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.