ICTs and Sustainable Development

ICTs continue to play a role in the development sector in their goal of providing equal access to technological services. In Falling Through the Net, we understand how the core goal of US telecommunications policy involves universal service and equal access for everyone. Our class discusses the National Information Infrastructure (NII) along with the Global Information Infrastructure (GII). As described by its website, The Global Information Infrastructure Commission is an “independent, non-governmental initiative involving leaders from developing as well as industrialized countries.” The website also describes four important factors in ICTs for development:

  1. Developing as well as industrialized countries have a high stake in information infrastructure development;
  2. The burdens and opportunities of developing information infrastructure are shifting away from governments to the private sector;
  3. Private sector insights and foresights are essential to shaping policies that are effective in implementing information infrastructure that is economical and safe; and
  4. The policy challenges, as well as the markets for information infrastructure, are truly global in scope.

Much of what we learned from this week serves as very useful in providing a conceptual framework to the ICT aspect of my final project. In assessing the landscape for ICT4D research, I found Gerard C. Raiti’s article, “The Lost Sheep of ICT4D Research,” as useful in providing a realistic outlook into the future of ICT4D research and an analysis of its shortcoming. His research is also included in my review of relevant literature as he explains how “information communication technologies for development (ICT4D) is a new field of study that contains few grand theories compared to other areas of social science” (1). Raiti recommends the creation of a global summit on ICT4D and more grand theories. He describes how the flaws involving ICT4D research and literature involve an “overly optimistic, highly Western, multidisciplinary, and atheoretical” (1). In addition, ICT4D has so far failed to extensively draw on a breadth of research in other fields such as media and communications studies. Many of the authors in the field do not have actual knowledge of ICT literature, but are more experts on development. For this reason, the ICT4D literature struggles in terms of finding its direction. Raiti argues the importance of developing multidisciplinary partners to reform the approach to ICT4D research. This can be done by combining the plethora of ICT literature available. He identifies how:

– there is no “magic bullet” or “hypodermic needle” of ICT4D impact

– ICT4D will not provide food, clean water, affordable health care, civil rights or peace

– Media power and significance should still not be downplayed

– Technologies that facilitate communications increase people’s ability to learn and interact

– Communication allows information to spread across time and space at faster and faster rates

Smart Cities, Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

As discussed in class, the draft of the outcome document was adopted at the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador in October 2016. The mission of the Habitat III conference entailed the adoption of a New Urban Agenda in which an action oriented document will help set standards of actual achievement in sustainable urban development.

In particular, it is interesting to note the continuing impact of urbanization on communities worldwide when it comes to poverty reduction. As described in class, this has been a trend seen throughout modern histories and Habitat III opens a medium for governments to respond to this development opportunity. By implementing a practical system for cities, towns and national planning objectives, these aspects can all be interconnected to help contribute in driving social development. Another important aspect of Habitat III is regarding its inclusivity as it places focus on all levels of human settlements:

  1. Small rural communities
  2. Villages
  3. Market towns
  4. Intermediate cities
  5. Metropolises for demographic and economic growth

Habitat III serves as an integral role in my Umande Trust Media and Communication Initiative in strategizing the role of the international community in alleviating poverty and increasing inclusivity in informal settlements through information access. As described in the draft outcome, this century will see a substantial majority of the world’s population living in urban centers. In addition, “by 2050, the world’s urban population is expected to nearly double, making urbanization one of the twenty-first century’s most transformative trends” (3). As a result, this “poses massive sustainability challenges in terms of housing, infrastructure, basic services, food security, health, education, decent jobs, safety and natural resources, among others” (3). The outcome emphasizes the importance of the need to “take advantage of the opportunities presented by urbanization as an engine of sustained and inclusive economic growth, social and cultural development, and of its potential contributions to the achievement of transformative and sustainable development” (3).

With the focus of my project being the informal settlement of Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, Habitat III places the necessary framework in understanding the factors behind the flaws in Kenyan national policy and inaction towards the nation’s informal settlements. In addition, implementing the Urban Agenda means respecting the rule of law. Without the rule of law, settlements such as Kibera will not be able to experience proper urbanization. In addition to urban rules and regulations, planning and design are integral. As we learned in class, the development of settlements such as Kibera depends on the ability for the adequate provision of common goods such as streets and open spaces. In addition, municipal finance means that management and maintenance is conducted in a proper manner.

SDG Overview and the High-Level Political Forum

As outlined by the UN Sustainable Development website, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.” Moreover, it emphasizes the importance of how “all countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan.” The goals and targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focus in particular on:

  1. People
  2. Planet
  3. Peace
  4. Partnership

One of the most important areas in the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is regarding the means of implementation. The Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform focuses on “solidarity with the poorest and with people in vulnerable situations.” In terms of engagement, the platform explains how “it will facilitate an intensive global engagement in support of implementation of all the Goals and targets, bringing together Governments, the private sector, civil society, the United Nations system and other actors and mobilizing all available resources.”

My project addresses and seeks to target the following Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs):

  • SDG 6 Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
    • b Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management
  • SDG 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
    • 1 By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
    • 7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities

As described in the platform, engagement between all levels is key for these Sustainable Development Goals and targets to be met. In the case of Kibera, it is important to assess whether engagement is currently at the appropriate level. In looking at the engagement between Kenyan government and civil society, there is definitely room for improvement. In one important article in my relevant literature, Understanding the Grassroots Dynamics of Slums in Nairobi: The Dilemma of Kibera Informal Settlements, we are given insight into the government negligence in its engaging with Kenyan informal settlements, which are part of Kenyan civil society. In fact, engagement becomes almost impossible since the government had for the longest time deemed settlements as illegal. As a result, the government would provoke conflict through the conducting of actions such as forced evictions. There is a strong framework in addressing key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but practical implementation faces some several challenges because of systemic flaws in engagement posing a risk to the means of implementation.

What is Development?

In terms of how we look at “development,” it is integral to take into consideration the many current frameworks and theories. In the context of international development today, we see how the field is constantly changing. These alterations can be traced to multiple intertwined factors that at the same time foster their own impact on the development arena. We see how our environment can impact the food security and agricultural production of an entire nation. Or how an international sanction can endanger a country’s economic development. Foreign aid can help, but also hinder a nation. With such topics all having their own roles in the sector, identifying the best approach appears to be tricky. This is why we need to determine what should serve as a platform or foundation for international development. As discussed in class, Amartya Sen’s Development As Freedom highlights how development consists of choices involve where you live and how you decide to live along with the totality of a developed society. In terms of long-term major structural changes, Sen explains how these do not take place quick or may not even occur at all.

We see the practical exemplification of theory in development through the dependency theory. In this theory, there is a form of labor internationally divided between countries. Moreover, we have two sets of nations: the core and the periphery. In terms of industry, the core dominates. The periphery has cheap labor and agriculture that is exploited, expropriated and then appropriated by the core for their own economic benefit and gains. In each country, there is a clear divide between the rich and the poor and elites cooperate across national divisions to maintain this system. All of this exists in a larger international system under global capitalism. Under this theory, the system is geared towards solely benefiting the wealthy. Through this flow of development, we see how developing nations mainly consist of the regions. We can include nations in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia in this category. Those nations in the core include those in North America, Europe and in many cases China. These nations consisting of the core utilize the resources available in the periphery with little respect for the rule of law of human rights in these nations. In the case of many African nations, China has become a beacon for trade and investment. Due to the Chinese, development has been rampant across the continent in areas such as ICT development, infrastructure and economic development.

The Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Sustainable Development

According to USAID, The Grand Challenges for Development initiative is based on two integral beliefs about international development which include:

 

  • “Science and technology, when applied appropriately, can have transformational effects; and
  • Engaging the world in the quest for solutions is critical to instigating breakthrough progress”

 

In addition, these grand challenges place “global attention and resources on specific, well-defined international development problems, and promote innovative approaches, processes and solutions to solving them.” We understand how USAID describes their approach as engaging with “non-traditional solvers such as businesses, researchers, and scientists around critical development problems in a variety of ways through partnerships, prizes, challenges grant funding, crowdsourcing, and more to identify innovations that work.”

Moreover, USAID places eight Grand Challenges for Development:

  1. Scaling Off-Grid Energy: A Grand Challenge for Development
  2. Combating Zika and Future Threats
  3. Fighting Ebola
  4. Securing Water for Food
  5. Saving Lives at Birth
  6. All Children Reading
  7. Powering Agriculture
  8. Making All Voices Count

The second and eighth areas are both integral in my final project with the Kenyan non-governmental organization Umande Trust. The organization focuses on access to water rights and sanitation while working to improve the livelihoods of community members in the informal settlement of Kibera. Their work highly relies on sustainability and connects well to the work of USAID in terms of “looking for scientific and technological innovations to more effectively use and manage the water required to produce food in developing and emerging countries.” The USAID deems three areas as “critical to reducing water scarcity in the food value chain:”

  1. Water reuse and efficiency
  2. Water capture and storage, and
  3. Salinity

Umande Trust partners with Bankable Frontiers, a strategic international private sector consultancy firm to create The Bio-Center Initiative has currently installed over 52 bio-centers which serve as service points which helped to improve access to affordable sanitation, convert waste into biogas and fertilizer for urban greening along with providing income generation and access to information to community-based enterprises.

The Bio-Center Initiative combines the resources of a civil society agency, Umande Trust, and Bankable Frontiers, a strategic international private sector consultancy firm, to create and improve bio-centers in Nairobi and Kisumu. These 52+ bio-centers serve as multi-purpose service points, designed to improve access to decent and affordable sanitation, convert human waste into clean energy (biogas) and fertilizer for urban greening, and provide income generation and access to information to community-based enterprises.

Multistakeholder Internet Governance

What is Internet governance and who exactly governs the Internet? These are the issues we grappled with in our class discussion about multistakeholder Internet governance. Internet governance is complex. The Internet is not owned by a single entity; there is no global government in charge of the Internet. Instead, multiple stakeholders govern the Internet through various means including the IGF and ICANN.

As highlighted in class, the concept of Internet governance arose after the first phase of WSIS in Geneva, Switzerland. This introduction of Internet governance allowed for the creation of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). As mentioned on its’ website, the IGF is a “multistakeholder platform that facilitates the discussion of public policy issues pertaining to the Internet.” Further, the IGF “serves to bring people together from various stakeholder groups as equals, in discussions on public policy issues relating to the Internet.”

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) also governs the Internet utilizing a multistakeholder governance framework. According to its’ website, ICANN is a “not-for-profit partnership of people from all over the world keeping the Internet secure, stable, and interoperable.”

Because the Internet has no boundaries, it is my opinion that the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance is highly beneficial. The Internet should not be owned or regulated by one entity, organization, or nation. This would give far too much power to one entity, and would be counterintuitive in the movement toward inclusive sustainable development.

According to “Internet Governance – Why the Multistakeholder Approach Works,” the multistakeholder governance framework is informed by (1) open-ended unleashed innovation, (2) decentralized governance institutions, and (3) open and inclusive processes. I believe that this framework is highly important, especially regarding the inclusiveness and transparency, collective responsibility, and effective decision-making and implementation measures of the multistakeholder governance framework. This framework allows for the participation of the international community in addressing a very critical need – access to the Internet. As access to ICTs increases in bridging the “digital-divide”, Internet governance will continue to be a predominant issue, especially with the addition of new stakeholders.

ICTs and Inclusive Sustainable Development

Information and communications technology (ICTs) is a broad umbrella term focused on technology including radios, computers, phones, hardware, software etc. ICT’s play an integral role in the movement toward inclusive sustainable development, specifically in tackling the grand challenge of the “digital divide.” ICTs allow for increased accessibility, as well as inclusivity. They are crosscutting and play highly beneficial roles in a multitude of grand challenges, specifically disaster risk management and education, in addition to the digital-divide.

The “Maitland Commission Report” by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) played an integral role in the discovery of the “digital divide.” The report, otherwise known as “the Missing Link,” highlighted the disparity between developed and developing nations in regards to telephone access. The report made an important connection among the availability of telecommunication infrastructure and economic growth, and aimed to fix this disparity among nations. “The Maitland Commission Report” was the first that advocated for the importance of universal and equal access to information and communications technology. The movement toward achieving universal access of ICT’s was continued by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in a report entitled “Falling through the Net,” The NTIA discovered a significant digital divide among the “haves” and the “have nots” in the United States, in regards to Internet accessibility.

Both the “Maitland Commission Report” and “Falling through the Net” set the stage for the introduction of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The Summit was held in two phases; phase one took place in Geneva and phase two took place in Tunis. Both focused on the effectiveness of ICTs as a means to achieve development. Specifically, the WSIS+10 document highlights the importance of multistakeholder partnerships in the effort toward bridging the ICT gap.

As mentioned earlier, ICT’s play an integral role in the “digital divide.” Although it is hard to imagine our world without the Internet, this imagination is a reality for a large portion of the world. This imagination is even a reality for a considerable portion of the United States. Providing equal and universal access to ICT’s bridges the digital divide. However, this is an increasingly challenging task. As mentioned in WSIS+10, in order to move toward bridging the ICT gap, a multistakeholder approach is necessary. However, providing equal and universal access to ICTs within an inclusive sustainable development context, will be very challenging.

Multistakeholder Internet Governance and Sustainable Development

Multistakeholder Internet Governance and Sustainable Development by Ines Renique

Privatizing telecommunications— how do you decide who to sell to? Do you pick the highest bidder or pick the one that produces the highest quality, arguable a subject measure? This is a class discussion I wanted to look further into afterwards as it is a curious subject.

I looked into ICANN, which was formerly under the U.S. Department of Commerce and has now taken the responsibility to represent a multitude of global interests to ensure transparent and open Internet across national borders.

The cost of giving up these controlling mechanisms is hard, especially for the U.S., which has previously had significant control due to the Internet’s growth in the U.S. The transfer of powers is criticized by elements in the national security branch of the U.S. government as it weakens the U.S. ability to protect itself against cyber attacks.

Ultimately, the dangers of having a non-profit in control of the Internet has to do with the reliability of having the same priorities, and resources to pursue threats to U.S. national security. The heightened frequency of these threats, as seen throughout the U.S. presidential election is certainly a cause of concern for U.S. politicians, since cyber security will most likely remain a matter of strictly national security in the near future.

The decision, however, is a step towards the right direction regardless of the costs. If the U.S. keeps control of its systems, it would have undermined the development of the ICANN, and made other countries reluctant towards the U.S. ability to cooperate to the make the Internet a truly global playing field.

  

ICTs and Multistakeholderism

The Internet is increasingly becoming the leading communication and information tool around the world, especially with younger generations. It seems that more and more of my own personal interactions include the line, “Do you have a Facebook?”. Beyond personal interactions, my studies and the studies of my friends all seem to begin with “Googling” the topic at hand. With more and more people, of all ages and backgrounds, depending on the Internet as their primary way to stay connected and informed, it is important that the global community recognizes it as such.

In 2003, the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was held in response to the growing use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Between the first phase and the second phase (in 2005), the concept of Internet governance emerged, which would lead to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Both WSIS and IGF took or have taken (respectively) multistakeholder approaches. Considering that the Internet is a global tool with no real owner and no real global barriers to participation, it is important that multistakeholdersim methods are involved in decisions and discussions regarding the Internet. To clarify, multistakeholderism is basically an approach that involves any or all– if even possible– relevant stakeholders with various backgrounds so as to yield the most inclusive plans possible.

As noted in other blog topics, the inclusion of multiple stakeholders is a great step for international agenda making but remains to be limited due to disproportionate resources between countries, organizations, and stakeholder groups. However, ICTs represent the potential to reduce these differences and barriers to partaking by providing tools that facilitate participation by reducing costs (i.e. travel), reducing physical barriers (for PWDs that may not be able to access the event because of sites with poor design), addressing time differences (by using recordings to allow people in different time zones or with different schedules to see what they missed), and through other means. Some of these tools were seen in action at the recent Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, where live streaming, recorded sessions, and social media where just some of the various ways the UN tried and mostly succeeded in expanding participation and involvement in the conference.

It is exciting to be in the field of development at this time where ICTs are increasingly advancing and becoming available to more and more segments of the global population, while, concurrently, international decision-making processes are becoming more and more diverse. The recent uses of ICTs to increase participation and expand development processes to previously excluded groups is an exciting step in the right direction towards inclusive and successful development practices.

Development Theory

Development theory is an exceedingly important aspect of IR theory. Development theory explores what can be defined as development and why the concept of development is important to begin with. Predictably, the answer to the question, What can be defined as development? is not as simple as it may seem. In fact, the concept of development as a whole is often criticized because it seems to paint western society as an ideal should be striven for or as the pinnacle of what can be achieved from a society. According to people who subscribe to such an argument, the very term “developed” and therefore “development” alludes to some fixed point or measure that has been established by western society and ideals. However, beyond the critiques of the study of development as a whole, a complex debate on what constitutes development and how development can be achieved also exists. As with any debate of this magnitude, there are copious amounts of literature pertaining to development theory. This class explored primarily the work of Amartya Sen and the lens through which he perceives and discusses development.

As Amartya Sen explains in his book, “Development as Freedom,” he perceives development as, “… A process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.” He goes on later to explain in his book that, “Development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or over-activity of repressive states.” In short, Sen perceives development as access to real freedoms that can only exist when tyranny and poverty are eliminated. Sen’s perspectives on development have shaped how other scholars perceive development as well.

Understanding Sen’s definition of development, and the many other perspectives on development are essential to understanding the subject as whole. As is to be expected, perceptions of what development is and how it can be accomplish profoundly shape the approach that the international community takes to addressing the issue of development as a whole. During a time when many new international agreements and goals are emerging pertaining to development, it is more important than ever to fully understand what development means and the various scholarly opinions surrounding the subject. Only then can one formulate their own opinions on what are effective means to achieving development and what types of policies should be implemented.