Implementation of NUA and its mindsets

“Unnecessary barriers continue to limit disabled people’s mobility and access to public resources; planning practitioners have failed to fully recognize the enabling or disabling powers of physical space” –Victor Pineda. Pineda argues that one is only disabled in respect to an environment, pushing for mainstreaming of disabled persons’ needs in everyday accessibility. This line of thinking directly influenced the global conversation about Smart Inclusive Cities and urban development in international policy making and guidance like Habitat III.

Habitat III was the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador, October 2016, focusing on sustainable urbanization. Building off of the 1996 Habitat II in Istanbul, Habitat conferences decide strategic frameworks for the next 20 years. Habitat III also welcomed the participation of all stakeholders, including the general assembly of partners (GAP). UNDESA, who is responsible for economic and social activities in the UN, reports that “urban areas are projected to house 60 per cent of people globally” by 2030, making this a crucial area for accessibility.

The New Urban Agenda (NUA) was Habitat III’s outcome document, which commits itself to preparing for a sustainable and equal urban future that includes “the rights and needs of women, children and youth, older persons and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples and local communities, as appropriate, and to those of others in vulnerable situations”. This document is, instead, a call to action. NUA epitomizes the UN process as well: all influencers had the chance to contribute to the outcome document, but their last opportunity to do so was the Surabaya draft in Indonesia. This means the conference of Habitat III itself is actually an opportunity to discuss implementation, despite the general perception that the conference is where the outcome document is written. WUF9, held in Malaysia, also focuses on implementation of NUA goals, particularly banding around the role of technology. Its goals were 1) to advocate and raise awareness of sustainable development, 2) to improve collective knowledge, 3) to increase coordination and cooperation, and 4) to create a platform to incorporate the input of different organizations.

However, the representative nature of NUA is limited by those who are at the table. Despite the multi-stake holder involvement of Partner Constituent Groups (PCGs), civil society members must have rare ECOSOC accreditation to participate. Plus, the GAP started with the UN’s 9 major groups, slowly expanding to 16 (most recently, persons with disabilities); the GAP is pulled in many directions and is expensive, limiting access. Monitoring progress becomes even harder because NUA is not legally binding. These show that there is a long way to go for representation. Implementation of the progressive vision of the New Urban Agenda will require even higher multi-stakeholder buy in and a cultural mainstreaming of Pineda’s mindset that the only limit of a disabled person is their environment. It is the duty of the UN, complemented by the private and civil society sectors, to change that.

Monitoring the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were established in 2015 as a way to unify the international community and guide UN member states objectives. As such, it’s a multi-stakeholder objective including states (with countries from both the global north and global south) and non-states (including the private sector, IGOs, and civil society). The UN charter’s preamble states that the UN pledges “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person… to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. This was reaffirmed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Through the creation of 17 Global Goals with 169 targets, the UN persists in following these ideals. These include everything from quality education to gender equity to economic growth.

One prominent SDG is Goal 4, or “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, with ten targets and eleven indicators. Some targets are easier to measure than others, such as “4.2.2: Participation rate in organized learning (one year before the official primary entry age), by sex”. Others are more vague and harder to measure like “4.7.1: the extent to which (i) global citizenship education and (ii) education for sustainable development, including gender equality and human rights, are mainstreamed at all levels…”. These indicators are supposed to increase monitoring and accountability capacities from the preceding MDGs, but this ability depends more on the clarity of the targets and indicators themselves rather than the mere presence of them. The 2017 SDG 4 progress report addresses areas where the world is still lacking, specifically attacking efforts “in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia and for vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities, indigenous people, refugee children and poor children in rural areas”.

The HLPF, or the high level performance forums, is yet another way to monitor progress. This body of heads of states implementing the SDGs meets annually under ECOSOC and every four years under the UNGA- it is known as the most inclusive and participatory forum at the UN as the MGOS (major groups and other stakeholders) are able to hold side events, attend and intervene in all official meetings of the forum; have access to all official information and documents, make recommendations, and more. These major groups are women, children, farmers, indigenous people, local authorities, businesses, civil society, and workers and trade unions- this framework is broadened by the more recent addition of other stakeholders, like persons with disabilities. However, this inclusivity is still limited to those with ECOSOC accreditation. Rimmerman, the author of Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, argues especially that persons with disabilities still are limited in participation both in UN function and in society worldwide. The HLPF and other monitoring measures must remember to take into account the lived experiences of individuals rather than keep working on such a macro scale.

The Grand Challenge of Disability and Development

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people….We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” John F. Kennedy announced at Rice University on September 12th, 1962. And we did- America landed on the moon that same decade on July 20th, 1969. That is the original “moonshot thinking”, or the idea that we must tackle ambitious, impossible projects in order to create change.

“Grand Challenges” encapsulates moonshot thinking, although the term itself is credited to David Hilbert, who laid out 23 mathematical questions at the International Mathematical Congress in Paris in 1900.  Those original Grand Challenges detailed “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution” (as defined by Lewis Branscomb) and challenged a cross-section of experts to work together on solutions.  While traditionally focusing on science and technology, Branscomb and others instead favor larger societally-focused projects. Their vision of the Grand Challenges conceptual framework has been embraced by USAID, the White House, and the UN. Examples of programs oriented on the Grand Challenges framework include the USAID and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s partnership on Ensuring Effective Health Supply Chain as well as other USAID projects like Scaling Off Grid Energy, Combating Zika and Future Threats, and All Children Reading.

The Grand Challenge is Sustainable Development Goals and its preceding Millennium Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals are a 15 year plan to tackle Grand Challenges across 17 different issue areas established in 2015. This look at systemic challenges worldwide creates an alternative mindset to development. In fact, they have become key in defining how we think about program effectiveness by giving targets and indicators to meet. These goals provide a unifying framework for state and nonstate actors worldwide to enact progress.

The SDGs made the UN framework more inclusive by including the grand challenge of disability and development with eleven explicit references to persons with disabilities. This is important because it will guide behavior by states. This has been furthered by high level work such as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2006 that shifted conceptual thinking from disabilities as a medical condition to a human right, which creates opportunities and higher equity for the traditionally marginalized 15% of every country’s population. This is an important step towards to true equality. While public policy focused on the inclusion of disabled persons may not spark the same initial general interest level as landing on the moon, it is surely a moonshot idea to radically shift how we think, talk, and create policy for this excluded group. This opens a window for a population whose potential contributions to society have been dismissed.