Although the term intersectionality is discussed foremost in social justice spheres, in practice it sees use in a number of fields. Intersectionality in development discourses has become increasingly important as the idea of inclusive development-seeking directly to address the issues faced by a number of dispossessed groups-has grown. By allying together, different interest groups can act as more forceful advocates for their agendas in international policy-making. This also reflects how non-state actors, particularly civil society groups, have grown more influential in international politics.
Development has been historically a matter of whole populations, lifting countries up wholesale in order to improve, in theory, the lives of the poor and disadvantaged. In comparison, Inclusive Sustainable Development focuses on those left behind by previous efforts of development in order to improve their standards of living. In recognizing the different needs of persons with disabilities and other disaffected groups, the paradigm of ICD enables a just and successful way to development. By recognizing that developing for persons with disabilities in mind is a separate process from blindly developing for the general population, inclusive sustainable development creates spaces for persons with disabilities in the discourses around development, giving them a voice to address inequalities and injustices that they experience. The inclusive aspect of ICD creates a more just model of development, and creates a paradigm that is built towards justice.
The Great Recession caused not just a great loss of wealth for many people around the world, but led to political shifts which have steadily gained power in the decade since the recession. With increasingly right-wing governments in power in numerous influential states, we are seeing fundamental challenges to the networks of global governance and the international strategies which have defined the history of international cooperation in the post-WWII era. These challenges to the global framework of agreements reflects the ways in which national decisions can affect international politics, this time in ways which threaten to disrupt the basis of those politics.
Conservative American politics has always included a strange blend of isolationism and militarism which has generally created a distrust of the use of “soft power” and international agreements. With the election of Donald Trump, whose politics seem built as much on being anti-Obama as on any ideology, these Republican tendencies have been given substantial reign. It should be no surprise, then, that the United States is reneging on the Paris Accords and a host of other international agreements. This variability in executive policy makes it difficult to rely on the United States as a partner in international agreements, weakening the foundations of future accords, to say nothing of the open opposition evinced by Trump to trade agreements, treaties, and other underpinnings of the liberal world order. Without a change in national politics, the United States will cease to be a key actor in international politics.
Most American children grew up familiar with the idea of a “special needs” class in their school. In such classes, children with disabilities are excluded from education with their peers, their needs managed by specially trained educators. This exclusion functions to keep children with disabilities away from their peers’ education, and it could be argued that the idea of the “special needs” class is not meant to give children with disabilities an education, but to isolate them so as to not distract other children from their education. This is an untenable paradigm if education is going to be used as a vehicle for development. This is perhaps more fundamental to creating inclusive education programs in the United States than promoting inclusive technologies and curricula. The entire paradigm of the school as a factory floor, promoting obedience to authority and a carefully managed system, cannot address the differing and more intensive demands of children with disabilities; achieving inclusive education in the United States must involve a fundamental shift in how education is viewed and designed.
The Internet is perhaps the most accessible forum space in the world. The sheer number of actors around the world can make internet governance a herculean task, with a number of pitfalls to be found. The battle over net neutrality in the United States is demonstrating how corrupted actors can profoundly upset the balance of internet governance around the world.
At its most basic, the loss of net neutrality in FCC regulations will lead to uneven traffic of internet data, which will affect both producers and consumers by increasing the price of participation for all parties. The only group to benefit from the loss of net neutrality is the internet service providers themselves, who stand to make even greater profits should the FCC decide to do away with net neutrality. The ways in which the internet communities will suffer shows how fair internet governance is key for its sustainability in the future.
The New Urban Agenda (NUA) formed a new basis from which urban policy might be developed. Focusing on the accessibility of all components of a city, for all of its citizens, was a key step towards further improving approaches to development and solving urban issues. Where previous urban development approaches focused on a physical lack of urban infrastructure, the NUA centered on the lack of accessibility in many aspects of urban life for disadvantaged citizens. As development actors begin to realize more and more that accessibility is a key factor in creating successful development schemes, more documents like the New Urban Agenda can be expected to place accessibility for minorities, women, persons with disabilities, and children in a place of priority.
“Digital divides” have been a key part of advancing development in the 21st century. With the great utility of computers and cell phones for business, banking, education, and political participation, bridging these “divides” to ensure access to various digital technologies. Bridging these divides is good for development, but the issues which limit access to electronic technologies around the world affect the distribution of other essential parts of modern life as well. By understanding the key contributors to digital divides, I believe those working on many aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals can understand hurdles which may face development in other fields.
In particular, thinking of the issues with rural accessibility to telecommunications services and similar issues within sanitation campaigns in rural areas run into the same sorts of barriers. The low population distribution, compared to rural areas, means that investments in infrastructure for telecommunications and sanitation are both cost-intensive and lack the quick ability to access a large number of people in urban areas. This means that political willpower is key in development for projects where the payoff may not be as immediate.
Although much has changed since Rostow penned his linear development theory which has so marked modern theory of development, it is still seen as an intensely linear process; a transit from an undeveloped point A to a developed point B. This aggressive linearity does draw from history, but ignores the other half of the history such models describe: the colonies, slaves, and workers from which the supposedly inevitable course of development was built.
This matters for conceptions of development today, because in many ways that same linear conception of development can be seen in modern development efforts today. The assumption that there is a linear path to development ignores the hierarchies that still exist between the “developed” and “developing” world, where the developing countries provide raw materials, labor, and consumer markets to the developed states. No matter the ways in which the standard of living might be improved, without resolving the inequalities of the global economy, development will be a process without success, and states that are lower in the global economic hierarchy will not be able to meet the goals of development initiatives such as the SDGs.
The United Nations is a fundamentally state-focused organization. This is not a value judgement of the organization, but rather a recognition of the UN’s structure and its major actors. However, as non-state actors have gained more influence in global affairs, the UN has slowly shifted to recognize this fact. Comparing the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals to their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals, it appears that the UN has made more room for participation for actors at the sub-state level, as well as for the participation of non-state actors.
Particularly within SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), the SDGs create spaces where smaller actors can participate. In addition to the demands placed upon states to meet the various targets of the SDGs, there are targets which could give initiative to private industry actors. SDG 12’s target to halve food waste at the retail and consumer levels, for example, could likely be handled best by reforms to limit food waste in the private sector; the title of SDG 11 speaks for itself as to the ability of sub-state actors to be involved in meeting the Goals by 2030. The shift in the UN’s development goals to include a wider range of actors reflects the growing influence of non-state actors in international politics.
When people discuss “grand challenges” facing our world today, defined often as “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution” (Branscomb). While organizations such as USAID have several “grand challenges” which define their organizational priorities, global climate change is seen as the quintessential “Grand Challenge”; other environmental issues such as urbanization and deforestation also often take the fore. But just as the solutions for grand challenges require a vast and complex network, the challenges themselves also possess a network of further causes and effects, which can magnify understood problems into issues equally deserving of the moniker “Grand Challenge”.
To give an example, urban flooding has been extensively studied and understood; cities would plan for a variable amount of rain which would need to be drained away in quick order. Yet, as we have seen most recently in the Houston, Texas urban area, climate change and increasing urbanization have both exacerbated the potential of flooding events. Increasing sea-level temperatures, particularly within the Gulf of Mexico, strengthen hurricanes, elevating the frequency of exceptional weather events to form a new statistical norm.
The alarming frequency of “hundred-year” storms is not the only factor in worsening floods. The devastation of coastal cities multiplies as cities in flood-prone areas develop over lakes, parks, and other natural formations which might absorb some floodwater. Without these natural drains, more neighborhoods become inundated by higher levels of flooding, worsening the issue even beyond what the increased intensity of storms would do alone.
The use of “grand challenge” in numerous fields is a fairly recent development, designed to evoke ideas of heroism and struggle in what might otherwise be mundane or overtly technical tasks. The factors surrounding grand challenges are not a simple knot which can be undone with a singular “silver bullet” solution, but a Gordian knot which can only be untangled with great effort and knowledge. Even as one challenge’s solution is sought, however, we cannot lose sight of other challenges woven into the same rope.