HLPF not there yet

Understanding the stigmas and disenfranchisement that disabled people have been faced with over centuries of civilization adds context to the current movements to advocate for their rights and equal treatment. Rimmerman helps bring some of the struggles of disabled people to light by demonstrating how religious beliefs have characterized this population, specifically Christianity through the Bible and Islam through the Qur’an. According to Rimmerman, “we cannot understand disability without knowing the way that humanity treated people with physical and mental impairments throughout history” (9). This author highlights a paradox mentioned in the Bible which is relevant to how society approaches people with disabilities in modern day. Persons with disabilities were seen as blemished and unworthy of God, yet it is recognized that society has an obligation to remove obstacles for them (10). Isolation of people with disabilities was seen as a paradox to be managed rather than a problem to be solved. Although this aspect of religious culture is not widely emphasized in mainstream society today, the disenfranchisement of people with disability has still been treated as a misfortune to manage rather than a problem that has a solution.

After centuries of facing cultural stigmatization- and even systematic removal through euthanasia (18-19) – we are finally reaching an era where people with disabilities have advocacy for equal rights and inclusion. Civil rights protection for persons with disabilities wasn’t a major issue until the 20th century in America (20); and even then, important movements such as the MDGs lacked specific language advocating for persons with disabilities. We are just now starting to see advocacy for disability inclusive development. Amartya Sen’s revolutionary theory in Development as Freedom is one key element of the change in perspective that allowed people with disabilities to gain recognition. Measuring development in terms of capabilities and access to choices is the cornerstone of Sen’s theory. In addition, he talks about people’s actions being productively complimentary – in other words, the unintended consequence of acting to benefit oneself benefits everyone (255-56). This idea is not unique to Sen. He even cited Adam Smith in his writing. Notwithstanding, the effects of unintended consequences can be interpreted positively or negatively, especially in context of advocacy for disenfranchised groups. The way I see it, the unintended consequence idea is the best advocate for getting the public interested in disability inclusive development because it appeals to human selfish nature, but in a way that suggests it is productive for an individual to empower another individual to participate.

Empowering participation is becoming more relevant to development discourse of late. One of the key movements to thank for this is the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders framework (MGoS). The first United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 recognized that all sectors of society need to be engaged in development discussions in order to develop sustainable solutions to grand challenges. Since then, the nine major groups were officiated. However, people with disabilities still do not have recognition as a major group within this framework. The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) designed as a mechanism to oversee the implementation of the SDGs is inaccessible to delegates who are not a member of one of the organized major groups. This conference, which is boasted as the most inclusive political forum at the UN, does not invite participation for advocates for people with disabilities. This goes to show that while there have been monumental successes in terms of disability inclusive development awareness, there is still a long way to go before the SDGs in regards to disability are met.

Development Theory

In Amartya Sen’s book Development as Freedom he discusses the theory behind development on a global scale. Sen concludes that freedom and development are intertwined. Development can only be achieved by expanding the true freedoms that people experience. Freedom for Sen depends on a number of factors. Freedom means opening up social and economic opportunities for people, ensuring the preservation or granting of political and civil rights, and depends in large part on industrialization and technological progress.  Development requires removing the “unfreedoms” the people are subjected to. These unfreedoms include poverty, lack of economic opportunities, systematic social deprivation, lack of participation and representation in governance, and lack of access to health and education. These unfreedoms hinder development and as long as they are perpetuated sustainable development will be impossible.

A lack of access to health resources is essential because is people cannot meet their basic needs for survival than any sort of progress in other areas is unachievable. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs illustrates it perfectly in that if one cannot meet their needs at one level it is impossible to advance to the next level. Education is also essential to increasing literacy rates as well as economic opportunities. The freedoms being outlined are not separate freedoms but are interconnected at many levels. Education leads to literacy and literacy can give people the opportunity to increase their participation in political and civil matters. Education can create better economic opportunities for people which in turn can better the social conditions and access to resources. Social and political freedoms often give rise to economic freedoms. The various freedoms strengthen one another and create a network of freedoms that hold one another up and allow the country to develop.

Furthering sustainable development requires participation by multiple actors. First and arguably the most crucial is state level action. The state is essential to creating policy that will further development for its people. But states alone cannot pull themselves into a developed nation. Economic opportunities require input from industry and corporations to provide jobs and to bring capital into the country. A country cannot be considered developed without the political participation of the citizens of the state. Fair and equal voting free from tampering is one of the signifying features of a developed state.

Grand Challenges

Grand Challenges, as defined by Lewis Branscomb, are “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution” (Branscomb). These issues plague society on a global scale and require a collaboration of ideas and disciplines to solve them. A number of issues can be considered grand challenges in the field of sustainable development. Since by nature grand challenges are intersectional, these issues are also challenges in many other fields. According to USAID there are eight grand challenges for development. They are: scaling off grid energy, combating zika, combating ebola, water security, reducing birth deaths, literacy, agriculture, and increasing political representation.

Both the Branscomb reading and the USAID reading discuss the ways in which we can address grand challenges and both reach the conclusion that science is key but science alone is not enough. Branscomb escribes how research into this issues simply has not been sufficient in solving these problems because science cannot be guided by a mere “invisible hand,” The goal of science is not to solve this issues, so without outside influence, how can we expect science to do so? Both readings agree that the best way to help science solve this issues is to steer science with policy. Policies, on a global and domestic level, must be tailored to addressing grand challenges and presenting solutions.

A key aspect of solving these issues is engaging the public to receive their interest and support. If these challenges are great enough, the solutions are ones that can change the face of the world for the better. Capturing the imagination of the common person is critical to creating policy focused on science and technology.

As I mentioned previously, grand challenges affect a variety of fields and areas of interest. Therefore the approach to solving them must be multidisciplinary. A governmental solution alone is not enough to address these issues. Global governance has long been the primary method by which global issues are solved but increasingly the private sector and non-governmental organizations have begun to play a more significant role in affecting change. To solve grand challenges will take input from transnational corporations, industry, non-governmental organizations, states, scientists, and a variety of other parties. These challenges create a number of stakeholders and thus challenges would be more easily solved by multistakeholder governance.

Efficacy of Global Frameworks

Introduced in 2000, the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) committed the world to reducing extreme poverty and its many dimensions by the year 2015. In the span of 15 years, significant progress has been made on all of the eight goals, but at times disproportionately. According to the Millennial Project, “there are huge disparities across and within countries” with rural areas still experiencing much of the brunt of poverty although urban poverty is also extensive. The MDGs were in part a successful step towards bringing the world together to focus on necessary development targets but they received criticisms in certain regards both in terms of conception and design. To begin with, a conceptual problem was the fact that each goal specifies a required outcome while not laying out a plan of action for the process that will help achieve the desired results (Reading week 1). Furthermore, another conceptual issue was that in the goals there is no reference to the initial conditions of each target, so that made difficult the ultimate analysis to measure their success (Reading Week 1). In terms of design, the MDGs have 8 goals, 21 targets and 60 indicators, creating a multiplicity of objectives that complicated the completion of objectives (Reading Week 1). Despite these complications, the biggest issue with the MDGs is that they did not include people with disabilities. Given that about 15% of the world population has disabilities, that is a significant portion of the population that is missing out entirely from any type of help.

Although the MDGs had several weaknesses, they led the way for better, more focused goals. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) came into effect in January 2016 to replace the MDGs and advance where they fell short. There are 17 SDGs but there is also a larger agenda that focuses on people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership, just just poverty. Furthermore, a big improvement and step forward in development is the fact that there are 11 references to people with disabilities in the SDGs. Although it is still too soon to make any concrete analysis of the SDGs, it is already quite noticeable that they will be much more inclusive and that more portions of the population will greatly benefit from them.

Besides the SDGs, many international frameworks in the field of development are increasingly looking to ensure that Persons With Disabilities (PWD) are actively included. For example, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), is an international treaty that requires parties to the convention to promote, protect, and ensure the rights of persons with disabilities to enjoy full equality under the law. With this as a basis, several other international frameworks are addressing the issue and including disadvantaged groups into their official language. The future of development is looking promising. The frameworks being created appear more and more likely to follow through on their commitments and disadvantaged groups are becoming more included. Although there is a lot of work to be done, there is much progress being made that looks very promising.


When dealing with intersectionality, we have to take into consideration the different social categorizations like race, gender and even class.  It is important to understand how each category interacts with one another. The different intersections each create a form of framework that impact different people around the world. Among the multi-stakeholders of the major framework groups of sustainable development, intersectionality is not a widely discussed topic. Even worse, a number of people are not aware that the SDGs and MDGs were created to enhance development projects across the world in both developed and developing countries.

As discussed previously in class, sustainable development is an on going project that seeks to better the engagement of nation leaders and community leaders within every country. We all face multiple threats. The Major Framework Groups all face discrimination and threats that halter their development possibilities. Discrimination overlaps so even if the international community is dealing with different development strategies to enhance separate aspects of it, denying the overlap can leave a number of groups, if not all, vulnerable. Using intersectionality entails valuing a certain type of approach to analysis, research and planning.

Intersectionality can be a tool for studying, understanding and responding to the ways in which gender intersects with other identities and how they can contribute to sustainable development. It is a theory used in the different groups to expose the different obstacles that each face. The different solutions that can being to arise can lead to there being a more inclusive and sustainable approach to addressing the number of intersections that each framework seeks to impact. Sustainability is at the intersection of almost every aspect of development. Each sector has a prominent role of enabling sustainable production, consumption, environmental and wildlife conservation, as stated in the “Side event to the Eighth Session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.” Because many people are not aware of the MDGs and the SDGs, a strategy that could be done to disseminate the targets of these goals is for a clear link to be established so that specific mechanisms can be put into place so that the intersectionality that exists between many of the groups can diminish, leaving behind their oppression, threats and even misappropriations (Side event to the Eighth Session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals).

Efficacy of Global Frameworks

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – introduced at the Millennium Summit in 2000 – have received a large amount of criticism and praise since their conclusion in 2015. In “The MDGs after 2015: Some Reflections on the Possibilities,” Deepak Nayyar provides an overview of arguments for and against the MDGs. On one hand, champions argue the MDGs are simple, straightforward, and offer a global framework that all nationals can come together on and work towards enhancing human development (p. 11). On the other hand, critics argue that the MDGs were too ambitious, focused too much on quantitative targets while ignoring qualitative results, and excluded many important groups – like persons with disabilities – and indigenous groups in developing nations (p. 6). In addition, many argue that the way the MDGs were formulated specified a “destination” – the targets – but not the “journey” – how individual nationals were to reach the targets. .

Even though the MDGs provided a global framework that did help pull some individuals out of poverty and bring rights – like primary education and clean water – to some communities, their biggest downfall is the exclusion of PWDs. It’s estimated that about 15% of the world’s population lives with some sort of disability – 650,000 million people – and that 80% of PWDs live in developing nations (Kett. et al, p. 649). According to “Disability, Development, and the Dawning of a New Convention,” the relationship between disability and poverty is a “negative cycle” meaning that poor people are more likely to become disabled and come disabled are more likely to fall even lower on the economic ladder (Kett. et al, p. 651). The MGDs run on the assumption that the means of economic growth will lead to human development (Khoo, p. 47). Therefore, if the MGDs exclude such a large, poverty stricken portion of the world, they’ve failed before they’ve begun. However, as we’ve discussed in class, there has been a resurgence of policy that not only includes PWDs but also pushes the envelope making global development much more localized and inclusive.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – which came into effect May 2008 – marks a landslide victory for PWD groups (Kett et al, p. 652). This is shown in the inclusion of PWDs in the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This inclusion shows that the international community is more than capable of becoming increasingly inclusive with each revision of the global development framework. It is extremely important moving forward with the SDGs that the international community is diligent and ensures all voices – from the local to the global – are heard and accounted for.

Inclusive Education

Education is necessary for every nation to thrive and prosper. However, there are times where it becomes difficult for every single child/person to receive the education they deserve and have the right to receive. Inclusive education is one of the fundamental priorities of the SDGs: universal primary education. There are a number of countries that, even though they claim to abide by inclusive education for all, students with disabilities or disadvantages are marginalized and are not given a second route to receive education. As the report “Opportunities for Students with Disabilities” mentions, we must be able to “build a bridge between the worlds of higher education policy and disability policy.” Accommodating each and every single student can be a hard process, especially if the school, or center, does not have the necessary tools, or professors, to manage the students’ needs accordingly. These barriers take away the numerous opportunities that these children can achieve.

Each student should be taught according to their individual preferences to make sure that their long-term inclusion into society can continue. Even though students with disabilities are protected by legal frameworks and policies there isn’t any legal guarantee that they will be given their appropriate education. Many of these students require certain transition services to be able to advance on to the next level of their education, whether it be elementary, primary, secondary and even tertiary education. It is unfortunate to know that in some occasions, students with disabilities who document their impediments, are looked over by faculty attitudes. This can be a great barrier within the academic field. Some faculty members are very ignorant about this type of situation and ultimately decide that they do not need to take into consideration any recommendations or suggestions from the number of administrators that help and manage the needs of students with disabilities.

Progressive inclusion is a supposed significant thread in American history. As of recently, persons with disabilities are staring to become “official” members of society who are becoming less marginalized and stigmatized. They are starting to be given a number or opportunities and chances that they did not have before and are excelling in ways that the international community praises. Although they might not have the intellectual capacity to fully participate in higher education, students with disabilities and their community take the responsibility to reduce as much as possible the educational gap that exists within the academic community.

Students with disabilities have as much of an opportunity to succeed in life and in their academic career as people with the capacity to excel academically without any impediments.

Multistakeholder Internet Governance

Internet governance (IG) is a term first coined by the 2005 meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). In short, IG is the ongoing development and application of procedures, norms, rules, and shared principles that guide the use and development of the internet. IG is especially challenging because – as several of my classmates have explained – the internet isn’t owned or controlled by any one nation but is extremely transnational in nature reaching every corner of the globe. The anarchic nature of the internet provides a unique set of challenges and opportunities for the international community.

One solution to internet governance is Multistakeholder Internet Governance put forth by the Internet Society (ISOC). In brief, the internet has a wide variety of stakeholders ranging from governments and corporations to non-profit organizations, students, and individuals. This approach attempts to leverage the unique perspectives of each group to create an “accountable, sustainable, and effective” solution to internet governance.  The multistakeholder approach – it must be noted – is not an end-all be-all solution to the challenges of internet governance in anarchy. Instead, the multistakeholder approach is a tool box of ideas based on the basis that individuals and organizations can and must participate alongside each other to create consensus based policy for the global community. By bringing together different groups from all over the world, any solutions are guaranteed to be flexible but yet strong if built upon a global consensus.

A great example of the multistakeholder model at work is NETmundial, a high level meeting on IG that was convened in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2014. The focus of this meeting was to create a road map for future development of global IG principles and best practices. This meeting focused on bringing together civil society, the private sector, academia, and the technical community to a platform built on participatory plurality. In short, NETmundial furthered the belief that internet governance shouldn’t exclude individuals and states but instead promote universal access, equal opportunity, and high quality internet access. This will then feed into and spark development and inclusion across the globe.

Even though the internet can be a powerful tool for development, the most notable criticism is that the global north tends to control IG institutions. For example, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is currently under contract and funded by the US government. The IANA is responsible for administering some unique internet identifiers (top-level domains like .uk and .com, Internet Protocol (IP) numbers, etc.). Because the internet is a transnational resource, it can be extremely problematic if one nation – the United States – controls an institution and has the power to exclude smaller national and non-government stakeholder groups.

Grand Challenges

Grand Challenges

While there is no universally accepted definition of “Grand Challenges”, a general understanding is that Grand Challenges are ongoing, vexing problems for society. They have no clear current solution, but there is a consensus that they can be solved. An integral concept of Grand Challenges is that they require interdisciplinary collaboration that brings together different disciplines, various stakeholders, and participation from both the private and public sector.

In his recap and reflection of Tom Kalil’s* presentation on Grand Challenges (GCs), author David Pescovitz outlines Kalil’s five attributes of GCs:

  1. GCs have a major impact in global domains like health, energy, sustainability, etc.
  2. GCs are “ambitious but achievable”
  3. GCs should be compelling and capture the public’s imagination
  4. GCs should be specific and provide guidance for how to move forward, with measurable targets and deadlines for completion; however, they should not be so narrowly defined that they limit creativity and opportunity for innovation
  5. GCs recognize the potential of technology and science in finding solutions, thus driving innovation and advancement in these fields

Grand Challenges have been proposed by various international and domestic organizations, ranging from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to the Department of Energy (DOE) to European Academics Science Advisory Council (EASAC). The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has the Grand Challenges for Development initiative that seeks to “focus global attention and resources on specific, well defined international development problems, and promote innovative approaches, processes and solutions to solving them.” This initiative echoes Kalil’s sentiments of Grand Challenges that promote the importance of integrating technology and science into problem solving methods and the universally accepted notion to engage “non-traditional solvers” by seeking partnerships with and offering other involvement mechanisms to external individuals and groups.

As a student of International Development, it is interesting to see how USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development dictate work being done in this field. For example, I am currently supporting the USAID-funded project, “Saving Maternity Homes (SMH) in Ghana”. While it is not directly linked to the Grand Challenge of “Saving Lives at Birth”, I think the SMH project shows the pervasiveness and relevance of these grand challenges. By defining a Grand Challenge, these organizations, in this case USAID, outline what issues most demand attention and shape what projects are carried out by other organizations in the field.

Grand Challenges are becoming increasingly important as today’s issues continue to affect the global population and call for collaboration between actors on all levels. However, it is also vital to recognize that too many Grand Challenges could deter participation and lessen the likeliness of solutions. So long as organizations continue to work together to determine these challenges and seek solutions, Grand Challenges will be strong motivators for action and progress.

*Tom Kalil is the Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Senior Advisor for Science, Technology and Innovation for the National Economic Council





ICTs and Sustainable Development

Information and communications technology (ICT) – as we discussed during seminar session 5 – play an extremely important role in sustainable development. From the Maitland Commission Report, “The Missing LInk,” to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and outcome documents from the World Summit in Information Society HIgh Level Meeting (WSIS+10) ICTs have had a well documented – but sometimes overlooked – role in inclusive, sustainable development.

In short, “The Missing Link” is a report from 1985 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which highlighted the stark global inequality around phone access. According to the report, in 1985, there were 600 million telephones and 75% – or 450 million – were concentrated in just nine countries (p. 3). This is problematic because – as we discussed and the report argues – access to telephone lines and other forms of technology are absolutely vital rools in cultural, economic, and social activity. The Maitland report highlights a number of scenarios where access to a telephone could have enhanced the lives of an individual or community (p. 7). For example, a banker needs a telephone to confirm the credit-ranking of a customer to approve a loan. If a telephone isn’t available and the loan is denied, that customer’s business may fail.

Building on “The Missing Link,” the development community has realized the importance of ICTs in sustainable development incorporating this principle into current strategies and policy. Nearly every SDG incorporates technology in some way. For example SDG 1 to end poverty states a key step will be to “appropriate new technology services” (p. 5). In addition, SDG 4, subgoal 7, states that ICTs will be vital to increasing school enrollment in developing states and African countries (p. 7). The WSIS+10 outcome document also highlights the importance of ICTs in sustainable development. More specifically, the outcome document reaffirms WSIS’s vision to “build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize, and share information and knowledge” (p. 2). In other words, WSIS clearly brings ICT development at the forefront of its work.

In sum, this week’s discussion and readings introduced and reaffirmed the need of inclusive strategies when it comes to the global digital divide. Landmark strategies, like the SDGs and WSIS+10 outcome documents, document the very real and growing presence of SDGs in development work. Even though there is currently massive inequality when it comes to ICTs, access to information and technology can serve as an important leveling factor when successfully incorporated into development strategies.