Intersectionality is critical to sustainable development, and is a major theme behind many recent changes in the development field. The Sustainable Development Goals for example incorporate a wide range of intersecting identities, such as women and girls, persons with disabilities, youth, etc. The fact the Sustainable Development Goals take into account such a wide range of identities, and ways of being, as having an impact on development makes the SDGs more likely to succeed in the long term. The Sustainable Development Goals also serve as an example for governments, private sector actors, charities, NGOs, etc. as to how intersecting identities can be incorporated into development policies more fully.
The intersectionality found in the Sustainable Development Goals tracks closely with moves toward multistakeholder governance and engagement in development. Just as engagement and involvement with multiple groups is critical to inclusive development, so too is the realization that an individual can be part of multiple identity groups simultaneously. Additionally, the Sustainable Development Goals reflect intersectionality in that they cover such a diverse, intersecting range of development issues. This reflects the fact things like climate change, urban conditions, and consumption patterns can all play a role in development. Covering these diverse, intersecting development issues also acknowledges their level of importance along side more traditional development issues such as poverty reduction and education.
A broad view of intersectionality leads to the insight that not only do identities combine to influence the development of individuals and groups, but larger issues like climate change and gender inequality also intersect to make development all the more difficult. Intersectionality also shows the importance of having a broad range of stakeholders involved in decision-making, as policies can have widely different consequences depending on the ways identities intersect. We are also led to see the importance of involving groups beyond state actors and markets in the development process, as the intersectionalities of different groups make different actors more or less able to help in the development process.
Inclusive education has become a bit of a buzzword, yet to fully realize true “inclusive education” for students with disabilities, and in fact all students from marginalized groups, “a process of structural change throughout the education system” must be employed according to Richard Rieser in Teaching and Learning in Diverse and Inclusive Classrooms: Key Issues for New Teachers. This structural change to the education system is necessary because much of education was designed by and for elites. One way to achieve this change is through the use of information and communication technologies (ITCs) to disrupt the existing structure of education systems around the world.
Take for example the experience of a university student in Brunei who has been able to become a very high achiever while overcoming many challenges due to his blindness. Some challenges, unfortunately, continue to plague this particular student according to a paper published in the Asian Journal of University Education. Some persistent challenges include the physical structure of the university itself. The article documents the experience of this high performing blind student, and notes that the university he attends has many open potholes and drains that make navigation difficult. It is also difficult for this blind student to locate unfamiliar buildings and lecture halls on campus, and this student requires his family’s help driving to and from campus.
These issues centered around mobility and the physical space of the campus could be solved with ITCs. This student’s university in Brunei already formed a specialized committee made up of the Dean of the Faculty of Business and Economic Policy, the Head of Department, the university’s Student Affairs Officer, a Disability Officer, a librarian, instructional technology personnel and all the lecturers involved in teaching the student. This committee could easily be given an expanded mandate to craft all-online courses that would allow for students with disabilities to eliminate the need to navigate a less than disability friendly campus. Lecturers are already engaged in crafting specialized content, along with adapting lessons to the needs of this particular blind student. This existing and remarkable work done by the committee could be used as the foundation for a structural shift as Rieser recommends by way of ITCs.
International frameworks at both the global and regional levels have a number of pros and cons. Firstly, they are always challenged, no matter the positives and other negatives, by a need for adequate funding in order to achieve whatever goals are being set out. As noted by the global charity Trocaire, just before the United Nations summit to ratify the Sustainable Development Goals, the World Bank has estimated the Sustainable Development Goals will cost trillions of dollars. Government agencies, then and now, have not committed the estimated trillions of dollars that are necessary to achieve the SDGs, rather governments have chosen to lean on the private sector as one way to fill the funding gap. This lack of funding not only continues to impact the Sustainable Development Goals, but shows a pattern since lack of funding also impacted the Millennium Develop Goals. A retrospective by the United Nations highlighted the fact that the Millennium Develop Goals did not provide an outline for a process, including funding mechanisms, as how to achieve the MDGs. Now, the Sustainable Development Goals have become an amorphous pick and mix of issues, that have improved on the MDGs by adding specific targets, yet continue to lack a clear funding mechanism for achieving the agreed targets.
One other bright spot with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals is that, in spite of the lack of focus, or maybe because of the lack of focus, persons with disabilities have been integrated into several SDGs through the use of specific language. Inclusive language referencing “for all” is used as well when persons with disabilities are not specified within a particular SDG. This achievement follows on the heels of the ratification of the CRPD, and movements by the UK’s Department for International Development, the US Agency for International Development, the Nordic counties, the Australian Development Agency, and the German international aid agency to all include persons with disabilities in development programs. The language in the Sustainable Development Goals, that was agreed to by the UN’s membership, will continue moving the importance of development for persons with disabilities forward even if the Sustainable Development Goals do not provide a specific funding mechanism just as the Millennium Develop Goals did not.
The multistakeholder approach to global governance has gained a great deal of traction in recent years, particularly in the realm of Internet governance. This is partially due to the fact the Internet itself is a diverse, and dispersed, institution composed of many complex parts around the world. Basically all of human society has developed a stake in the governance of the Internet, whether that be private sector businesses, governments, NGOs, or individuals. Toward the end of developing a multistakeholder platform for Internet governance, the Brazilian government and ICANN held a multistakeholder conference to develop principles by which the Internet would be governed. These principles ended up being: Human Rights and Shared Values, Protection Of Intermediaries, Culture and Linguistic Diversity, Unified and Unfragmented Space, Security, Stability and Resilience Of The Internet, Open and Distributed Architecture, and Enabling Environment For Sustainable Innovation and Creativity.
Unfortunately, the grand challenge that is Internet governance was too great for the attempted initiative by the Brazilian government and ICANN as the initiative ended in failure. Other multistakeholder initiatives such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) continue with leadership from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs in spite of this failure. The IGF, like the Brazilian and ICANN initiative, has a multistakeholder approach to decision making and has representatives from the public and private sectors along with civil society sitting on its Multistakeholder Advisory Group. The MAG guides the IGF and advises the Secretary General of the UN, placing the UN’s approach to Internet governance well within the realm of multistakeholder governance.
There is another dimension to multistakeholder governance though, specifically with regard to the Internet, and that is the importance of multistakeholder governance for development. By having more diverse voices at the governance table, policies and decisions can be made that are more effective at spurring development for all. Having developing countries at the table, as well as advocates for everything form human rights to disability, at the Internet governance table, telecommunication resources can be more effectively employed to give everyone access to information and economic opportunity. Multistakeholder governance will also help to ensure the Internet does not become the exclusive preserve of large multinational telecoms, or entirely controlled by developed country governments. This is not to say that multistakeholder governance will be easy to achieve, the failure of Brazil and ICANN is testament to that fact, rather multistakeholder governance is important for development.
Digital divide(s) refers to the differences in access to Information and Communication Technologies between developed and developing countries. The term digital divide can also refer to a number of other differences in access to Information and Communication Technologies between different groups such as the rich and poor, and urban and rural communities. Many factors separate these groups, including access to quality Information and Communication Technologies (ITCs). These ITCs can take many forms, and range from access to telephone communications, to access to quality Internet connections. Within the United Nations, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and UNESCO have become the leading voices on bridging the many digital divides confronting our world. Due to the involvement of UNESCO, the portfolio of issues WSIS was set to address expanded significantly from network connectivity and Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) to include issues at the intersection of culture and technology, including human rights.
The twin summits in Geneva and Tunis that truly began the WSIS process attracted huge involvement from governments, the private sector, and civil society. The WSIS process since the summit in Geneva has had a significant focus on development as it relates to information technology. Many of the “Action Lines” agreed to at the Geneva Summit place emphasis on the role that information technology plays in e-commerce, access to information, and capacity building of every kind. WSIS’s ongoing work, and the grand challenge it is trying to address, is closely related to the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, WSIS has Action Lines aimed at deploying information technology to improve the environment and environmental governance, which line up with activities under SDG 13 for Climate Change, SDG 14 for Life below Water, and SDG 15 for Life on Land. Addressing digital divides in all their forms have therefore been folded into the overall sustainable development agenda toward which the world is working. WSIS’s multistakeholder approach to decision-making and development also seems well positioned to incorporate the necessary voices to have effective development programs.
In 1981 UNESCO published a report written by the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems that highlighted key issues in the telecommunications industry as it related to development, in addition to other aspects of the telecommunications industry globally. This report, titled “Many Voices, One World”, has become known as the “MacBride Report” as the chairman of the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems was named Seán MacBride. Unfortunately, many of the issues highlighted in the MacBride Report continue to persist today in terms of the telecommunications industry and development, with access to reliable telecommunications being a consistent issue across the developing world.
For example, the MacBride Report notes the social good aspect of communications media, and the vehicles that convey it, has been on a steady decline, and the MacBride Report identifies market pressures and privatization as the causes of this decline. This complaint from the MacBride Report echoes the same concerns voiced today regarding modern media and media service providers when discussing ratings driven new broadcasts and the decline of print media. The MacBride Report further highlights how information has been commoditized, particularly in terms of broadcast television, yet this commoditization is in tension with the public necessity for quality information. Again, this argument is one that is continuing to play out today. The MacBride Report also notes issues regarding “lacunae and distortions in information” that lead to ill-informed, uninformed, or misinformed publics and governments. This concern rings particularly true today regarding phenomena like “fake news.” The MacBride Report even cites surveys that show the public overall is not very well informed, though the Report did not specify if the public was ill-informed, uninformed, or misinformed.
These issues, and many others, that faced telecommunications development when the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems was crafting its report persist to this day. In the United States, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration has published reports detailing how some in rural and urban communities lack access to the Internet. Other international organizations have pointed out the uneven development of telecommunications technologies such as telephone access. In short, since the 1980s increased attention has been paid to uneven access to telecommunications and information technologies, but that attention has not necessarily solved the issues found in the MacBride Report.
Inclusive cities are key to achieving widespread and long-lasting reductions in poverty over the long terms. Cities have been, and will continue to be, the engines of economic growth, and creating more inclusive cities is key to ensuring wealth creation and productivity gains benefit as many people as possible. The Millennium Development Goals were the first grand challenge of their kind because they united global focus around such things as eliminating extreme poverty. The MDGs in term spawned concepts like the inclusive city as stakeholders around the world sought out ways to achieve the MDGs. One multilateral stakeholder who took up the idea of inclusive cities was the Asian Development Bank in its April 2011 report titled “Inclusive Cities.” This report was but one in a series produced by the Asian Development Bank themed around urban development. The report notes early on that the “Asian miracle” of high growth and economic gain has been driven by cities. It is critical then, if we are serious about poverty reduction, to promote access to cities so greater numbers of people in Asia and around the world can participate in the growth of cities.
This access to the city, and to urban spaces, is felt most acutely by persons with disabilities as shown by Victor Pineda in “Enabling Justice.” Pineda draws attention to the ways the manmade urban environment can impact the mobility and accessibility of persons with disabilities. Pineda also charts the move from various forms of thinking about disability to one that is grounded in thinking about how the physical environment contributes to disability. This thinking mirrors that of the Asian Development Bank in that both are trying to call attention to the ways the physicality of cities and manmade environments can limit access to economic opportunity and social services.
The physicality of spaces can either increase or decrease rates of poverty because of either decreasing or increasing economic access for persons with disabilities and the public at large. In recognition of this fact, the United Nations has held three conferences in 1976, 1996, and 2016 to craft plans for increasing the accessible of economic development in urban areas. These conferences and efforts by the United Nations have contributed to a paradigm shift and recognition of how necessary a “right the city” is for sustainable development and poverty reduction.
Given the ambitious and far ranging nature of the Sustainable Development Goals, institutions such as the High-Level Political Forum and the Major Groups system are essential. United Nations member states alone cannot not possibly hope to meet the Sustainable Development Goals without substantial engagement with non-state actors, and the High-Level Political Forum and the Major Groups system exists to facilitate that engagement. By having regular meetings of government officials in the form of the High-Level Political Forum states can engage with each other, and with stakeholders from around the world. The innovation of having the Major Groups system to facilitate engagement by civil society in an organized and coherent way will be critical to achieving the “sustainable” portion of the Sustainable Development Goals.
One piece missing from the Major Groups system is specific engagement with persons with disabilities. Although it could be said that disability would cut across the existing nine stakeholder groups: Women, Children and Youth, Indigenous Peoples, Non-Governmental Organizations, Local Authorities, Workers and Trade Unions, Business and Industry, Scientific and Technological Community, and Farmers, the addition of a stakeholder group specifically for persons with disabilities would greatly enhance the “sustainable” aspect of the Sustainable Development Goals because disabled persons compose such are large portion of the world population. The diversity of disabilities limiting individuals’ opportunities for participation in economic and civic life would also make having a Major Group focused on disability beneficial for achieving sustainable development.
The role of institutions in development is to incentivize of positive and inclusive economic growth, rather than extraction led growth. As Acemoglu and Robinson state, “it is politics and political institutions that determine what economic institutions a country has” (p. 43), therefore positive and inclusive political institutions must be developed for positive and inclusive economic growth. Secure property rights are critical to the conception of development Acemoglu and Robinson profess, as this is one of the only ways to incentivize economic activity. The security of property from seizer by either the government or other individuals in society allows for individuals to invest and gain from whatever they may have.
This conception of institutions, and the role they play in creating inclusive development through the creation of incentives fits with the idea “development is a process of structural societal change” (Sumner et al p. 12). Clearly existing extractive institutions of many undeveloped or underdeveloped countries must be transformed into inclusive intuitions through some kind of political transformation, as economic institutions are subordinate to political ones. It would then follow that development actors, from states to NGOs to individuals, should be concentrating political rather than economic development. The transformation of institutions from extractive to inclusive would also fall into Sen’s conception of development, as more inclusive economic institutions would allow greater numbers of people, with a greater diversity of abilities and backgrounds to participate in the economy. The elimination of elite run, extractive institutions would allow individuals to exercise their right to participate in markets and economic transitions.
Institutions then, after being freed from elite control and extractive mandates, must be made to work toward getting as many people as possible to be active in the markets. This can be through the securing of property rights as Acemoglu and Robinson profess, but it can also occur through the enforcement of policies allowing access to markets by those with disability. This transformation of institutions appears to fall inline with development theories that predominated in the 1950s and 1960s in particular (Sumner et al p. 12).
The first time I was exposed to the Sustainable Development Goals was while reading an article published in The Economist that was published in March of 2015. The article was titled “The 169 commandments”, and the overall tone of the article was rather negative toward the SDGs. This tone, and the stance The Economist took with regard to the SDGs, is the exact opposite of the “moonshot thinking” we were all encouraged to practice by Professor Cogburn.
One critique leveled at the SDGs by The Economist is that “Every lobby group has pitched in for its own special interest”, and as such the number of goals ballooned from the relatively modest ones set out in the MDGs. Rather than being a negative, the early engagement of “every lobby group” is what will make the SDGs successful. As USAID states on their website, “[Grand Challenges for Development] engage non-traditional solvers… around critical development problems in a variety ways through partnerships, prizes, challenge grant funding, crowdsourcing, and more to identify innovations that work.” This engagement with non-traditional solvers clearly took place early on in the formation of the SDGs if “every lobby group” had a chance to suggest ideas. Foundations, businesses, and academia can more fully and deeply participate in the SDGs given the range of development issues they cover.
An additional benefit of the wide range of issues covered by the SDGs is that even developed countries, like the United States, can benefit from them. Lewis Branscomb stated as much in 2009 in an article that defined grand challenges as “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution.” Innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues can, and will, be found through the SDGs, and the United States can use some of those solutions to solve domestic issues. For example, solutions to Goal 6 “Clean Water and Sanitation” could hugely benefit the United States as the failure of clean water and sanitation systems in the U.S. have come to the fore of domestic politics recently.