What is Development?

There are three perspectives on development often debated in the international community. The first considers development as the long-term process of structural change in the international system. Another refers to it as short to medium-term poverty reduction and MDGs. Finally, development is often expressed as a discourse; a set of ideas that shape and frame reality. These definitions are derived from impressive works written by experts in international development studies and philosophy; Amartya Sen, Andy Sumner, and Michael Tribe. This post will focus on Sen, a renowned economist and philosopher, and his book Development as Freedom, published in 1998. Sen won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998. 

Sen argues that development requires access to freedoms. He characterizes poverty as the lack of at least one freedom: political freedoms and transparency in social relations, freedom of opportunity, or economic protection from abject poverty. Development is the end and a means to development. I agree that development cannot be reduced to basic and per capita incomes. Countries and communities are only able to develop based on the social, economic, and political opportunities provided to their citizens. Further, each freedom encourages the other. “Economic and political freedoms help to reinforce one another, rather than being hostile to one another. Similarly, social opportunities of education and health care, which may require public action, complement individual opportunities of economic and political participation and also help to foster our own initiatives in overcoming our respective deprivations (Sen 1999).”

Innovation occurs when these freedoms flourish. When individuals are supported by the system, not struggling to make ends meet, feed their families, or keep a roof over their heads, they are able to foster innovation which generates development. Historically, countries with certain freedoms have made more progress, stimulating their nation’s economy and benefiting the overall population. One brilliant example of this is the United States, while a counterexample would be China. China has severe limitations on privacy, political, and social rights. However, the country has still managed to develop at an astonishing rate in the last decade. Although, this does depend on your definition of development. As many critics argue, Sen’s claims are somewhat insufficient because they do not adequately analyze the power relations that cause and reproduce underdevelopment within international and national institutions.   

World Urban Forum

In just over 2 months, the 10th World Urban Forum will convene in Abu Dhabi for several days with over 20,000 delegates and 150 countries expected to attend. The United Nations established the biennial World Urban Forum (WUF) to discuss major issues related to rapid urbanization and sustainable urban development. The goal of WUF is to advocate for, raise awareness of, and further collective knowledge on sustainable urban development. Additionally, WUF functions as a follow-up mechanism for tracking the advancement and implementation of the frameworks developed at the Habitat conferences. So far, there have been three Habitat conferences occurring every 20 years with the last conference, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, better known as Habitat III, taking place in 2016 in Quito, Ecuador. The primary goal of Habitat III was to form a blueprint to guide the next 20 years of urban development. This goal was achieved through the creation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA). 

However, since the next Habitat conference will not take place again until 2036, WUF is where states and interested stakeholders can meet to discuss the progress made in following NUA, new ideas and technologies related to sustainable urban development, and the challenges to urban development in today’s ever-changing world. In 2018, the first WUF since Habitat III, the creation of NUA, and the development of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This fact was reflected in the theme for WUF9: Cities 2030, Cities for All. This theme emphasized not only the need for preparing and advancing cities for the future, but also the importance of inclusion in cities.

Looking forward to WUF10, this will be the first WUF to be held in the Middle East, a region dealing with the worsening impacts of climate change and rapid urbanization. The theme of WUF10 is Cities of Opportunity – Connecting Culture and Innovation. This forum will focus on tackling the complex issues of rapid urbanization with consideration culture and demographics. I think this is a very interesting topic, especially since the conference is being held in Abu Dhabi, a rapidly expanding city that is heavily influenced by the diverse population living there. It will be interesting to see the various side events, roundtables, and other events that take place during WUF10 and the progress that has been made in advancing NUA and the SDGs.



In 2000, the United Nations implemented the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which consisted of eight broad goals to address major issues in international development to be accomplished by 2015. Although the MDGs received their fair share of criticism from around the world, they were important for creating a blueprint for international actors to follow to work together towards common development goals. When the MDGs expired in 2015, the United Nations implemented its successor, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs include 17 goals that focus both on improving human lives and addressing environmental issues. The SDGs have the same 15-year time frame as the MDGs, which puts the end date in 2030. 

A discussion of the SDGs would not be complete without addressing the UN body in charge of sustainable development: the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The HLPF is in charge of overseeing the follow-up and review of the SDGs on the global level. Each year, the HLPF convenes in New York to discuss the progress made towards achieving the SDGs and the challenges that must be overcome to achieve the SDGs by 2030. The HLPF is also responsible for voluntary national reviews that are provided to the HLPF by nations themselves to review their progress in sustainable development.

When comparing the MDGs and SDGs, it is clear that many of the problems with the MDGs were considered and improved upon when creating the SDGs. One example of this is the greater emphasis on environmental sustainability in the SDGs compared to the MDGs. The SDGs also use significantly more indicators than the MDGs, which is critical to tracking the success of the goals. Finally, the SDGs apply equally to all countries, whereas the MDGs were mostly focused on developing nations. I believe that the SDGs are a great improvement upon the MDGs and that governments, the private sector, and civil society should continue collaborating and focusing their efforts on achieving these 17 goals set out in the SDGs. 

However, by far one of the most important aspects of the development and implementation of the SDGs is the inclusion of Major Groups and other Stakeholders (MGoS). This includes the 9 Major Groups established at the 1992 Earth Summit, as well as 4 more stakeholder groups. These 13 sectors all have a significant role to play in achieving inclusive sustainable development, so including MGoS in the HLPF and the creation and implementation of the SDGs, the SDGs have a higher chance of achieving success in improving sustainable development. 


Grand Challenges

In the 21stCentury, we are faced with a multitude of problems to solve from climate change to wars to dangerous diseases like Ebola. While these problems may seem daunting or even impossible to solve to some, there are many people around the world who see these important issues and decide to take on the challenge. This type of thinking is referred to as Moonshot thinking. This term comes from the American mission to put the first man on the moon despite this feat seeming impossible to many people. This type of motivated and visionary mindset is what is needed to address the Grand Challenges we face today.

As defined by the Obama Administration, Grand Challenges are “ambitious but achievable goals that harness science, technology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination”. There are a few key elements that a goal must have to be considered a Grand Challenge. First, these goals must think big but still be attainable. This means that setting a realistic time frame in which to solve these problems is a crucial factor. Second, Grand Challenges should be multidisciplinary, bringing together people from different fields as well as the public and private sectors to work together to achieve their goal. Finally, these Grand Challenges need to be compelling and inspiring to capture the public’s imagination. If all these criteria are met, then a goal can be labeled as a Grand Challenge. The Obama Administration took a particular interest in promoting Grand Challenges such as the BRAIN Initiative and the Asteroid Grand Challenge.

Although Grand Challenges have historically been confined to the science and technology fields, in recent years the development field has begun applying the idea of Grand Challenges to focus on ambitious but achievable goals within international development. USAID has promoted several Grand Challenges since 2011 including All Children ReadingSecuring Water for FoodFighting Ebola, and Scaling Off-Grid Energy. These Grand Challenges cover a variety of important issues, and by formulating them as Grand Challenges, USAID is able to bring focus and motivation to these global problems. 

I think that one of the most important impacts of Grand Challenges is their ability to inspire both experts and the public to achieve big goals. Going forward, I think that the US government should refocus on promoting Grand Challenges, particularly those focused on climate change. Climate change is an immense problem that many people feel hopeless about, but I think that creating a series of Grand Challenges to address some of the serious problems of climate change, such as rising sea levels, resiliency after natural disasters, and reliance on fossil fuels, would help refocus and motivate the country to take on these challenges and maintain hope for the future.




The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner developed the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) as a framework for the first human rights convention of this time.The CRPD provisions are supported by human rights indicators as well as a list of articles. When we think about CRPD as a framework for development, the implementation of human rights indications are clearly sought out for, especially in regards to CRPD linkage to the SDGs. This type of consultation supports the “Bridging of Gaps” as a means of strength

ening the rights of persons with disabilities in mutual consultation with the CRPD and the SDGs. The cool thing about the CRPDs is that these indicators are closely linked to the SDGs. Additionally, they specify the importance of monitoring, reporting, and implementing the targets and indicators listed in each of the SDGs. Then, how are SDGs relevant?

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Inclusive "Smart City" Approach

Building the world’s smart sustainable cities together is one of 17 goals (SDG 11) of the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. In 2018, the UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) met to discuss some goals, SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) being one of them. With rapid urbanization and movement of people from rural to urban cities, the growth of cities is staggering. In today’s society, mass potentiality also bring challenges to maximize Information Technology (IT) and Internet of Things (IoT). I cannot emphasize enough the impact of “big data” and how “data is king”. Through the indicators and targets of SDG 11, we are able to come to solutions that truly enable cities to become smart and sustainable.

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The Transformation of the Internet and Internet Governance

The introduction and globalization of computers and the Internet around the world has been a transforming movement that has shaped human existence and interaction. In the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s computers were still emerging as slow, awkward, and expensive machines. Eventually technology evolved and computers became more advanced, cheaper, and more accessible to people. Communities, governments, and corporations began to see great potential in the advancements of computer technology. In the late 1970’s, an equation was developed to access the rate of development of computers each year. According to the equation, computers were developing at a rate of 28% each year. Microcomputers emerged in the 1980’s, a significant technological advancement that would expand its possibilities. The decade led to a great deal of experimentation as people were unsure what kind of effect computers would have on the world. The world was interested in the technology’s scalability and extensiveness; if computers would foster the same advantages in different parts of the world. Productivity applications, those that can be used by people in developing and developed countries, ranked among the most successful ICTs. Rapid globalization played a large role in the spread and success of computers and the Internet. However, as the Internet boomed and expanded, communities began to seek a form of governance over the powerful technology.

Unfortunately today, in the midst of seeking governance of and on the Internet, it has transformed from an amazing new technology to a weapon that threatens the existence of civilization as we know it. The last two decades have seen several conferences and summits concerning the important role of the Internet in international cooperation and people’s daily lives. One of these summits, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), established a financial task force and the working group on Internet governance. The working group worked together to establish this definition of Internet governance: 

“Internet governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society in their respective roles of shared norms, rules, decision making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the internet.”

While this definition shows progress and cooperation, and the working group did define and identify the issues surrounding Internet governance, it did not identify the respective roles and responsibilities of stakeholders. This represents the key problem for the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a multi-stakeholder forum announced by the General Assembly in 2006 and convened annually since. Government participation in the forum has also decreased substantially in recent years. Tech groups and civil society now represent the majority of participants. Therefore, The IGF must foster government attendance in order to encourage international cooperation on the issue of Internet Governance.