MDG’s, SDG’s, the HLPF and Persons with Disabilities

The Sustainable Development Goals, an improvement on the Millennium Development Goals, are a set of seventeen goals that address the grand challenges our world society. These goals include poverty eradication, inclusive cities, zero hunger, affordable and clean energy, clean water and sanitation, good health and well-being, quality education, etc. Because monitoring and implementation proved to be such a pertinent issue with the Millennium Development Goals, additional measures were taken for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, each of seventeen goals has a target and indicator attached to it. The targets and indicators are meant to serve as a follow-up and review mechanism for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The targets and indicators of each goal allow stakeholders to better understand steps needed to achieve these goals and allows for increased accountability of stakeholders. While the Sustainable Development Goals are an improvement on the Millennium Development Goals, the SDG’s still face large challenges.

The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) was created to act as a governing body over the States. The HLPF acts as a body that oversees States and ensures that States are participating fully and taking steps toward achieving the SDG’s. It is important to note that the HLPF prides itself on being inclusive, however, there are many barriers in place that make the HLPF rather exclusive. In order to participate at the HLPF, you must be a representative of a member state or accredited by ECOSOC to participate. If you are not a representative of a member state, participation at the HLPF is limited to the participation of the nine major groups. These major groups include women, children, farmers, indigenous people, local authorities, businesses, civil society, and workers and trade unions. This is increasingly challenging because key stakeholders are left out of the conversation. For example, persons with disabilities do not constitute a major group and therefore do not have direct access to the HLPF. Groups that are not included in the major groups framework are unable to make recommendations, submit documents, attend meetings, access official information and documents, and organize round tables related to the implementation of the SDG’s. This is problematic because key voices and expertise are left behind.

Specifically, in regards to persons with disabilities, while the SDG’s did improve by including 11 explicit references to persons with disabilities, the highly politicized mechanisms in place for implementation of the SDG’s falls short of ensuring that these explicit references will actually be implemented. The HLPF should follow suit of the Third UN World Conference of Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) that took place in Sendai, Japan. This conference was the first conference that was not only accessible to both participants and speakers with disabilities, but also allowed for a tenth major group to participate – persons with disabilities. It is essential that the HLPF incorporate persons with disabilities because they are the experts in this field – they are the only ones who can truly speak to the challenges they face and the importance of incorporating these challenges into the movement toward inclusive sustainable development.


Development Theory

What do we mean when we say that a person or a group or a country is better off? This complex question drove Amaryta Sen to write Development As Freedom, in which Sen tackles the issue of development. Unlike my fellow classmates, development was not an area that I focused on during my academic studies. As such, Development As Freedom was my introduction to development theory. Development is a multi-disciplinary field that is convoluted by a myriad of perspectives as to what constitutes development of a nation. Prior to Sen, development was largely measured by economic growth. This idea of development as a measure of economic prosperity is culminated in Why Nations Fail. In Why Nations Fail, Acemoglu and Robinson address development in regards to economic growth of a nation and the inclusivity of the institutions of a nation. However, in Development As Freedom, Sen challenges this predominate view by claiming that money is not a measure of all things. Instead, Sen argues that development is the process of expanding human freedoms. Sen focused on the concept of freedom, rather than the means to achieving freedom. He believes that freedoms are restricted by social, political, and economic opportunity. Sen asserts “development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and the opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency.” Sen’s assertion led to a critical paradigm shift in the field of development that focuses on the expansion of individual freedom as the primary end and primary means of development.

In International Development Studies, Sumner and Tribe address the three inter-related views on development including: (1) the long-term process of structural change in the international system, (2) short to medium-term process, and (3) development as a discourse. Contextually, these inter-related views on development and the paradigm shift in the field of development brought about the discourse of inclusive sustainable development and more importantly, disability inclusive development. The idea of development as a means of expanding freedoms is especially challenging when viewed from the perspective of persons with disabilities. There are over one million individuals in our world that face a myriad of unfreedoms because of their disability. Inclusive sustainable development practices aim to tackle these unfreedoms. Specifically, efforts focused on disability inclusive development are culminated in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Upon my introduction to development theory, the idea of freedom as the primary end and the primary means of development, was inspiring. Sen highlights the importance of freedoms that allow people to help themselves and influence the world; this inspired me to choose my capstone topic focused on disaster risk management at the community level. My capstone project, when viewed from a larger context, is an attempt to reduce the unfreedoms that communities face in building resilience to natural disaster. It highlights the importance of freedoms that allow communities to help themselves in the face of natural disaster.

Viewing development as a means to expand human freedoms is essential to achieving inclusive sustainable development.

Grand Challenges and the Multi-Stakeholder Approach

The concept of “Grand Challenges” is manifested in both the Millennium Development Goals and the more recent Sustainable Development Goals. Both represent difficult, yet achievable challenges that our world faces. In fact, the failure to meet the Millennium Development Goal’s represents exactly how ambitious “Grand Challenges” are. They are crosscutting issues that impact individuals at global levels. These issues are manifested in international frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda. These grand challenges are meant to mobilize resources and empower communities. However, in order to do so, goals must first be established. As Tom Kalil stated in his speech delivered to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, in order to tackle grand challenges, it is essential that clear goals are established. By raising this point, Kalil is making a larger assertion about the implementation of international frameworks addressing these grand challenges. Kalil asserts, “grand challenges should have measurable targets for success and timing of completion.” Because of the nature of grand challenges, these important issues not only need the attention of the international community, but also a commitment to the implementation and monitoring of these grand challenges. Without an international commitment to the implementation and monitoring of international frameworks, not much headway will be accomplished, other than acknowledging that grand challenges exist. A key example of this is in the international communities failure to meet the Millennium Development Goals by its’ deadline. The failure to meet the Millennium Development Goals fostered the understanding of the importance of implementation and monitoring mechanisms, in the efforts toward inclusive sustainable development. Another crucial step toward tackling grand challenges is in how these challenges are defined.

Interestingly enough, Lewis Branscomb, Tom Kalil, USAID, and the White House, define grand challenges in respect to scientific and technological innovation. While I do believe that technological innovation is integral, I do not believe that innovation is the sole factor. Instead, it is my opinion that both multistakeholderism and innovation are integral to tackling grand challenges. A multi-stakeholder commitment to grand challenges is essential because it brings together a variety of stakeholders that bring their respective expertise along with them, thus fostering conversation and innovation. In my opinion, bringing key stakeholders together to facilitate conversation about these global grand challenges is key, as multistakeholderism fosters innovation. However, the Lewis Branscomb, Tom Kalil, USAID, and White House sources do not take into account the importance of multistakeholderism as a means to address global grand challenges.