Grand Challenges

Grand Challenges are major problems that international development faces today. They can range from education to healthcare, gender equality to climate change. These are the issues that we are facing today that need to be solved for tomorrow’s children. While these challenges often disproportionately affect people in the Global South, it is the responsibility of the world to solve them.

The conceptualization of Grand Challenges has changed throughout the decades. What used to be country by country problems are now seen as global issues. I think the recognition that all actors should have a seat at the table has greatly impacted this shift in responsibility. Multistakeholder participation is now seen as a key component of implementing any international strategies or programs. By including a variety of actors, the international community is beginning to understand just how connected and interwoven our world is. The problems faced in one country, may be the result of another’s misguided help. Or the issues that one business is facing in implementing a strategy may be better supported with a partnership with similar companies. By connecting these links, we are learning that everyone has played a part in these Grand Challenges and it is going to take the cooperation of many stakeholders to solve them.

While approaches to development have yet to drastically shift on a national policy level or ODA level, individuals, organizations and communities are changing the way development is approached. I think that the MDG’s and the SDG’s have been a unifying factor in shifting the capabilities and programs of many organizations. I think the goals encouraged cooperation among individuals and organizations and greatly improved communication between communities and organizations. The MDG’s were a massive undertaking and I think professionals in the development field realized that they would never be able to achieve them without community input and feedback. While I do not think that all organizations listen to the communities they serve, nor is community engagement a new phenomenon, I think the MDG’s helped put these Global Challenges in perspective and forced people to realize just how large and systemic these problems were. This encouraged more people to look to the local level to make changes from the bottom up. These Grand Challenges can be daunting, however I think the local engagement and community involvement that has been rekindled in light of the MDG’s and SDG’s bodes well for the future of international development.

Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

Intersectionality is an important factor to consider when looking at inclusive sustainable development. Intersectionality is a concept for the multiple identities that people ascribe to and each of those identities combines within a person to create a unique experience and perspective on the world. It is these intersections that can create varying opinions within a major group. Female youth have a different identity and experience from male youth. One identity does not necessarily define your whole person, but rather the combination of many identities creates a complex identity that needs to be respected in each of the communities that that individual ascribes to.

Like we discussed in class, people with disabilities have many intersectionalities. By asking them to lump disabilities in with other major groups is to ignore their unique needs in each category of the major group’s framework. A female with disabilities in a rural, farming community has very different needs than a male, union worker with disabilities. All of these identities interplay with each other to create the experiences of individuals and the needs of a community.

When approaching inclusive sustainable development, all perspectives and experiences should be included. This is a major challenge for development. Including the voices from the major groups, who are often the most marginalized in society, will mean restructuring the goals, programs and outcomes of projects. But it is crucial that the intersectionalities of the community be considered. What are the gendered needs of this community? What are the needs of children, indigenous people, workers etc.? All of these factors need to be explored in a nuanced and cross sectional way. Also, development planners need to look at the needs of people not included in the major group’s framework, like persons with disabilities. Inclusive sustainable development means including everyone in every way. It is a tall order to fill and has yet to be achieved anywhere in the world. But by recognizing the intersectionalities of the people you are serving and their resulting needs, development can hopefully become a more nuanced and responsive field.

Inclusive Education

Inclusive education is a topic that greatly interests me. It is an international strategy that was first advocated for in the 90’s in international documents. Inclusive education, while not a right in all countries, is an educational model that encourages the inclusion of students with disabilities in mainstream classrooms. Its pedagogical approach hinges on the belief that students with disabilities can and should be included with students without disabilities and students with disabilities are capable of being held to the same academic standards. The push for inclusive education has been simultaneously successful and challenging. Countries are now encouraged to enroll students with disabilities in general public schools, so their enrollment rates are increasing.

However, once students with disabilities are inside the classroom, they face another battle for the quality of their education. It is difficult to include students with disabilities in mainstream classrooms because whether it is an intellectual or physical disability, they often need specialized and individualized instruction. This presents a very difficult situation for mainstream teachers. Many mainstream teachers are not trained in special education, differentiated teaching or individualized instruction, so they are often at a loss for ways to truly include students with disabilities in the classroom.

Additionally, some disability communities do not want inclusive education. As I mentioned in the efficacy of global frameworks piece, these global goals and strategies are not universal, nor are they effective for everyone. While inclusive education may be an excellent option for some disability communities, others are advocating for their own special schools. Recently in another class, I had two professors from Gallaudet University come and discuss education for deaf persons. Through personal experience, they testified that special schools for deaf students are often the most effective way for these students to obtain a high quality of education. Even though they are separated from mainstream students, they have a tight knit community and the resources to effectively educate their students.

While in a mainstream school, one of the professors shared his challenges with the quality of education. Without the money, resources or knowledge to provide materials for him to learn, he was left sitting by himself, unengaged in class with only his textbook to inform him. When he transferred to a school for the deaf, he was able to make friends, have classroom discussions and participate in after school activities. While this experience does not speak for all deaf communities, it is important to remember that inclusive education is not a blanket solution to education for persons with disabilities.

Efficacy of Global and Regional Frameworks

International goals like the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) have many strengths and challenges. With the MDG’s specifically, I think they were most effective in spreading and promoting awareness about international development and the varying conditions of life across the world. For the most part, the goals in the MDG’s were not met, but I think a conversation was started about international development and what could be done to improve gender equality, increase literacy or provide adequate health care.

I think the goals also brought nuance to the concept of development and how it’s measured. Like Amartya Sen noted in the 90’s, development is so much more than just economic indicators. I think the MDG’s biggest strength were their ability to quantify a different way to measure development. The goals were not as comprehensive or inclusive as they should have been, but I think they paved the way for more complex and nuanced goals like the SDG’s. The MDG’s served as a beginning point for so many issues to be explored.

As we often discussed in class, I think one of the largest challenges these global frameworks face is implementation and monitoring. It is really difficult to ensure that these huge goals are effective and feasible. Countries are coming from all different contexts and historical backgrounds and it is difficult to rally together from so many different starting points. However, I think the biggest limitation to the efficacy of global frameworks is the Western dominated ideals that they inherently internalize. For the most part, the West is the major governing body that creates these goals, so the ideals and standards they are striving for are things that the West values. The goals are not universal, nor are they conducive to all cultures and ideologies. I think this is a challenge for global goals, but a place for great opportunity for regional frameworks. If the global goals do not fit the goals of the area, then the regional bodies can create their own strategies and indicators.

Education is a field where many disconnects can occur between local communities and global goals. For example, if the disability community in an area does not want inclusive, mainstream education, then I think the regional frameworks can adjust parts of Goal 4 to reflect those wishes. Not everyone in the international community agrees on education, so I do not think that all communities should be held to the standards of the West and their best practices. I think the efficacy of global frameworks can be best summarized by reminding ourselves that development will never be universal. What works for some communities will not work for others and global goals will never work for everyone.

Multistakeholder Internet Governance

Mulitstakeholder Internet Governance can begin to solve some of the issues that I highlighted in the Digital Divides piece. With many private companies, service providers and national and international governance, the internet can be constantly monitored for quality and efficiency. With so many different parties involved, hopefully policies can reflect the needs of all different types of groups. The issue of language accessibility can be addressed if multistakeholders from around the world are given a seat at the table and are able to create public policies or recommendations that emphasize language development as part of the development of the Internet. This approach to IG could have huge impacts on the quality of information that users have access too. I think it is good that not just governments are discussing policy issues around Internet Governance, but all stakeholders are encouraged to get involved in the process. I think this creates a much stronger and more comprehensive approach to governing the internet.

This multistakeholder approach has huge impacts on the inclusivity of the internet. The Internet Governance Forum website states that “the main aim of the IGF is to facilitate inclusive, productive discussions on Internet related public policy issues from a general perspective, while keeping all stakeholders involved.” This method will greatly improve the ability for all parties to propose solutions to IG problems that may never been considered without their perspectives. For example, disability stakeholders may come forward with a new method to increase accessibility of information on websites for blind persons and with all of the stakeholders present; the changes could really be put into practice and made into policies. These cooperative and collaborative approaches to solving some of the most pressing issues for access and inclusivity have huge potential.

In addition to increased access, multistakeholder participation can allow collaboration on cyber security issues. The forum and its participants can work together to fight cyber attacks and increase connection and stability between countries and servers. With so many stakeholders present, unification against internet threats from terrorist groups like ISIS can be more succinct and effective.  The internet is an ever evolving entity that is growing and changing very quickly. With collaborative forums like IGF, the many stakeholders involved have the opportunity and capability to adapt to those changes in a unified and productive way.

Digital Divide(s)

As we dove further into the Digital Divide, I realized that physical access to ICT’s is just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. As with most development issues there are layers of complexity. I was particularly moved by the MacBride Report and its affects. There are so many issues with the media and accessing information that the report highlighted. I was particularly struck by the United States’ reaction to the report. The US was so offended by the communication problems that the report unearthed, like the concentration and commercialization of media, that they actually left UNESCO. This reaction exposes a deep, underlying issue in the Digital Divide and why it exists. Since all media outlets are in the North, the Global South has no control over the type of information they receive through the media. They have no agency over the information that is considered important or newsworthy. And furthermore, states like the US intend to keep the divide, hence the visceral reaction to the MacBride report. This creates a huge development challenge. What good is physical access to ICT’s if the intellectual material is still dictated by another? Just because someone has physical access to computers and internet does not mean that the Digital Divide is solved.

Another issue with the Digital Divide is the skills divide and the knowledge divide. Both of these divides highlight the continued commitment that needs to be made to truly bridge the gap between those who have access to technology and those who do not. If you do not know how to use the technology, then the skills divide will prevent you from accessing any information at all. Furthermore, if information is not available in your language, or reflects your political views, interests etc., then technology is not really accessible to you either. Technology should provide the opportunity for all to thrive and be connected. However, if you cannot access information that is relevant to you, then all the technology in the world is useless to you. This is a huge challenge for solving the Digital Divide, especially with languages. As more and more people gain access to technology, it will have to be adapted in more languages. It is not just the keypad or interfaces that needs to adjust, but the information itself. If there is no online content in your language, then the physical technology holds no purpose. The complexity of the Digital Divide goes far beyond physical access to ICT’s and it will take a lot of innovation and investment from the international community to solve this divide.

ICT’s and Sustainable Development

ICT’s are crucial for the success of sustainable development because they aid the technological advances that are necessary in a community. Without access to telephones in the 1980’s, The Missing Link report clearly shows deficits for communities that lack that technology. Without the same access to computers in urban areas, for elderly people, and low income households, the Falling Through the Net Report in 1995 showed the inequalities that the lack of ICT’s can maintain. I had never considered the importance of technology and its role in increasing development for everyone. The Digital Divide is a phenomenon that is still affecting communities all over the world. Without the proper access to broadband, cellphones or reliable service, people are continuing to be left behind.

I am particularly interested in the digital divide in remote and rural areas. Over 70% of the world’s PWD population lives in rural areas, so how do we ensure that they are receiving the access they need to ICT’s? I am still wrestling with the best way to increase inclusion for people in rural areas and especially PWD. Will service be provided most effectively through the government or the private sector? With the push for privatization and liberalization within this field, I am hesitant to believe that the private sector alone will solve the digital divide. Like we discussed in class, what incentives do private investors have to expand their services to rural and remote areas? If more money is to be made in the densely populated areas, how do we ensure access to technology for those most in need of their services?

I also think that total government monopoly would be a mistake. As we have seen in the past with large State Owned Enterprises (SOE’s) in China and Korea, they often become expensive to maintain and inefficient to sustain. I think that the 2000 Falling Through the Net recommendations provide a great balance between the two sectors. With strong government regulations and tax incentives, I think that companies could be persuaded to invest in expanding their services to rural and remote areas. This would encourage the private sector to innovatively come up with cost effective ways to expand their business while also relieving the state of these large, expensive enterprises.

Whatever tactics country’s employ, it is imperative that they do so quickly and efficiently. As the world becomes more and more dependent on ICT’s for business, trade, e-commerce, banking, investments, and personal connections, marginalized groups in rural and remote areas are being further disadvantaged. If ICT’s development in these communities increased, I think the development field would see a huge increase in agency and capability for these populations. They would be able to check the global prices of their goods, engage in education, finance their own businesses and so much more without relying on others.

Smart Cities, Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

As we discussed in class, smart cities are cities that have the resources to support elements that attract intellectual adults and young people. A smart city will have plenty of components that attract a knowledgeable population, like innovative technology, academic events that provide access to more knowledge, museums and social events. However, I am more interested in the second half of the discussion, inclusive cities. I think that both Habitat III, including the New Urban Agenda (NUA), the Pineda article and the Asian Development Banks Inclusive Cities article speak to the importance of attracting and supporting everyone that urbanizes, not just the knowledgeable population.

All of the readings mentioned above focus on sustainable urban development and what that means for disadvantaged populations. Habitat III, which is working to achieve SDG Goal 11, is advocating for equal access, use and enjoyment of cities for everyone in this generation and future generations (2). The plan is working to readdress the way that cities “plan finance, develop, govern and manage cities” (3). The NUA is trying to change the way that cities are conceptualized so that inclusive sustainable urban development can be achieved. For example, the NUA has a call to action to help fight discrimination of many of the Major Groups, but they also included PWD (4). The agenda is striving to provide safe, accessible cities to all citizens, not just the young professionals and higher socioeconomic status (SES) residents.

One very important consideration when working towards inclusive sustainable development in cities is spatial considerations for PWD. Pineda’s article, Enabling Justice: Spatializing Disability in the Built Environment emphasizes the need for framing disabilities in respect to the environment that surrounds them (111). In order for cities to be truly inclusive, they must have spatial justice for PWD. In other words, “space is only just if it is to the advantage of the least well off stakeholder” (115). It is imperative that sustainable urban development includes PWD and the space they need to thrive, like audible cross walks, kneeling buses and curb cuts (120). PWD can live full, independent lives if their environment (in this case the city) allows it.

The Asian Development Bank article also provides an example of empowering disadvantaged communities. Through their multi-sector approach to slum rehabilitation in India, the Bank worked to provide services to citizens where they currently lived. For example, the Bank funded many projects that provided community initiated services like access to roads, rain drainage systems and low cost sanitation (29-30). Although slums in India and low income urban areas in cities like Washington DC are in some ways different, they are also quite similar. My biggest concern for developing inclusive cities is to preserve and empower the community that already exists in the city. Gentrification is a huge concern for me as we embark on a goal to involve everyone in cities. The India case study provided a powerful message to me that you can empower a community where they are, instead of relocating them to further the goals of a “smart city.” Each citizen counts in an urban area and making plans that involve the voices of the marginalized is an important step to making smart cities and inclusive cities work cohesively.

SDG’s and the HLPF

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) and the High Level Political Form (HLFP) are two structures that are currently working to include persons with disabilities (PWD) into the development framework. However, the reason that PWD have historically been excluded from receiving equal access, participation and human rights stems from a long history of prejudice and stigmatization. Rimmerman details religious and genetic reasons for historically excluding PWD in his book Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. He outlines the rationalization of disabilities through the Bible and Qur’an. The Bible sees PWD as sinners in need of a cure (12). The Qur’an sees PWD not as sinners, but as people with burdens that should be excused from certain tasks because of their disabilities (13). In modern day, we see that both of these interpretations have led to the exclusion and isolation of PWD. Even the Qur’an’s explanation of compassion and exception has led to beliefs that PWD are incapable of leading independent lives.

Rimmerman also outlines the horrific impact that the euthenics movement had on PWD. During the 19th century, the eugenics movement began and with it the further stigmatization of PWD. The movement encouraged only healthy, able-bodied people to reproduce (16). This idea led to forced sterilization of adults and euthanasia of “defective babies” (18-19). It was not until the late 20th century that PWD were afforded any civil rights in America (20) or treated as capable, independent people. Unfortunately, as the founder of the Myanmar Independent Living Initiative (MILI) Mr. Nay Lin Soe pointed out, today there are still huge human rights violations and engrained religious stigmas about PWD in countries like Myanmar.

From this brief history of the treatment of PWD historically and currently, it is evident that global initiatives and policies that incorporate PWD into the development framework must work to address these stigmatizations and prejudices. It is important to include the voices of PWD in development strategies because as Amartya Sen reasons, the people within a community must decide the rate and form of their globalization (240-242). It is imperative that PWD are included in the development conversation because they are the only ones who can speak to their needs and challenges for becoming full participants in this globalized world. As the international community has progressed from the UDHR and the MDG’s, which have not specific mention of PWD, to the CRPD and the SGD’s, which explicitly mention PWD, we can see that PWD are beginning to gain recognition and importance in the development framework. As we continue with forums like the HLPF, it is crucial that we include PWD in the discussion to ensure that the goal of developing a world that includes everyone is achievable.

Development Theory

Development is a broad, vague term that is comprised of a myriad of actors, institutions and a plethora of theoretical approaches. Development all too often renders images of post-earthquake Haiti or starving children in a continent that has been simplified into a country. However, as both “Development As Freedom” author Amartya Sen and “Why Nations Fail” writers Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson argue, development is much more complicated than the images that often surround us. According to Sen, development hinges on the individual capabilities, or freedoms, of a person to access a live that they have reason to value (18). This definition challenges the perceptions that development, and development theory, should focus solely on one indicator to measure development. Instead, development is a culmination of many factors working together to create a holistic system that allows individuals the right to access many capabilities and freedoms.

The right to access these freedoms is dependent upon the institutional foundations of countries during colonial periods (Acemoglu and Robinson, 9). While scholars have suggested a variety of other explanations for varying development levels across the globe, like the Geography Hypothesis, Culture Hypothesis and the Ignorance Hypothesis (48-67), Acemoglu and Robinson argue that the differences in a country’s level of development are heavily reliant on the political structures that formed the nation (9). During their in-depth analysis of Mexican and American political differences, they assert that it is the inclusive or extractive nature of the political, and consequently economic, institutions that set the neighbors on two drastically different development paths (74-81). One country was founded on the principals of citizen participation, land ownership and innovation, while the other was plagued with dictators, monopolies and inequality (30-37). While the citizens of Mexico are by no means helpless, their freedoms are severely trampled on by a government structure that does not allow full citizen participation in political decisions.

The importance of political structures is highlighted in both Sen and Acemoglu and Robinson’s work. They all recognize the fundamental importance of citizen participation as the cornerstone of development. If citizens cannot enjoy the benefits of inclusive political institutions, then their hopes of attaining economic or social freedoms are severely inhibited. Issues that haunt development workers, like poverty, access to markets and equal opportunities for education and healthcare are deprivations of basic capabilities that can begin to dissolve as political institutions start to structure themselves around citizens. As citizens gain a forum for discussion, communities can begin to enact policies that will positively influence their lives. This political freedom gives communities the agency they need to create a life they see value in.