Efficacy of Global Frameworks

The global frameworks that we have, like Millennial Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals, represent ways to see the “grand challenges” the world is currently facing.  The Millennial Development Goals made significant progress since 2000, but there was still a lot of disproportionate growth and improvement worldwide.  There was a lot of disparity in wealth, for example, when comparing rural and urban areas.

The Millennial Development Goals were wide in scope and did cover lots of different problems that needed to be tackled, however the indicators of progress and plans to continue forward were not specific enough.  There wasn’t a reliable method of measurement laid out, and were less comprehensive than the SDGs since they did not have specific action plans for each step in the process.  Another issue with the MDGs was the inability to get a good picture of the progress made after 15 years, since there was strong enough measuring and recording of the starting point in 2000.  They didn’t have much to compare to at the end of that timespan to see how far they had really gotten.  While some thought the goals provided a nice framework for the world to come together and see a concrete way to fix these problems, others said there were too many sectors of development covered and that many would be spread too thin.

Another big critique of the Millennial Development Goals is that there was hardly any mention of what the plan was to include persons with disabilities.  15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, and when all those people are left out of the development conversation and unable to contribute their talents, everyone is at a loss.  The SDGs have paid much more attention to this problem, and the next step is also to focus more on the intersectionalities involved in development problems.  For example, women with disabilities will be affected differently by certain situations then children with disabilities.

The SDGs added a lot more goals and are much more comprehensive which is a huge positive, however the critics who said the MDGs were focused on too many different things at once certainly still remain.

Development Theory

Development theory is a difficult subject, because it is oftentimes purely subjective.  It is a concept that’s difficult to define, in terms of what it is and where we draw the line of whether a country is developed or underdeveloped.  Furthermore, the question of who gets the authority to make these decisions arises.

There are a lot of academic voices in this field, one being Amartya Sen.  His piece called “Development as Freedom,” is one of the most well-known development theories.  He explains that human rights and freedoms go hand in hand in the process of developing a country, and that freedoms are needed before any development will occur.  His theories were considered controversial, because before Sen most development practitioners pushed the idea that economic stimulation was the right way to go about development.  According to Sen, creating personal and human freedoms paves the way for development to thrive.  More specifically, he says for development to happen we need to provide social and economic freedoms, and political and civil rights.  In underdeveloped countries, missing freedoms that we see affecting the development process may include lack of representation in government for multiple voices to be heard, or lack of access to health care and education, for example.  Furthermore, since all freedoms are generally interconnected, people must have the rights to basic freedoms if they also hope to gain civil and political rights like the aforementioned examples of health and education.  A strong interconnected web of such freedoms can build each other up.

Sen argues that democratic governments speed up development because more voices are heard, so decisions are better informed and serve society in a more efficient and positive way.  I believe Sen’s definition would be appreciated by the UN, especially in the current context of pushing for multistakeholderism and focusing on the intersectionality of development. Traditionally, development levels were measured by per capita income.  The reason to look at many intersecting factors is because, while a family may earn more than the poverty line, the infrastructure someone is surrounded by that they use to access society may be lacking, which is half the battle of development.

Grand Challenges

The UN Grand Challenges are defined as “technically complex problems that have stubbornly defied solution.”  These challenges are large, complicated issues that have been plaguing society for years, and take an enormous amount of effort to begin to solve.  The needed solutions are often interdisciplinary in nature, and require not only strong effort, but collaboration from many different stakeholder groups.

While different organizations have different definitions, the general consensus is that problems like providing clean water, increasing literacy rates, finding cures to cancer, solving hunger, and solving AIDS comprise some of the world’s “Grand Challenges.”  Many agree that these goals are ambitious, but are achievable after a lot of collaboration.

Development practitioners have come to the consensus solving these problems will require non-traditional actors to step in, including people from the fields of science and technology, since the problems are so complex in nature.  In my opinion, this approach has fostered communication between many different stakeholders and fostered innovation, leading to discoveries that may not have been previously made.

Branscomb explains this idea using cancer research as an example.  He says this disease is a long-term and pervasive issue, and through slowly chipping away at the problem from different angles they have made discoveries and improvements in multiple sectors, such as genetics, surgeries, and more.  He says if the research done were narrower and focused in scope, and did not look at the problem from a holistic standpoint, progress may have been slower.

The UN is one of the most important stakeholders that has contributed to work on the Grand Challenges.  They drafted the Millennial Development Goals in 2000, which include: eradicating extreme hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and empowering women, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combatting HIV/aids, Malaria and other diseases, ensuring environmental sustainability, and developing a global partnership for development.

A huge improvement made since then in working on such Grand Challenges was learning to include persons with disabilities.  Around 15% of the world’s population lives with a disability, and the MDGs hardly addressed that problem.  The 2015 SGDs are much more inclusive, and have worked to give everybody a seat at the table of development in the hopes of speeding up the process.

SDGs and the HLPF

In this past week, we discussed the way in which the new Sustainable Development Goals have been organized, and ways in which international institutions have tried to reform the goals themselves as well as how we enforce and monitor them.  As we know, the Millennial Development Goals (MDGs) expired in 2015, and have since been replaced with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  The UN has improved the organization of these goals, but has certainly added a lot to the already-ambitious agenda.  The new MDGs will expire in 2030.

The MDGs may seem overwhelming to some, as there are 17 of them.  There has been a lot of controversy over whether the UN has put too much on its plate.  However, while there are more goals this time around, very specific goals and indicators have been laid out.  I find this to be very important, since monitoring and enforcement has always been the biggest challenge to such projects.  There are checkpoints to each goal that they plan to complete by certain deadlines.  For example, one indicator for the goal to eradicate poverty is to eradicate “extreme poverty” for all, measuring that as those currently living on less than $1.25 per day.

The HLPF is another great way these goals are being monitored and enforced.  The HLPF (High Level Political Forum) was specifically set up to monitor the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals.  This committee has been meeting yearly to look at the status of different SDGs and to establish new deadlines, indicators and goals.

In my opinion, the most important and yet surprising change has been the inclusion of persons with disabilities.  This important stakeholder group was barely mentioned in the MDGs, but the UN realized the importance of including them with the fact that 15% of the world’s population is living with a form of disability, and that inclusive development practices are needed to speed up the process.

I believe the current development practices has greatly improved, since it has become more commonplace to recognize the complexity of the problem.  Development needs everyone to contribute in order to succeed, and fixing these problems require those affected by the policies as well as professionals from many different disciplines.  The Major Groups System is an inclusive way of working on today’s international development issues, as stakeholders from many different groups (women, children, indigenous groups, businesses, etc) have the right to participate in development conferences.  It is going to get more and more difficult to include all those who need a voice in the situation, but I believe it absolutely crucial that everyone have a seat at the table.