Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

Intersectionality explores the intersections of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and class. Issues regarding race, gender, religion, and class can be heightened when combined. It is essential to understand how marginalized communities are further set back by the combination of varying identities, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and class. In the United States, homelessness disproportionately affects gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender youth. These groups represent 20 to 40 percent of the 1.6 to 2.8 million homeless youths in America (Center for American Progress, 2010). When creating policy or implementing programs, the advantages and disadvantages of social placement must be considered to ensure policy and programs benefit everyone equally. In the case of homeless youth in the United States, specific programs and policies must address the fact that gender, race, and sexual orientation are major factors for homelessness among youth.

All factors that contribute to ones advantages or disadvantage must be acknowledged for peace and equality. The United Nations has made a concerted effort to include the voices and perspectives of the most marginalized groups in the world after recognizing the sustainable development was impossible without active participation of all societal members. The High Level Political Forum provides a platform for nine often marginalized groups consisting of:

  1. Women
  2. Children and Youth
  3. Indigenous peoples
  4. Non-Governmental Organizations
  5. Local Authorities
  6. Workers and Trade Unions
  7. Business and Industry
  8. Scientific and Technological Community
  9. Farmers

Member States decide upon how these groups participate in intergovernmental processes related to Sustainable Development. While the creation of these groups is a step forward, I question whether or not Member States interests may be valued over the perspectives of the Major Groups, especially in countries with political instability and corruption.

All in all, intersectionality as a social theory is a relatively new concept. The Working Groups of the United Nations show the progress and importance of giving marginalized communities a platform to express their concerns and ideas towards sustainable development.


Quintana, Nico and Josh Rosenthal, and Jeff Krehely. On the Streets: The Federal Response to Gay and Transgender Homeless Youth. Center for American Progress. June 2010.


Inclusive Education

The disability community represents over one billion people in world. Regardless of this large percentage, equal opportunities are not provided, especially amongst the education sector. Technological literacy is fundamental for social and digital inclusion, however many disabled learners to not have access to proper education opportunities to advance these skills. The UNESCO Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education assists countries in the pursuits of creating an inclusive education framework based upon Information Communication Technologies (ICTs). Inclusive ICTS for education aim to mainstream technologies to all individuals. This includes making computers, web browsers, mobile phones, and word processors accessible to learners with and without disabilities. This could be as easy as supplementing technological instructions with an online video with captioning. However, one must have a computer to access this, which is a further determinant for exclusive education.

Inclusive ICTS for learners depends on eliminating the digital divide. The digital divide refers to “the gap between those who can benefit from digital technology and those who cannot ”(2012, 46). Eliminating the digital divide requires public funding and subsidies and depends on a public-private partnerships.Considering the private sector plays a large role in the R&D stages, inclusivity and accessibility must be acknowledged and integrated. If certain companies do not assume inclusivity and accessibility in R&D stages, it will be nearly impossible to achieve inclusive education. Not only do Inclusive ICTs expand opportunities for marginalized communities, they can also expand market opportunities for private corporations, thus generating greater profits for Inclusive R&D.

Education is integral to social and economic development. Inclusive ICTs have the opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless, cultivate greater awareness of social, political, and environmental issues. Most importantly, ICTs can bring different people and cultures together.


Model Policy for Inclusive ICTS in Education for Persons with Disabilities. (2014). UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. France.

Efficacy of Global and Regional Frameworks

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were presented at the Millenium Summit of the United Nations in 2000. These goals addressed global challenges such as the eradication of poverty and hunger, environmental sustainability, and to develop global partnerships for development. Prior to the implementation of these goals from 1980 to 2000, the developed world experienced economic growth and an increase in economic inequity. The MDGs aimed to expand the benefits of development to excluded and deprived populations. The MDGs introduced a new monitoring mechanism to hold national governments and the international community responsible for ensuring goals were accompanied with action.

A major limitation for the achievement of the MDGs was accountability. Many developing countries where these challenged persisted, lacked resources and a voice to truly implement programs towards goal achievement. Furthermore, the dominant ideology regarding the success of the MDGs was linked with economic growth, aid, and sound governance. This view is limiting because it isolates economics from politics and society.

While the MDGs focused on long-term goals, short-term targets and processes are not clearly defined. The global framework for development also set a one-size-fit-all model for development, assuming all countries were at the same starting point. The transition path was undefined, which painted goals as idealistic and unachievable. Monitoring processes were also highly quantitative and depended upon statistical data to determine progress. While quantitative data can say a lot about a countries development, it does not fully reflect the well-being of vulnerable populations and in cases where data is inaccessible.

While the MDGs were deemed unsuccessful, they provided a framework and a global opportunity for improvement and cooperation. With the international community and national governments aware of the limitations of the MDGs, the framework still provided a point of reference and vast opportunities for reconfiguration. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals  (SDGS) served as the replacement agenda for the 2015 Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs aimed to fill in the gaps of the MDGs by proposing greater short-term targets and indicators of development. The SDGs also place high important on global partnerships between all sectors of society, especially amongst the private and public sector.



Nayyar, Deepak. (2012). UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda. UN Expert Group. New York.

Inclusive Cities

Rapid urbanization and population growth will amplify global inequities if development initiatives are not inclusive of the poor and vulnerable. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) developed Strategy 2020, a long-term framework, 2008-2020, committed to inclusive development and livable cities. In Asia, one-third of the population resides in slums (ADB). UN Habitat defines slums as as:

“a group of individuals living under the same roof who lack one or more (in some cities, two or more) of the following conditions: security of tenure, structural quality and durability of dwellings, access to safe water, access to sanitation facilities, or sufficient living area.” (ESCAP, 2008)



South Asian Slum

The conditions that define a slum coincide with human rights violations, such as the human right to water and security. On the other hand, Asia, with the People’s Republic of China and India, lifted 125 million people out of slum conditions. However, rapid urbanization and population growth have contributed to an increase of the worlds slums. Addressing the needs and challenges of the poor requires direct interventions within slums. This requires greater inclusion of the poor in city planning and development initiatives. Amartya Sen asserts that the removal of poverty, poor economic opportunities, and systemic social deprivation is fundamental for development. Sen further determines that income cannot be the sole measurement of capability deprivation, and handicaps, such as age or illness, can further inhibit one’s ability to translate income into capabilities. The capability lens should be used when implementing programs in creating more inclusive and livable cities.


UN-HABITAT. 2010. State of the World’s Cities: Bridging the Urban Divide 2010/11. UK–USA: Earthscan. p. x.

United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). 2008. Statistical Year Book for Asia and the Pacific


ICTS and Inclusive Sustainable Development: GIS for Participatory Planning

Inclusive sustainable development requires the utilization of information and  communication technologies (ICTS). ICTS can help support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda to deliver improvement and innovation with health, education, business development, and participatory planning processes. Governments will need to focus planning processes, policies, and strategies to address the implications of rapid urbanization on already marginalized communities. Goal 11 of the SDGs aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. Goal 11 aims is to ensure individual rights in urban centers are fully met, with universal access to basic services, energy, housing, transportation, and more. Collaborative and inclusive urban planning is necessary to ensure future individual rights are not violated. Technological innovations can be used to trace inequities in city planning efforts, such as GIS software, which I argue is a sub-category of the ICT field.

Geographic information systems (GIS) provide software programs that are “designed to capture, manage, analyze, and display all forms of geographically referenced information.” These types of technologies can supplement ArcGIS is a mapping and analytic platform designed by Esri, a global leader in GIS technology. One of the main applications of GIS is urban planning, utilizing spatial databases, and analysis and modeling tools (Arc GIS) Furthermore, GIS planning solutions can be used for sustainable development initiatives such as improving the quality of life and portraying data in a visual context for easier decision making processes.

GIS services offer governments ability to readily access maps and capitalize on preexisting data to streamline knowledge accumulation needed for strategic decision making such as planning urban centers and implementing projects where multistakeholder collaboration is key to success. GIS technologies have also aided in community based planning processes that allow planners and citizens to test alternative development scenarios to determine future impacts. Citizen participation is improved through GIS technologies and provides mechanisms to further communicative planning. Communicative planning emphasizes the importance of multistakeholder dialogues for decentralized planning processes. Patsy Healey (1996) a prominent scholar in the field of communicative planning asserts the importance of decentralized and communicative planning processes:

“Knowledge is not reformulated but is specifically created anew in our communication through exchanging perceptions and understanding and through drawing on the stock of life experience and previously consolidated cultural and moral knowledge available to participants. We cannot, therefore, predefine a set of tasks that planning must address, since these must be specifically discovered, learnt about, and understood through intercommunicative processes.”

Examining potential consequences of urban planning is essential and GIS technologies allow for alternatives to be evaluated before actual implementation. Converging informational communication technology with GIS software can be beneficial for urban planners and bottom-up grassroots approaches for inclusive development.


Multistakeholder Governance and Climate Change

The multistakeholder partnership initiative, was developed at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) contains over 300 public-private partnerships (Backstrand) . The achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will require a multistakeholder approach of varying sectors and actors working in an integrated manner. A multistakeholder partnership can also promote new approaches when they first emerge. Sustainable Development Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, highlights the importance of the multistakeholder partnerships for the exchange of knowledge. The multistakeholder approach has potential to improve current practice, provide entry into new markets, and an integrated exchange of best practices. This approach can help uncover gaps and areas of convergences between various goals, objectives, and evaluation frameworks for inclusive sustainable development.

The multistakeholder approach is essential for achievement of the SDGs and for combatting the effects of climate change. Climate change has no borders, and global cooperation is key to mitigating the impacts. The effects of global warming has disproportionate impacts on marginalized communities and will stand as a major obstacle for universal equality. Climate change is already impacting livelihoods and restraining already scarce resources. All citizens have a role in mitigating their carbon footprints. Privileged individuals must ensure they are doing everything to offset the impacts of their lifestyles. Americans consume more than any other country in the entire world and we must address our consumption patterns. SDG 12, Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, will need to be enforced in the United States if this goal is to be achieved. A multistakeholder approach should be used when addressing consumption and production patterns in the U.S..



SDG Overview and the High-Level Political Forum

The 2030 Agenda consists of 17 interrelated goals, targets, and indicators to ensure sustainable and inclusive development. The 2030 Sustainable Goals (SDGs) recognize the multidimensionality of poverty and builds upon the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to fully realize the human rights of all peoples. The goals also highlight the need to implement and monitor programs regarding climate change. In comparison to the MDGs, the SDGs are intended for universal application in both developing and developed countries. All countries are considered to be developing countries and to achieve the goals set forth, and all stakeholders must work together in implementation and monitoring processes. Eradicating poverty and zero hunger are the first two goals of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Agenda. The 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals aim is to mobilize global efforts and partnerships. The overarching goal is to end all forms of poverty whilst ensuring no one is left behind in development initiatives.

The United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was established at the Rio+20 Conference of Sustainable Development. The HLPF is responsible for the review and follow-up of the 2030 Agenda. Each year, the HLPF decides on goals to focus on. In 2019, the HLPF will focus on empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality. This encapsulates Goal 4, 8, 10, 13, 16, and 17. All 17 goals have convergences and opportunities to build off each other. Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality requires the voices of marginalized communities to be amplified. Active participation is further needed. The United Nations recognizes this need and formalized nine sectors of society whose participation is essential for UN related activities. The Major Groups represent women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, civil society, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, and the scientific and technological community.

CRPD and the New Urban Agenda

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) reflects upon the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that everyone is entitled to the same rights and freedoms (Preamble B). The CRPD highlights the unequal impacts of poverty on persons with disabilities The CRPD defines disability as “those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others (Article 1, CRPD). Article 28 of the CRPD calls for States to “recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right without discrimination on the basis of disability” (CRPD, Article 28, 2009).

The New Urban Agenda plays an integral role in ensuring that these rights are realized. Cities will play an integral role in achieving the goals set forth in this agenda. Therefore, the New Urban Agenda will require an urban paradigm shift and requires cities to:

“Readdress the way we plan, finance, develop, govern and manage cities and human settlements, recognizing sustainable urban and territorial development as essential to the achievement of sustainable development and prosperity for all.” (Article 15, New Urban Agenda)

While rapid urbanization has many challenges, it also provides many paths for inclusion. The New Urban agenda can also help propel the SDGs.  In order to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals of eradicating poverty and zero hunger, the voices and perspectives of the world’s most marginalized people must be included at every stage of development. All segments of society must co-adopt the responsibility to bring transformation changes to all citizens. Therefore, a disability perspective towards development is fundamental to transformation and for the achievement of the SDGs and New Urban Agenda.

Development Perspectives and the Green Revolution

Development is complex and ambiguous considering the varying conceptions of freedom and what a good life is. The realm of developmental studies is constantly evolving and thus requires constant innovation, multi-stakeholder participation, and knowledge circulation. Development studies and policies have generated transformations throughout the world since the end of World War II. The first perspective of development included grand visions of societal transformation and the emancipation from underdevelopment, however this grand vision limited the capacities to guide sustainable development. In response to the challenges of a complete societal transformation, development perspective shifted to focus on performance assessments and measuring progressive change on a short term basis. This perspective centralized focus on the outcome of change, which at times undermined the preferences of the local actors benefitting from development. The Western notion of development has dominated the field and the Post-modern approach aims to highlight the negative impacts of these notions. (Summer and Tribe, 2008)

Considering the power dynamics behind development, the public and scholars alike must be aware that forms of development must be attuned to individual communities needs and wants, since not all countries and regions are equally developed or underdeveloped. The Post-Modern approach acknowledges that a ‘one size fits all model’ cannot work effectively in the realm of development. Diverse populations require diverse mechanisms and community-based approaches allow communities to help guide development. International Development had been steered by Western ethnocentric notions, which have vastly expanded the role of technological innovations within the field. While technology offers many opportunities for progress,  various technical approaches have the power to undermine long-term sustainability efforts, especially within the agricultural sector of developing countries.

One example of Western ethnocentric development can be highlighted by the Green Revolution, which was the adoption and spread of high-yielding seed varieties (HYVs) (otherwise known as genetically modified organisms), among small-scale farmers in developing countries. The development of HYVs began in Mexico through a partnerships between the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican Government. The HYVs were adapted to Mexican wheat varieties in 1961 (Wu 2004, 12). By 1965, the HYV of wheat improved yields by 400% in comparison to yields from 1950 (Randhava 1986, 365). This development highlights the first and second perspectives of development. The grand vision of societal transformation was marked with applied innovation and technologies to address one of the world most pressing problems, hunger. While the second perspective addresses the notion of performance assessment and measuring progress on a short-term basis. The rapid increase of yields provided the Development world a strong performance indicator of the short-term progress which aided in the implementation of the technologies worldwide.

As these technologies increased short-term yields, the long-term sustainability was not fully integrated in the approach. By the mid 1980s, yield growth slowed down and environmental degradation caused by intensified agricultural productions, which has been widely recognized as a downfall of these technologies (Pingali 2012). Furthermore, farmers who introduced the seeds in their farming practices were then required to buy new seeds externally on a yearly basis, contrasting the traditional manner of reusing seeds yearly. While Development and technological innovations go hand in hand, we must be aware of the implications of technology and address the short-comings of progress, such as the environmental and social implications of developmental strategies. Amartya Sen defines freedom as having the capabilities to live the life one desires to live, thus the Development community must understand the complexities of communities and their needs and desires before implementing strategies (Sen, 1999).


Randhawa, M. S. A History of Agriculture in India, Four Volumes. New Delhi: Indian Council of Agricultural Research, 1980.

Sen, Amartya. Development as Freedom, Anchor Books, 1999.

Sumner, Andy and Michael Tribe. International Development Studies: Theories and Methods in Research and Practice.Sage, 2008.

Pingali, Prabhu L. “Green Revolution: Impacts, limits, and the path ahead.” Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Boston, MA. Vol. 109 no.31.

Wu, Felicia, and William P.Butz. “The Green Revolution.” The Future of Genetically Modified       Crops: Lessons from the Green Revolution, 1st ed., RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, CA; Arlington, VA; Pittsburgh, PA, 2004, pp. 11–38.


Moonshot Thinking and the Grand Challenges

Moonshot thinking is the art of believing anything is possible and solvable despite preexisting capacities. In 1961, John F Kennedy presented to Congress his moonshot idea of putting the man on the moon, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Eight years later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the moon and lived to tell the tale. Critical, persistent, and complex societal problems require moonshot thinking. The Grand Challenges are pressing socioeconomic issues obstructing development efforts, such as global health epidemics and climate change. Adapting moonshot thinking calls for ambitious and defining goals for developing solutions to the World’s most pressing problems. The aim is to catalyze innovation and advancements within science and technology, and call attention to collaborative mechanisms for problem solving. Grand Challenges allow big and small picture thinkers to come together and create tools and innovations to address issues needed for the advancement of humankind. Overcoming challenges is a natural pursuit of the human race and requires constant forward and positive thinking. In the sphere of Grand Challenges and moonshot thinking, nothing is impossible and our capabilities are contingent upon the efforts and development of each other.

While our society is faced with an abundance of challenges towards development, technological and scientific innovations have provided us with greater understanding and capabilities to address these persistent problems. Grand Challenges require the involvement of diverse actors and perspectives that represent the complexities and localized differences of the problem at stake. Information and communication technologies (ICTS) are just one way to further moonshot thinking and addressing the Grand Challenges. ICTS improve our global network which propel collaboration and facilitate knowledge exchange. Monitoring the Grand Challenges and assessing progress requires multistakeholder collaboration and constant communication, thus ICTs are powerful mechanisms to propel moonshot thinking. Lewis Branstorm states that the heart of the innovation challenge is the process of “moving the products of science into innovations and from there to new industries” (Branstorm). Through this notion, policy makers are advised to deconventionalize policies to better support Jeffersonian science, which combines top-down and bottom-up strategies that encourage all kinds of research and innovation. The role of the government is thus to create policies and funding opportunities in disciplines that lack critical knowledge development.

Addressing the Grand Challenges requires top-down and bottom-up approaches and while these obstacles may yield concrete solutions, working towards these goals and targets provide inherent advancements in knowledge systems, which can be built upon to lead to future solutions. Furthermore, reassessing and reconfiguring the role of policy and policy makers is integral to addressing the Grand Challenges and expanding societies capacities and competences towards science and technological advancements. Individuals should be encouraged to enact moonshot thinking in their daily lives and to present the world with ‘crazy’ ideas that seem impossible. This ideology requires creativity and a sense of fearlessness of the potential societal repercussions of seemingly infeasible notions. Leaders from all different sectors must embrace the possibilities that derive from failure.