment alternative energy development. Communities that lack affordable energy cannot even begin to think of advancing their communication infrastructure. What is more, access to energy must increase in order to expand access to the information society. The clear link between these two Grand Challenges demonstrates the need for partnership between their respective communities.

ICTs and Inclusive Sustainable Development

The role of technology and how information can be exchanged plays a crucial role on how interconnected are developing and developed nations to the rest of the world. When there is a missing link, this can cause the flow of information to barely occur or not occur at all. To take precaution, the Independent Commission for World-Wide Telecommunications Development was established under the ITU. By having this commission created, the members were able to identify any type of obstacle that hindered the expansions of telecommunications (Maitland Report). It is very important for nations to have available and accessible the necessary infrastructure and telecommunication services for there to be a chance for them to grow economically, politically and socially.

Unfortunately, there is a gap through which many nations are falling through when dealing with digital inclusion. A variety of factors create the disparities that developing nations have to face, from their geography up to whether or not they have a service provider that gives them sufficient amount of data to be able to be included within the digital world. The lack of access to electronic services suggests that governments have not incentivize the use of internet access or even that the private sector has not taken any initiatives, especially since they play an important role in addressing discrepancies. We must be able to empower those that are disadvantaged, and sadly, the developing worlds are the ones that face the most of these disadvantages.

The creation of WSIS gave developing and developed nations the opportunity to bridge the digital divide that existed globally. This established goals and targets, that should be met and implemented, so that Internet access could spread around the globe. WSIS is the first two-part conference that I have heard about. Within each of them working groups were created to make sure that any obstacles they would come across on would be dealt with to continue bridging the gap with the digital divide. Most of these working groups still exist today and play a crucial role in making sure that developing countries are not being left behind in regards to technological advances. It is difficult for every person in every country to have access to the Internet, especially because each community faces obstacles which make it impossible for them to gain access.

This global initiative for inclusive information and communication technologies is a big step in bridging any gaps that countries fall through. Being able to communicate internationally with various nations will establish the path to take to make sure the missing link is found and implemented.


Smart Cities, Habitat III and New Urban Agenda

What is a Smart City? This part of the class discussion gave us the opportunity to realize what makes a city “smart” in regards to how they treat their community and what they do to be as inclusive as possible. A smart city should be one that is able to support its entire community and be able to supply all of the necessities that every member should have. I was never aware about the previous Habitats that were created. It is interesting to know how Habitat III is doing as much as it can to stimulate its commitment towards the sustainable development of different types of housings. The goals that Habitat III have established give those involved in it the opportunity to play an important role in the implementation of the different goals and targets. Even though the conference will be expansive, this gives the multi-stakeholders, including local-government authorities, the opportunity to strengthen their roles in furthering the new urban agenda.

Our interaction with the environment and our surroundings help us better understand and conceptualize the “spectrum of capabilities and functions” that can help us recognize the “enabling or disabling powers of physical space” (Pineda). Pineda’s article, Enabling Justice: Spatializing Disability in the Built Environment, sheds light on how people with disabilities are not part of the “inclusive city” lifestyle. Sustainable urban development should include every single person and all of their needs. If the cities give people with disabilities the opportunities they need to be able to thrive independently, that makes them one step closer in total inclusiveness. Everyone needs the necessary space to thrive in.

A number of cities have taken steps to eliminate and eradicate any areas that can hinder the abilities for the place to develop. The Asian Development Bank article gave a great example of how taking part of the elimination process of unnecessary areas can actually cause more “disruption than anything else” (ADB). Forcing people to relocate from their homes can make them feel hopeless, especially if they are in a foreign environment. This creates problems for the number of people that wish to improve their lifestyles. To be a smart city, it should take the initiative of including every single one of their inhabitants without negatively affecting their lives and lifestyle. This urban development vision, if worked on properly, can positively impact a number of different communities that will give every person the chance they deserve to thrive.

Embracing the urbanization at all levels of human settlements can bridge the gap between the inclusiveness of developed and developing countries. Granted, not all developed countries have smart/inclusive cities to enhance inclusiveness, but they are much closer than developing countries. That is why it is very important that developed countries set the standards of inclusive cities for developing countries. To achieve sustainable development, we all must pay attention to the quality of outcomes that are dependent on the set of rules and regulations that will allow them to be implemented. It is crucial that local systems are effective in managing and keeping up with the maintenance of all the different aspects that together create an inclusive city and a new outlook on housing and urban development.