Intersectionality refers to the concept that social identities are overlapping, connected, and fall within systems of power, oppression, and discrimination. In other words, a person can be many things at once and each identity always has an “other” that it is pitted against and possibly discriminated against. In relation to inclusive sustainable development, intersectionality is key.Historically, vulnerable populations – like women, children, and persons with disabilities (PWDs) – have been excluded and absent from global development policy making it extremely difficult to elevate the groups that need it the most. My capstone on refugee menstrual health aims to highlight an intersectionality between global development and women’s health.

Recent policy and global frameworks – like the Major Groups Framework and the SDGs – have made great strides in the fight to make development much more inclusive of different intersectionalities. For example, the major groups included nine groups that were previously excluded from the decision-making process (women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, non-governmental organizations, local authorities, workers and trade unions, businesses and industry, scientific and technology community, and farmers). In addition, the SDGs are much more inclusive, describing a wide array of identity types in their indicators and sub-goals. The major groups framework allows many groups to have a say in the development decisions that directly affect their communities on the local level.

Despite the progress made to make development more intersections, there is still a major blind spot. For example, even though they make up about 15% of the world’s populations PWDs are still excluded as a major group and often struggle to literally get a seat at the table. As we’ve discussed this semester, PWDs face a very specific set of barriers in nearly every aspect of development from physical accessibility to cognitive accessibility. If these issues aren’t addressed and eradicated, development will never be fully inclusive. Any person can have a disability regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, etc. it is one of the only identities that can transcend and cut across nearly every identity. If you’re alive, you could have a disability. Because PWDs are often excluded and made invisible, policy often lacks providing necessary and adequate support. Therefore, if the development community can make every single policy keeping in mind that PWDs will be affected, we are one step closer to creating a much more inclusive, sustainable world.

Inclusive Education

All are born into humankind, so all have a right to grow up and receive their education together. Breaking down all barriers that prevent this is an important part of human progress and the development of a sustainable future.” – Richard Rieser

Universal primary education is a priority of the SDGs as seen in SDG 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Two words in particular are of interest – “inclusive” and “equitable” – two concepts the world is farthest from achieving in relation to persons with disabilities (PWDs). It is estimated that between 93 and 150 million school aged children are living with a disability and many of these children face barriers that make primary education nearly impossible. As a result, many children aren’t “achieving the necessary basic skills for long term social and digital in  luxgion” (G3ICT Model Policy). According to WSIS, knowing how to use technology is a global skill for global citizenship.

There are four types of barriers to primary education that PWDs face – physical, cognitive, content, and didactical. Physical barriers fail to accommodate PWDs with a physical disability while cognitive barriers don’t accommodate for intellectual disabilities. In addition, content barriers are when information isn’t in the mother tongue of the learner and didactical barriers occur when classrooms aren’t flexible to the needs of each individual student. These barriers are not mutually exclusive and are different among each student.

According to UNICEF, every child has a right to education and “quality education is a critical component of child development and a means of self-empowerment, independence, and social integration.” Without education, children with disabilities are at risk to grow up to be emotionally and socially dependent and vulnerable to long term poverty. Therefore, in order to achieve other SDGs – like to eradicate poverty – the global development community must incorporate PWD specific policies into achieving SDG 4.

One possible solution to this issue is making information communication technologies (ICTs) inclusive for all children with disabilities. This can be done by mainstreaming technologies, creating assistive technologies for those who can’t use mainstream services as is, ensure compatibility between mainstream and assistive technologies, and make sure all media is accessible. If the development community can incorporate those components, education can be much more inclusive and the world will benefit.

Efficacy of Global Frameworks

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – introduced at the Millennium Summit in 2000 – have received a large amount of criticism and praise since their conclusion in 2015. In “The MDGs after 2015: Some Reflections on the Possibilities,” Deepak Nayyar provides an overview of arguments for and against the MDGs. On one hand, champions argue the MDGs are simple, straightforward, and offer a global framework that all nationals can come together on and work towards enhancing human development (p. 11). On the other hand, critics argue that the MDGs were too ambitious, focused too much on quantitative targets while ignoring qualitative results, and excluded many important groups – like persons with disabilities – and indigenous groups in developing nations (p. 6). In addition, many argue that the way the MDGs were formulated specified a “destination” – the targets – but not the “journey” – how individual nationals were to reach the targets. .

Even though the MDGs provided a global framework that did help pull some individuals out of poverty and bring rights – like primary education and clean water – to some communities, their biggest downfall is the exclusion of PWDs. It’s estimated that about 15% of the world’s population lives with some sort of disability – 650,000 million people – and that 80% of PWDs live in developing nations (Kett. et al, p. 649). According to “Disability, Development, and the Dawning of a New Convention,” the relationship between disability and poverty is a “negative cycle” meaning that poor people are more likely to become disabled and come disabled are more likely to fall even lower on the economic ladder (Kett. et al, p. 651). The MGDs run on the assumption that the means of economic growth will lead to human development (Khoo, p. 47). Therefore, if the MGDs exclude such a large, poverty stricken portion of the world, they’ve failed before they’ve begun. However, as we’ve discussed in class, there has been a resurgence of policy that not only includes PWDs but also pushes the envelope making global development much more localized and inclusive.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – which came into effect May 2008 – marks a landslide victory for PWD groups (Kett et al, p. 652). This is shown in the inclusion of PWDs in the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This inclusion shows that the international community is more than capable of becoming increasingly inclusive with each revision of the global development framework. It is extremely important moving forward with the SDGs that the international community is diligent and ensures all voices – from the local to the global – are heard and accounted for.

Multistakeholder Internet Governance

Internet governance (IG) is a term first coined by the 2005 meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). In short, IG is the ongoing development and application of procedures, norms, rules, and shared principles that guide the use and development of the internet. IG is especially challenging because – as several of my classmates have explained – the internet isn’t owned or controlled by any one nation but is extremely transnational in nature reaching every corner of the globe. The anarchic nature of the internet provides a unique set of challenges and opportunities for the international community.

One solution to internet governance is Multistakeholder Internet Governance put forth by the Internet Society (ISOC). In brief, the internet has a wide variety of stakeholders ranging from governments and corporations to non-profit organizations, students, and individuals. This approach attempts to leverage the unique perspectives of each group to create an “accountable, sustainable, and effective” solution to internet governance.  The multistakeholder approach – it must be noted – is not an end-all be-all solution to the challenges of internet governance in anarchy. Instead, the multistakeholder approach is a tool box of ideas based on the basis that individuals and organizations can and must participate alongside each other to create consensus based policy for the global community. By bringing together different groups from all over the world, any solutions are guaranteed to be flexible but yet strong if built upon a global consensus.

A great example of the multistakeholder model at work is NETmundial, a high level meeting on IG that was convened in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2014. The focus of this meeting was to create a road map for future development of global IG principles and best practices. This meeting focused on bringing together civil society, the private sector, academia, and the technical community to a platform built on participatory plurality. In short, NETmundial furthered the belief that internet governance shouldn’t exclude individuals and states but instead promote universal access, equal opportunity, and high quality internet access. This will then feed into and spark development and inclusion across the globe.

Even though the internet can be a powerful tool for development, the most notable criticism is that the global north tends to control IG institutions. For example, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is currently under contract and funded by the US government. The IANA is responsible for administering some unique internet identifiers (top-level domains like .uk and .com, Internet Protocol (IP) numbers, etc.). Because the internet is a transnational resource, it can be extremely problematic if one nation – the United States – controls an institution and has the power to exclude smaller national and non-government stakeholder groups.

ICTs and Sustainable Development

Information and communications technology (ICT) – as we discussed during seminar session 5 – play an extremely important role in sustainable development. From the Maitland Commission Report, “The Missing LInk,” to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and outcome documents from the World Summit in Information Society HIgh Level Meeting (WSIS+10) ICTs have had a well documented – but sometimes overlooked – role in inclusive, sustainable development.

In short, “The Missing Link” is a report from 1985 by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) which highlighted the stark global inequality around phone access. According to the report, in 1985, there were 600 million telephones and 75% – or 450 million – were concentrated in just nine countries (p. 3). This is problematic because – as we discussed and the report argues – access to telephone lines and other forms of technology are absolutely vital rools in cultural, economic, and social activity. The Maitland report highlights a number of scenarios where access to a telephone could have enhanced the lives of an individual or community (p. 7). For example, a banker needs a telephone to confirm the credit-ranking of a customer to approve a loan. If a telephone isn’t available and the loan is denied, that customer’s business may fail.

Building on “The Missing Link,” the development community has realized the importance of ICTs in sustainable development incorporating this principle into current strategies and policy. Nearly every SDG incorporates technology in some way. For example SDG 1 to end poverty states a key step will be to “appropriate new technology services” (p. 5). In addition, SDG 4, subgoal 7, states that ICTs will be vital to increasing school enrollment in developing states and African countries (p. 7). The WSIS+10 outcome document also highlights the importance of ICTs in sustainable development. More specifically, the outcome document reaffirms WSIS’s vision to “build a people-centered, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society, where everyone can create, access, utilize, and share information and knowledge” (p. 2). In other words, WSIS clearly brings ICT development at the forefront of its work.

In sum, this week’s discussion and readings introduced and reaffirmed the need of inclusive strategies when it comes to the global digital divide. Landmark strategies, like the SDGs and WSIS+10 outcome documents, document the very real and growing presence of SDGs in development work. Even though there is currently massive inequality when it comes to ICTs, access to information and technology can serve as an important leveling factor when successfully incorporated into development strategies.

Digital Divides

In 1980 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) published “Many Voices One World” – known as the MacBride report written by the International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems. In short, this report aimed to analyze communication problems modern societies face and offer suggestions on how these problems could be diminished to further peace and human development. The report highlighted main functions of communication (p. 18):

    1. Spreading information
    2. Helping people be effective members of society
    3. Fostering individual and community activities
    4. Promoting debate and discussion,
    5. Fostering intellectual development
    6. Disseminating cultural and artistic products
    7. Entertainment
    8. Ensuring all persons, groups, and national have access to vital information

In relation to sustainable development, function 8 – ensuring equal access to information – is especially important. As the MacBride report suggests, there is a rapidly growing global inequality between those who have access to technology and communication systems and those who do not. This often falls long lines between the global north and global south. As Amanda pointed out in her post, in 2013 a staggering 1.2 billion people did not have access to electricity with 95% of those without electricity living in Saharan Africa and Asia. Amanda also pointed out that, according to the UN Broadband Commission, 57% of the world’s population does not have steady access to the internet.

On a domestic level in the United States, these inequalities exist as well. According to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) report “Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide,” minority and rural poor populations have less access to the internet than the white and urban affluent population. For example according to the NTIA, urban households with an annual income over $75,000 are 20 times more likely to have access to the internet than rural households and 9 times for likely to have a computer at home (Irving, Chart 1-2). In addition, those who identify as white are more likely to have access to the internet from home than those who identify as Black or HIspanic, regardless of where they live. In sum, NTIA’s report highlights the digital divide in America showing that, even though over time people are becoming more connected, minority groups, those with lower incomes, and rural populations are still lagging far behind.

As our in-class discussion revealed, an inclusive development strategy must incorporate solutions to this digital divide – on both the global and domestic level. This digital divide permeates every asset of society and acts as a hinderance for minority and disenfranchised groups. On the other hand, if closing the digital gap is at the forefront of development, technology can serve as a leveling factor for those groups. For example, with phone service and internet access, a farmer in a remote location can gain access to the market price of produce ensuring they’re making the most profit possible – elevating themselves economically in the long run. In addition, via the internet and other technological advances, persons with disabilities (PWD) may be able to gain an education and participate in society in ways they were previously excluded from. In sum, the digital divide between the technology haves and have nots is a crucial facet of development that is not only irresponsible but detrimental to overlook and must be incorporated into all strategies moving forward.

Smart Cities, Habitat III and New Urban Agenda

What is an inclusive city and does it relate to international development? Used by many organizations from the the World Bank and United Nations to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the idea of the “inclusive city” is obviously an important concept in international development. The World Bank writes that the inclusive city provides “opportunities and better living conditions for all” and involves spatial, social, and economic factors. In addition, sustainable development goal (SDG) 11 is to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.” In short, the inclusive city is here to stay in policy and development practice.

A city can be un-inclusive on many levels. One way is by being spatially un-inclusive for people with disabilities (PWDs) – as described in Enabling Justice: Spatializing Disability in the Built Environment by Victor Santiago Pineda. Pineda’s main argument is that cities are often non inclusive to PWDs through the ways they conceptualize and distribute space (Pineda, p. 111). For example, stairs with no accessible alternatives to climbing an elevated surface exclude individuals that are physically handicapped from accessing that space. In the same way, cities that do not have audible crosswalks, prevent visually impaired citizens from crossing traffic safely.

In addition, cities can also be socially and economically un-inclusive to individuals living in slums. According to the Asian Development Bank in the report titled “Inclusive Cities”, the region had an “economic miracle” following World War 2 that resulted in a massive influx in investment and economic development. This “miracle” caused citizens to flood urban areas. Urban developments and city planners could not handle such a quick population boom and urban slums exploded. According to the ADB, the average proportion of urban dwellers living in slums ranges from 33.2% to 50% (p. 5).

Several of my classmates in their blog posts and during class discussion brought up the idea of a smart city that drives and attracts innovation. Smart cities draw young people and intellectual adults to a community that fosters intellectual development and can be at the forefront of creating inclusive cities. However, as the ADB highlighted (and several of my classmates), while smart cities and inclusive cities can – and often – do coincide, sometimes they do not. A city can be extremely inclusive and participatory for all people but not be a central hub for innovation and progress. On the other hand, a city can be the center of intellectual progress but physically be inaccessible to those with disabilities.

To address this discrepancy between inclusive and smart cities, Habitat III (the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development) created a plan of action called the New Urban Agenda (NUA). The NUA, introduces the concept of “Right to the City” meaning that each person must have equal access to all amenities – physical and intellectual – that a city has to offer. The Habitat III conference held in Quito, Ecuador on October 20, 2016 officially adopted the NUA marking a landslide victory for stakeholder groups that were previously excluded from safe and successful urban dwelling.  

SDGs, HLPF, and Half of Humanity

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the new development goals set forth by the United Nations to be achieved by the year 2030. Like grand challenges discussed in Week 1, the seventeen different SDGs aim to tackle massive, society pervasive issues that affect all people. For example, goal 1 is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere and while goal 5 is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. The goals also include issues that range from creating sustainable cities and communities to obtaining clean water and sanitation for all people. As I said, they’re grand challenges.

In a way, the SDGs are a response to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were set during the Millennium Summit of the UN in 2000 and expired in 2015. Despite attempting to cover a wide range of development issues, critics argued that the MDGs were at the same time too broad and not inclusive enough of groups like persons with disabilities (PWDs). The SDGs, in contrast, became much more specific setting seventeen goals instead of just eight. In addition, the SDGs were much more inclusive of minority groups. For examples, PWDs are mentioned fifteen times giving PWDs a seat at the table they were previously denied.  

To oversee the implementation of the SDGs and ensure they are reached by 2030, the UN created the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). The HLPF meets annually every year under the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and every four years under the General Assembly of the United Nations (UNGA). Despite being coined as one of the most inclusive forms of the UN, overseeing the UN under the auspices of the HLPF has some very clear advantages and disadvantages. A clear advantage is that the HLPF can use its power and influence to gather the world’s most influential movers and shakers. However, groups that need to be involved – like PWDs and other minorities – have to overcome financial, political, and physical barriers to get a seat at the table and contribute to the implementation of the SDGs.

Just as with the MDGs, the SDGs have not gone without criticism. However, organizations – like Half of Humanity (HoH) – are doing vital work to help chip away at the SDGs. More specifically, Half of Humanity is supporting SDG 5 which is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” and SDG 6 which is to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” HoH works towards these goals by providing Syrian refugees with culturally appropriate feminine hygiene products. By providing essential hygiene supplies, HoH is helping combat health risks and social stigma refugee women face every single month. Through focused efforts on a few SDGs at a time by organizations like Half of Humanity, the global community is one step closer to reaching its goals by 2030.

Development & its freedoms

What is “development”? How do we know if a country is “developed”? Who decides that a country is “underdeveloped”? Is development a short term or a long term process? All of these questions are difficult to answer in simple, clean, and concise answers. However, there are leaders in the field – such as Amartya Sen – who offer valuable and irreplaceable insights into the field that build on and move past traditional conceptions of development.

If we look at history, development as a field of practice has gone through cycles. Post-World War II, development was seen as a long-term process with emphasis on economic institutions and having nation’s shift from agrarian economies to industrial economies (Sumner). Since the 1990s, development has taken a much shorter-term view focusing on policy objectives and performance indicators (Sumner). In addition, the scope of development work has shifted from just focusing on “Third World” nations to focusing on newly industrialized countries (NICs), middle income countries (MICs) and low income countries under stress (LICUS) (Sumner). In short, as time has progressed development has become broader in scope and has grown from the traditional view of only looking at economic growth.

Development scholar Amartya Sen fits in nicely with the post-1990s, broader, more diverse view of development. Sen departs from the traditional notion that development should be entirely economic in nature in his book Development as Freedom published in 1999. Sen posits that development must remove “unfreedoms” that prevent people from having access to crucial freedoms, including economic opportunities, political freedoms, social facilities, transparency guarantees, and protective security (Sen). This shift from the economic prosperity, GDP model is huge. With Sen development became much more focused on the individual and their capacity to access freedoms.

I’ve personally had the privilege of interning with an organization that takes the “freedom” approach to international development. I worked for the International Foundation of Electoral Systems (IFES) for about six months and was amazed at how inclusive IFES is when creating programs to increase participation globally in elections and democratic processes. In addition, IFES has a publication, in partnership with the National Democratic Institute (NDI), titled “Equal Access: How to Include Persons with Disabilities in Elections and Political Processes.” By ensuring that PWDs are not excluded from exercising Sen’s political freedom, IFES is actively working to push this post-1990s, human oriented view of development that is so crucial moving forward.

Grand Challenges

Grand challenges, by definition, are complex societal problems that have frustratingly defied solution (Branscomb, 2009). While these challenges are cross cutting, multidimensional, and permeate through all of society, they are not unsolvable. By capturing the public’s imagination, Grand Challenges can be solved through innovation and scientific, sociological, and technological breakthrough (Kalil, 2012). Some examples of Grand Challenges are finding energy sources that are reliable, curing cancer, improving healthcare for all people, and decreasing food insecurity around the globe.

Because of multidimensional, society encompassing nature’s, Grand Challenges are often taken on by governments and international governmental organizations like the United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU). The United States even has it’s own set of Grand Challenges that “help catalyze breakthroughs that advance national priorities.” In short, governments and international organizations can use Grand Challenges to pool resources, foster innovation, find solutions to major problems that can help elevate everyone.

A great example of the international community attempting to tackle a set of Grand Challenges was through the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) created at the Millennium Summit in September 2000. The MDGs set eight goals: eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/aids, Malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development. Even though these goals were a step in the right direction to elevating all of society, I believe that there were some major blindspots. One, eight goals were not enough to tackle the entire world and account for international, national, and sub-national differences. Two, and the most discussed shortcoming during the lecture, the MGDs did not mention persons with disabilities (PWDs).

By not mentioning PWDs, the MGDs effectively excluded more than one billion people in the world living with some sort of disability (WHO/World Bank Report, 2011). The sheer number of PWDs throughout the world excluded from development efforts is enough to be problematic. By excluding about 15% of your population, you’re effectively saying they don’t matter and their needs aren’t valid enough to be met. What kind of society is that? Including PWDs at the table and elevating their freedoms is an elevation for all of society.

Before starting this class, I wasn’t aware that PWDs – 15% of the world’s population – have previously been excluded from development work. That was extremely surprising to me and I believe it’s a huge disadvantage that needs to be accounted for and righted. Moving forward, I believe this material and our discussions in class will help provide me with another lens to view international development and my academic efforts in my other classes.