Live from the UN Internet Governance Forum and GigaNet

The thirteenth Internet Governance Forum (IGF), hosted by the Government of France, took place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris between November 12-14, 2018. The purpose of the IGF is to “bring people together from various stakeholder groups as equals, in discussions on public policy issues relating to the Internet” ( The topic of Internet governance was one of the most important and controversial issues at WSIS and the WSIS+10 review, especially in light of the creation of the SDGs in 2015 ( In an effort to promote an inclusive and responsive approach to Internet governance, WSIS “mandated the Secretary-General of the United Nations to convene IGF for multistakeholder policy dialogue” ( IGF is important because of its unique “ability to facilitate discourse between governments, intergovernmental organizations, private companies, the technical and civil society organizations that deal with or are interested in Internet Governance related public policy issues” (

With that being said, the key issues at the 13th IGF included: cybersecurity, trust & privacy; development, innovation & economic issues; digital inclusion & accessibility, emerging technologies; evolution of internet governance; human rights, gender & youth; media & content; and technical & operational topics ( In regards to the key issues, participants examine proposed responses, “including regulatory frameworks, potential risks, global trends, as well as best and worst practices that have been adopted or are currently under decision” ( In addition, participants at IGF discuss “the impact of treaties, recommendations and other documents adopted in various international venues within the Internet governance ecosystem” (

The session of this year’s IGF that I tuned into was on the second day of the forum, titled, “DC Schools on Internet Governance: Schools on Internet Governance.” The session began with introductions of the various stakeholders present, and continued with a discussion of a website developed over the last year that was based on proposals for “a dynamic coalition on schools and Internet governance.” The purpose of the dynamic coalition is to create a space and network not only for schools on Internet governance to exchange ideas for best practices, but also to provide guidance for emerging schools. The majority of the meeting was dedicated to developing the website, which can be found at:

It is important for forums like IGF to take place, as they provide a space not only for different organizations around the world to discuss key issues, but also to create and develop innovative new ideas.


Theoretical and Conceptual Approaches to Development

Within the field of international development, there are many different approaches to the definition of development and how to best approach it. Nobel Prize winner and famous development scholar Amartya Sen defines development as “a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy” (Sen 3). Sen looks at development through the lens of freedom, first by defining the concept of “unfreedoms” in the context of poverty and tyrannical societies. Sources of “unfreedom” include poor economic opportunities, systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities, and and intolerance of repressive states (Sen 3). He reasons that the removal of “unfreedoms” will move society towards development and freedom, as a more developed society will provide its citizens with a greater amount of freedom.

By Sen’s definition of development, countries and regions are currently not equally developed because there is an inequality in the freedoms that people around the world are able to enjoy. Sen would argue that countries and regions will be equally developed when all citizens are able to enjoy the same freedoms. He believes that development can be accelerated by promoting institutions that work to remove unfreedoms from society. Sen outlines a set of five institutions that promote the advancement of freedoms: political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security (Sen 10). Examples of these institutions could include health care or educational facilities, institutions that promote local peace and order, and markets and market-related organizations (Sen 8-9).

Sumner and Tribe focus on three different definitions of development. The definitions include development “as a long-term process of structural and societal transformation,” development “as a short-to-medium term outcome of desirable targets,” and development “as a dominant discourse of western modernity” (Sumner and Tribe 11). All three of the definitions that Sumner and Tribe have merit. Development is a long-term societal process because in several different ways, it seeks to improve the structural inequalities that exist within a society. Development is also a short-to-medium term process with specific targets, because without including achievable targets, the process of development as a whole would be difficult to achieve. In addition, development has historically been a discourse of western modernity, which is very important to be cognisant of in the area of international development.

While the term “meta-narratives” refers to grand theory, the term “micro-narratives” refers to context-specific theory, and both can be a guiding force in development studies research (Sumner and Tribe 81). Different theories of development provide a “better overall understanding of development” and serve as a base for research (Sumner and Tribe 82). It is important that research on international development continues, especially as the concept of development progresses, so that the world can have a better understanding of what it means to provide equality and freedom for all people.


Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen, Introduction, Chapters 1-5

International Development Studies, Sumner and Tribe, Chapters 1-4

The Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Development

“Grand challenges” are defined as “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution (Branscomb 2009). Although the world faces many “grand challenges,” there are individuals, organizations, and governments working tirelessly to make strides towards finding and implementing effective solutions. Tom Kalil of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology wrote that, “Grand Challenges can catalyze innovations that foster economic growth and job creation, spur the formation of multidisciplinary teams of researchers, encourage multi-sector collaborations, bring new expertise to bear on important problems, strengthen the “social contract” between science and society, and inspire the next generation…” (Pescovitz 2012). In this way, the concept of “grand challenges” should be looked at as an opportunity for the world to grow, advance, and innovate.

For the grand challenges of inclusive sustainable development in particular, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) partners with public and private actors to “bring in new voices to solve development problems” ( USAID and its partners launched ten grand challenges since 2011, including saving lives at birth, securing water for food, and creating hope in conflict. The initiative has since raised over $508 million in grants and assistance to fund over 450 innovations in 60 countries around the world (

Two other examples of global initiatives taken to work towards grand challenges in inclusive sustainable development are the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MDGs were created in 1990, and detailed eight goals such as reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, that leaders around the world can work towards ( The MDGs were important because they provided an organized set of goals with a timeline, that could be applied on a global scale. The SDGs built upon the MDGs in 2015, with a more expansive set of goals and more of a focus on inclusivity. In particular, the SDGs had more references to persons with disabilities than the MDGs (

The development of the MDGs and SDGs show an advancement in the approach to development, as they represent a greater focus on international collaboration and using a multistakeholder approach to solving problems. In addition, while the MDGs focused on inclusivity, the subsequent SDGs became even more inclusive. The increasing emphasis on inclusivity shows that international development is moving in the right direction by recognizing that advancement means including everyone in society. If global approaches to development continue to focus on collaboration and inclusivity, there is a remarkable opportunity for the world to make greater and faster strides towards solving the “grand challenges” in inclusive sustainable development.


Opportunities and Limitations in Global Strategic Frameworks

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was a global framework of development goals that produced “the most successful anti-poverty movement in history.” and served as a basis for the development of the SDGs (Millenium Development Goals). To illustrate the successes that the MDGs produced, the United Nations released a report after the framework’s fifteen year timeframe was complete. For example, the percentage of the global population in developing regions that lived on less than $1.25 per day decreased from nearly 50 percent to a total of 14 percent, within the framework’s timespan from 1990 – 2015 (Millenium Development Goals). In addition, the global population of people who are undernourished in developing regions decreased by 50 percent (Millenium Development Goals).

While the MDGs were an excellent launching point for global strategic development frameworks, the SDGs offer a broader range and higher number of topics. While there are many similarities between the MDGs and the SDGs, such as eradicating poverty and ending world hunger, the SDGs particularly expand upon the theme of environmental sustainability. While the MDGs only had one goal specifically dedicated to sustainability, the SDGs have multiple goals focused on water resources, consumption and production patterns, and sustainable oceans and cities. In addition, the SDGs have more of a focus on inclusivity and accessibility than the MDGs. The SDGs mention the word “inclusive” six times and “for all” another six times in the titles of the goals alone, and the SDGs additionally have more references to persons with disabilities than the MDGs.

Global strategic frameworks such as the MDGs and SDGs are important because they provide a cohesive set of goals that can be adopted and implemented around the world. These frameworks also have concrete vision that provides clarity when working with big-picture, abstract ideas. It is also beneficial that the frameworks provide timelines, which adds both a sense of urgency and a reference point to measure successes. Some of the possible limitations of these frameworks are that the number and expansiveness of the goals could potentially be overwhelming, as they address issues in multiple levels of society and each have a relatively broad focus. In addition, countries could have reservations as to which goals they want to follow, and not work towards every goal. However, despite the potential limitations, global strategic frameworks are a key institution in  facilitating international collaboration. These frameworks are particularly important for issues such as sustainable development, that impact every corner of the world. When the SDG framework timeline ends in 2030 and a new set of United Nations development goals are released, the new set of goals would ideally follow the trend that the SDGs took after the MDGs and continue to become even more inclusive in the future.


Click to access MDG%202015%20PR%20Global.pdf

Internet Governance and Sustainable Development

The Internet plays an incredibly important role in modern sustainable development, as it facilitates global communication and increases access to information. As we discussed with the “digital divide,” one of the challenges of the Internet in sustainable development is the lack of equal access to Internet services around the world. Another challenge of the Internet was the lack of a set norms and regulations when it was first created, as the Internet is a shared resource that is not technically owned or governed by any particular person or place. “Internet governance” was designed to help shape ethical norms, rules, and regulations of the Internet as it continues to develop (UNESCO). Internet governance advocates for a free and open Internet that can be inclusively accessed and a place that respects privacy, cultural diversity, and linguistic diversity (UNESCO). Internet governance is a positive resource that works to ensure the Internet is a resource that provides a positive and inclusive experience for all.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was held by the United Nations in 2003 and 2005 to address the complexities of modern digital communication (UNESCO). WSIS resulted in the development of the annual multistakeholder Internet Governance Forum  (UNESCO). The forum is a space for “International agencies, governments, Internet professionals, business and civil society organizations” to discuss the relationship between the Internet and different areas of public policy (UNESCO). The multistakeholder approach is effective because it is a toolbox of strong and adaptable practices that are used all over the world, and the approach is accepted as an international norm (Internet Society). The principles that the multistakeholder framework relies on include, “open-ended unleashed innovation (infrastructure), decentralized government institutions (governance), and open and inclusive processes (human)” (Internet Society). The multistakeholder approach emphasizes that inclusivity is directly connected to framework’s success, because inclusive decision-making allows for increased accountability and sustainability (Internet Society).

NETMundial, held in Brazil in 2014, was an important multistakeholder conference that gathered various international actors involved in Internet governance (NETMundial). The conference organized its participants into various committees, focusing on “the elaboration of principles of Internet governance and the proposal for a roadmap for future development of this ecosystem” (NETMundial). NetMundial was the first forum of its kind, with participants representing a diversity of 97 different countries (NETMundial). While NETMundial was the beginning of developing these policies in a global situation, we will need to create more forums like it as the Internet continues to be an increasingly important part of inclusive sustainable development initiatives.


ICTs and the Digital Divide

We live in an increasingly digital world. Access to technology allows people to apply for online jobs, keep up with current news, research information, connect with others, and participate in online classes. However, unequal access to information communication technologies (ICTs) has become one of the greatest economic and civil rights issues around the world (Irving). Unequal access to ICTs puts people behind the starting line in our increasingly digitally dependant world. While people with access to ICTs have a much greater advantage in advancing their education and career positions, people without access to ICTs face many more obstacles in accessing those same exact opportunities. Many job applications, college applications, or scholarship applications can only be found online.

For example, a friend of mine works at an organization that provides opportunities for high school students abroad to do an exchange in the United States. There was one student, Leonardo, who was almost unable to apply for the opportunity because he did not have a digital device or Internet access at home. Each day that he was working on the application, Leonardo had to travel 45 minutes to a university library in his town to access a computer. The day that he was planning on submitting the application, the university library was closed. Although Leonardo had missed the deadline, the organization luckily granted him an extension because he was not able to easily access the technology he needed to apply. Leonardo was selected as one of only 13 finalists in a pool of 280 total applicants. He just completed his exchange in the United States yesterday, but was almost not able to attend due to his inability to easily access the necessary technology to apply.

The term to describe the inequality between populations with and without access to ICTs is called the “digital divide” (Irving). The digital divide disproportionately affects minorities, low-income persons, persons with less education, and populations in rural areas – and the gap is widening quickly (Irving). For example, persons with a college degree are eight times more likely to have a computer at home and sixteen times more likely to have Internet access than persons with an elementary school education (Irving). A low-income White family is three times more likely to have Internet access than a comparable low-income Black family, and four times more likely than a comparable low-income Hispanic family (Irving). A high-income family in an urban area is over twenty times more likely to have Internet access than a low-income family in a rural area (Irving).

At the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), the International Telecommunication Union Union (ITU) connected the WSIS Action Lines with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goal was to harness the potential of ICTs to achieve the SDGs (WSIS-SDG Matrix). For example, SDG 1 is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere” and WSIS Action Line 1 is “the role of governments and all stakeholders in the promotion of ICTs for development” (WSIS-SDG Matrix). One of the resulting rationales is “Increased Internet use can reduce poverty and create jobs through increased efficiency and transparency in government, the growing number of broadband connections and household Internet penetration” (WSIS-SDG Matrix). Equal access to ICTs is absolutely crucial in promoting equality in our increasingly digitally dependent world. We must work to break down the ever-increasing “digital divide” that disproportionately places many behind the starting line.


Click to access wsis-sdg_matrix_document.pdf

Inclusive Education: Classrooms for All

As every person has valuable skills, experiences, and ideas to contribute to society, it is important to provide every person with equal access to education resources. Education not only valuable for a person’s development as an individual, it is a necessary key to access opportunities and jobs in a society. The World Report on Disability estimates that there are “between 93 and 150 million school-aged children with disabilities globally” (UNESCO 9). Children with physical or mental disabilities are being excluded from classrooms around the world, limiting their opportunities and putting them behind the starting line from a young age.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that “up to 35 percent of students in OECD countries require some form of special support to meet their individual learning needs during their school careers” (UNESCO 10). As many teachers around the world do not have training on how to identify students with disabilities, the students are often left out classroom lessons or sometimes even punished if teachers do not understand the disability. We need more worldwide trainings on ways to identify and include children with disabilities in the classroom, so that everyone has the opportunity to learn on a level playing field. Each learner should be able to maximize their full potential and celebrate their own special gifts.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) will be an essential element to developing inclusive education systems. ICTs allow all students to learn based on their individual learning needs. ICTs include online classrooms and digital learning environments, communication aids such as screen readers and alternative keyboards, and accessible media formats (UNESCO 11). A “one size fits all” teaching method does not work because we do not have just one kind of student – every person has methods that work better for them. Inclusive technologies account for different learning needs, give students the tools they need to succeed, and remove the barriers put into place by only having one teaching method.

To incorporate ICTs in classrooms around the world, there needs to be a greater emphasis on policy changes and increased funding for inclusive education. Policy objectives include the learner level, organization level, and system level. At the learner level, ICTs should be included not only in traditional educational settings, but also in lifelong learning and social spaces (UNESCO 22). At the organization level, educational organizations should be working with ICTs to increase participation learning opportunities (UNESCO 22). At the system level, ICT stakeholders must agree that technology is effective in creating more inclusive learning spaces, active dialogue must be present, and effective data must be present to continue policy support (UNESCO 22). Funding should be secured from a variety of budgets, including health, education, social affairs, and information society sectors (UNESCO 42).

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares education as a human right for all. Inclusive education is the cornerstone to the human right to education, as every person has the right to have their education meet their learning needs. As we strive to make education inclusive for all learning needs, we will see learners growing both inside and outside of the classroom. If all learners are able to grow to their full potential, the world will grow too, as we will see the full impact of combining every person’s skills and ideas.


World Urban Forum – Cities for All

The World Urban Forum is a global platform for discussing urban challenges. The United Nations established the Forum to “examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies.” WUF’s goals include raising awareness for sustainable urban development in both the public and private spheres, increasing knowledge on sustainable urbanization, and improving coordination among global actors. With high participation rates and a focus on inclusivity, WUF is the world’s best platform for global environmental discussion.

The most recent WUF forum was held in February 2018 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The forum included 250 speakers, 25,000 participants, and over 500 events. The sessions include high level roundtables, dialogues, networking events, assemblies, and training events. High level roundtables are the most prestigious events, as they feature high profile decision makers. WUF 9’s high level roundtables included discussions about the urban impact on climate change, innovative governance in inclusive cities, and peace and security in sustainable urbanization. Dialogues include debate on policy recommendations regarding the New Urban Agenda. WUF 9’s dialogues included urban conflict and crisis, creating resilient cities, and legislative frameworks. Assemblies provide a platform for various stakeholder groups, allowing each of them to have a voice in the discussion on sustainable urban development. WUF 9’s assemblies provided a special voice for youth, women, businesses, and grassroots organizations. Training events are a different way to approach the advancement of sustainable development, as they build knowledge and develop skills for both participants and international audiences. Training events at WUF 9 included women’s safety in cities, homelessness in cities, and rebuilding cities after natural disasters.

The next WUF (the tenth forum) will be held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in 2020. In the next forum, I hope to see more discussions and trainings about sustainable natural resource use. While WUF 9 covered a wide range of topics necessary to developing inclusively sustainable cities, there were not too many sessions about natural resource conservation. As cities hold the largest concentrations of populations in the world, it is important these populations not only use natural resources sustainably, but also have access to resources for generations to come. Promoting sustainable resource use is one of the most important ways we can support a future of environmental inclusion for all, so that every person will always have equal access to the resources they need to survive each and every day.


Sustainable Cities as Solutions: The New Urban Agenda

Sustainable cities are the present and future powerhouses of inclusive development. A city cannot be considered sustainable without being inclusive and providing “equal rights and access to the benefits and opportunities that cities can offer” (New Urban Agenda iv). If a city does not include all of its population in its development, it is both ignoring fundamental human rights and missing out on the special talents that each person has to offer. In addition,When cities focus on sustainable urbanization, the population’s quality of life and employment opportunities increase (New Urban Agenda iv). The United Nation’s New Urban Agenda presents a set of standards for urban development. The agenda’s pillars include topics such as urban design, legislation policy, and local implementation strategies (New Urban Agenda iv).

The New Urban Agenda states that inclusive cities promote “a sense of belonging and ownership among all their inhabitants,” and “leave no one behind” (New Urban Agenda articles 13-14). Inclusive cities promote racial, gender, and economic equality (New Urban Agenda article 13). Inclusive cities reduce vulnerability to environmental disasters, minimize their environmental impact, and promote sustainable consumption and production patterns (New Urban Agenda article 13). The agenda provides necessary vision for an inclusively sustainable future, and one in which each country can strive towards within the framework of their current systems.

An important part of the New Urban Agenda is the “call to action.” The call to action states that “While the specific circumstances of cities of all sizes, towns and villages vary, we affirm that the New Urban Agenda is universal in scope,” recognizing that each area has its own unique strengths and challenges (New Urban agenda article 16). The agenda’s “implementation plan” provides a more specific call to action, with specific examples of steps that actors at the local level, national level, and private sector can take. Cities have the power to connect issues of sustainability, inclusivity, equality, and development. It is vital that people at each level of society recognize the powerful potential of sustainable cities, and take the necessary actions towards them. The New Urban Agenda’s creation is a valuable step forward towards the achievement of sustainable cities, with an organized vision and action plan for both present and future generations.

Measuring Society’s Success: Inclusion and the SDGs

In an ideal world, a society’s success would be measured by its level of inclusion. Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities defines inclusion as coming down to “somewhere to live, something to do, someone to love” (Rimmerman 35). The more citizens in a nation that are included in this definition, the higher a nation’s level of success. Instead of measuring a country’s success through its overall economic growth or strength in the international political arena, we should be asking ourselves, do this country’s policies promote equality and inclusion for its people? Do all communities feel they are included in society?

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals were created in 2015 to tackle the issue of climate change, reduce inequality and promote inclusion. With 17 tangible goals centered around sustainable social and economic development, the SDGs are “the blueprint to achieve a more sustainable future for all.” Each SDG has concrete goals, targets and indicators that provide a clear vision for what each element of a sustainably developed society would look like. The SDGs are also medium-term goals, with the target accomplishment date set at 2030. It is so important to have a coherent plan that each country can strive towards and apply to their own situations, so that everyone can do their part to create a more inclusively sustainable global society.

Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom theorizes that the alleviation of poverty and societal development will lead people to freedom. He writes that poverty limits the choices a person can make, and limited choices cyclically results in a lack of freedom. Sen’s indicators for freedom include: life expectancy, education, infant mortality, and gender equality. For example, if a person does not have the money to make choices that will benefit their health, a lower life expectancy results in a lack of freedom because a person cannot make choices if they are not alive. Empowering people to make choices allows them to have the best possible life. By making an emphasis on inclusion in society, a society can strive to provide all of its citizens with the freedom to make choices for themselves.

The SDGs are an important mechanism for inclusion and freedom, and the UN High-Level Political Forum makes sure that the program continues to stay on track. The HLPF meets annually under the Economic and Social Council for eight days, with a special three day segment every four years with the Heads of State and Government. The forum provides “a dynamic platform for regular dialogue” and “political leadership, guidance and recommendations for sustainable development. The HLPF is indispensable resource towards the successful implementation of the SDGs around the world.

States, NGOs, businesses, and individual actors are all important and necessary contributors to an inclusive and sustainably developed future for all. Everyone must play their part by using the platforms available to them to take action, raise awareness, and promote inclusiveness and equality in their communities. A truly inclusive society has the mindset that everyone deserves to be a part of the community and everyone has something valuable to offer. Societies with inclusive mindsets are the most successful ones, and we must do everything we can to promote inclusivity in every corner of the globe.


Social Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities, Ari Rimmerman

Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen