Global Grand Challenges

A Global Grand Challenge. At first, this phrase seems as if it is proposing a daunting task. The words themselves emphasize the utter importance of a challenge or issue that has been posed by the international community. Yet, global grand challenges are key to inclusive sustainable development that strive to make the world a better place for all people. As discussed in class, a grand challenge is a large-scale, multi-dimensional challenge that the global community faces and attempts to solve through collaborative research and technology. Technology plays a large role in global grand challenges because it is viewed as an innovative tool that has the potential to solve some of the world’s greatest issues. Some of the grand challenges the global community faces range from creating new jobs and eliminating hunger to improving health care and developing new ways of teaching and learning. These global grand challenges of development focus primarily on “moon shot” ideas, or enthusiastic yet attainable goals that were derived from the Apollo missions to the moon in 1969. Similarly, Branscomb and Kalil’s research explicates that governments aim to focus societal attention on pressing challenges that are linked to well-defined societal goals that are ambitious, yet achievable.

The Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals are considered two grand challenges that were brought forth to the international community. The MDGs, as we have discussed, were created to tackle the global issues of poverty. Essentially, the MDGs posed a grand challenge to the development community to push everyone towards eradicating poverty universally. However, the MDGs were critiqued on their lack of context, lack of equitable approach to timeline, and lack of inclusivity, which ultimately affected their impact. Despite this, the SDGs were created in 2015 to pose yet another global grand challenge that attempted to respond to the critiques of the MDGs in order to become more inclusive. The SDGs expanded into 17 goals and allowed countries to customize these goals to each of their own contexts. It also integrated the non-profit and non-governmental sector into the conversations, which brought new expertise and engagement to the table. Ultimately, the SDGs used the momentum of the MDGs to engage the international community in conversation and action for inclusive sustainable development.

Intersectionality in Development

Intersectionality is an analytic framework created by Black legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw that shows how interlocking systems of power can impact the most marginalized in a community. More specifically, Crenshaw explained how the combined effects of racism and sexism affected African-American women in the 1980’s. In other words, intersectionality shows how multiple identities can combine and determine how a person experiences oppression. These identities include those related to age, gender, race or ethnicity, economic status, and level of education. Moreover, intersectionality illustrates how different identities can overlap and ultimately impact inclusive sustainable development. Essentially, identities cannot be viewed in a vacuum because they all relate to and impact one another. In other words, carrying multiple intersectionalities may make more individuals vulnerable to environmental stressors than others. Recognizing intersectionality within inclusive sustainable development brings these challenges to the forefront of the conversations, while also encouraging strategy and policy makers to consider intersectional identity and the challenges that they face.

In the context of inclusive sustainable development, intersectional approaches are critical to developing programming and solutions to solve problems. Without recognizing the complexity of identity, creating viable solutions that benefit all is challenging. This can be exemplified when looking at the intersectionality of disability and gender. A woman with a disability in a country that has conservative gender role may not have the opportunity to go to school. If it does, she may face physical barriers to her education because the schools within her area are not disability inclusive. Ultimately, this individual is not only oppressed because of her gender, but is physically limited within schools because of her disability. Moreover, when looking at the UN Major Groups Framework, it is evident that there are groups formulated based off of identity. These groups represent women, children and youth, NGOs, and indigenous groups, to name a few. Yet, it is important to recognize that within these groups there are other compounding identities present. For example, among indigenous groups there are also indigenous people with disabilities, and of all ages and genders. Therefore, when considering inclusive sustainable development, it is critical to understand and provide for the complex intersectionality of identity.

13th Annual Internet Governance Forum

The Internet Governance Forum is an international forum that brings together various stakeholder groups from the public and private sectors to discuss policy issues relating to the Internet. The 13thannual IGF was hosted by the Government of France at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France this year. This year’s theme centered around “The Internet of Trust.” In addition to hosting the IGF, President Macron announced it to be International Digital Week in France, which included the Peace Forum and the GovTech convention. From discussions on cybersecurity to those on refugee issues, the IGF introduced conversations on multiple subjects. Although I experienced some technical difficulties, I was able to learn more about refugee access to internet through the session on “Refugees digital rights: Necessities and needs.” In some regions, especially those who host large refugee populations, there are restrictive data policies that restrict access. Not only do these restrict access to the Internet, these policies affect a refugee’s ability to access digital learning opportunities and connect with family members. In an evolving technical society, it was interesting to hear the attendees talk about the need to emphasize a refugees human right to digital access.

The IGF is an innovative forum for many reasons. All individuals are representing themselves, not their organizations, which allows individuals to rely on their own expertise rather than being limited by the scope of their organization. It also encourages more open dialogue because there are no negotiations for an “outcome document” similar to other large-scale international forums. In addition, the IGF has a Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG). The MAG was established by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in order to advise on the programming and schedule of the IGF. 55 members from governments, the private sector, and civil society organizations are elected into the MAG and participate in face-to-face meetings up to three times a year. Dialogues are also open to former IGF host countries and representations of intergovernmental organizations. Essentially, the MAG acts as a governance mechanism for the IGF. The IGF also has dynamic coalitions that focus on specific key issues regarding internet governance. The dynamic coalitions first emerged at the first IGF meeting in Athens in 2006. These coalitions are informal, issue-specific groups with members from different stakeholder groups.

One of the most interesting innovations to me is the development of regional IGF’s. These regional forums host discussions that are focused on the issues discussed at the IGF, but are more country or region specific. Because of the regional IGF’s, more individuals are able to participation in these conversations because they are easier to access. Today, there are more than 110 regional IGFs located in all 5 UN regions.

Opportunities and Limitations of Global Strategic Frameworks

Global Strategic Frameworks like the MDGs and SDGs are important tools in garnering international attention and support for inclusive sustainable development. Yet, it is important to recognize their challenges and limitations.

The Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015) aimed to eradicate poverty around the world and were successful in starting the conversation surrounding global sustainable development on international, national, and local levels. Despite their clear goals, targets, and indicators, the MDGs had many challenges. As discussed in our first two class sessions, the MDGs had a one-size-fits-all approach to development that lacked consideration of cultural, political, and historical contexts as well as the lack of inclusivity in its goals, targets, and indicators. Moreover, the MDGs did not specifically consider the almost one billion people in the world with disabilities in the conversation regarding development.In addition, they assumed that all countries would be able to achieve all goals 100% at the end of the timeline. Lastly, the goals lacked an inclusive approach by not including disability-inclusive goals.

At the conclusion of the MDGs, the United Nations General Assembly convened a High-level Meeting on Disability and Development with the theme titled “The way forward: a disability inclusive development agenda towards 2015 and beyond.” THis UNGA High-level meeting brought together international leaders to highlight core principles and values, which resulted in support for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) as well as the MDGs, but emphasized the need for disability-inclusive development goals moving forward. The next development agenda had the opportunity to meet the needs of persons with disabilities, which ultimately resulted in the Sustainable Development Goals (2015-2030).  Similar to the CRPD, the SDGs are strongly rooted in a human rights framework that promotes the rights of persons with disabilities in development. The SDGs expanded the 8 broad goals of the MDGs from 8 to 17. They also introduced more participation from NGOs and other non-state actors, as well as allowed for each country to be flexible in which goals they focused on, which depends on their context and needs. Most critically, they brought inclusivity to the forefront of sustainable development.

Looking at the challenges to these global frameworks, many countries view the SDGs and similar frameworks as ways to evaluate and rank their countries, rather than being viewed as a working goal. Similarly, global strategic frameworks can appear to be too theoretical. In other words, those struggling with basic needs may view these goals as too abstract and not as realistic. Despite these challenges, global strategic frameworks are important in guiding the world towards inclusive sustainable development.

Inclusive Education

Receiving a quality education is vital to sustainable development. As Sen (1999) states, education is a gateway that improves quality of life while opening up economic, political, and social opportunities. However, persons with disabilities have historically been excluded from educational opportunities. Therefore, disability-inclusive education has been designed to remedy that imbalance by ensuring that all people are being provided the educational opportunities and skills they need to participate in social and economic development. Article 24 of the CRPD recognizes the right to education for persons with disabilities and requires states to ensure that persons with disabilities are not excluded from the education system. Moreover, Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all. Looking specifically at its targets that focus on inclusivity, SDG 4 works toward ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for persons with disabilities, as well as building and upgrading facilities that are disability-inclusive to create better learning environments.

My capstone project focuses specifically on disability-inclusive education in Malaysia. In Malaysia, education is viewed as a key instrument in transforming the country into a knowledge-based economy that can compete with a globalized world, as well as promoting harmony and unity for its uniquely diverse society. In its national education policy, better known as the Education Blueprint 2013-2025, the Malaysian government aims to provide equal access to education and create more inclusive environments for persons with disabilities. However, the implementation of this policy is challenging due to negative public perceptions of disability in Malaysia. The Malaysian Information Network on Disabilities has asserted that among policy makers and the public there is a lack of awareness on the rights and needs of persons with disabilities. The general public still continues to believe that children with disabilities are often kept out of the public and are an embarrassment and burden to their families. Similarly, teachers hold common beliefs that students with disabilities would be best educated in separated classrooms. These challenges to inclusive education affect many countries around the world, but significantly impact the success of disability-inclusive education in Malaysia. Despite this, education can be utilized to transform cultural and social stigmas of disability within Malaysian society.

As discussed in this week’s seminar, inclusive technologies can help positively transform societies like Malaysia. Firstly, they can help individualize learning for students with disabilities. Moreover, they can connect educators with one another to develop teacher’s professional development and to share resources to positively improve disability-inclusive education. Ultimately, inclusive education is paramount to sustainable development practices, and best facilitated through the use of inclusive ICTs.

Access to ICT’s in Sustainable Development

One of the most vital aspects of sustainable development is the role of technology. Access to internet, cell phones, and other technologies are incredibly important to staying connected and not feeling isolated from society and the rest of the world. Moreover, technology can propel economies to develop. With universal access to technology, economies are able to enter new markets and connect with others. Yet, many still do not have access to the Internet and other technologies. Without digital data transfer, one’s choices are limited in multiple different aspects. In other words, academic, political, economic and educational opportunities are restricted without access to the Internet in today’s world.

The Maitland Commission Report was submitted by the Independent Commission for World-Wide Telecommunications Development in 1985. It highlighted the imbalance of telecommunications access in developing countries compared to developed countries. Essentially, the report outlines a direct correlation between access to telecommunications and a country’s economic growth. This report is most interesting because it is a valuable piece of literature that points to the need for modern telecommunications development. Similarly, the World Summit on the Information Society was a summit with two phases, one taking place in Geneva in 2003, and the other in Tunis in 2005. Not only did this summit aim to bridge the global digital divide between rich and poor countries, it was located in both what is termed the Global North and the Global South.

Similarly, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is located within the U.S. Department of Commerce, oversees telecommunications policies. The goal of NTIA is to provide universal access to affordable telephone service throughout the United States. Through their research titled Falling Through the Net, the organization focuses on both rural and urban settings that do not have access to the internet. Their research also highlights the disparities between minority and age groups as well as those less educated. The Falling Through the Net report explicates that the lowest telephone and computer access is prevalent in Northeast cities and in areas in the South. Ultimately, the NTIA explicates that it is necessary for federal, state, and local policymakers to first target public schools and libraries to provide access to disadvantaged families, and then expand NII networks into individual households. Having been published in 1995, I find it fascinating that in almost 20 years access to the Internet has grown exponentially. It is almost impossible to imagine not having any kind of access, although it does persist in certain areas.


World Urban Forum

The World Urban Forum (WUF) is a conference for urban issues surrounding rapid urbanization and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies. Established in 2001 by the United Nations, the WUF takes place every two years and is organized and convened by the UN-Habitat. The objectives of the WUF are to raise awareness of sustainable urbanization among stakeholders, to improve knowledge on sustainable urban development through discussions that are inclusive, and to increase coordination and cooperation between stakeholders for the advancement and implementation of sustainable urbanization. The most recent World Urban Forum 9 (WUF9) took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 2018. It is exciting to see Malaysia as the host of the WUF9, specifically because my project focuses on inclusive education in Malaysia. Although the country has inclusive education embedded in its education policy frameworks, many schools still lack the necessary structures and amenities that allow students with disabilities to move and learn freely. Since Malaysia struggles with improving the infrastructure of schools and their accessibility, their role as hosts shows their commitment to building inclusive cities in the age of rapid globalization.

With the theme of Cities 2030-Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda, the WUF9 focused on strengthening and scaling up its implementation, learning how to engage within the UN system, and creating cities that are safe, inclusive, and sustainable. Primarily, the WUF9 provided a platform for stakeholders to discuss how they can develop cities that allow all persons to live with equal opportunity to live with dignity. The WUF9 is significant not only due to its large turn-out with approximately 23,000 participants, but because it gave a platform to local leaders through the first Grassroots Assembly. This is critical because it allows more voices to be heard and included within the sustainable development discussions. It also encourages greater cooperation between grassroots organizations and key country stakeholders. At the end of the WUF9, the Kuala Lumpur Declaration called for localizing and scaling up implementation initiatives. Ultimately, the WUF9 concluded with declaring the need to build inclusive partnerships and eliminate age and gender barriers to ensure that all are able to participate and engage meaningfully. Following the WUF9, the World Urban Forum 10 will be held in Abu Dhabi in 2020. After two years, it will be fascinating to see how these stakeholders have further implemented the New Urban Agenda, and to also see the next goals they set for themselves.

Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

With rapid urbanization occurring all around the world, the need to create more inclusive and smart cities is more important than ever. An inclusive city includes both sustainable and equitable urban services, such as water supply, housing and transport facilities, and social services, such as education, health and public space. Ultimately, an inclusive city is a space where everyone, regardless of ability, in enabled and empowered to fully participate in the opportunities that cities have to offer (ADB 2011). Moreover, all people should have the rights and opportunities to navigate a city and make choices, regardless of infrastructure available.

The New Urban Agenda plays a significant role in helping realize this goal of inclusive cities. Developed from the Habitat III conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador in 2016, the New Urban Agenda is a road-map to promote a sustainable and equitable model of urban development that focuses on urban planning and design. This framework will be utilized as a guideline for 20 years until the next Habitat conference. Additionally, we discussed the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) and the Partner Constituent Group. The GAP is a platform for non-governmental partners and includes 16 groups. Similarly, the PCG includes 14 groups, some of which are children and youth, civil society organizations, grassroots organizations and the media. The downside to these group platforms that include other stakeholders working in inclusive urban development is that there are many different competing interests at play. Similarly, these groups must follow governing rules, expectations, and protocols of UN Habitat, which can limit their role in a way.

Yet the language around inclusive cities has become controversial, mainly due to “rights” language. Since inclusive development for persons with disabilities has been recognized by many as a human rights issue, this infers that inclusive cities must exist to follow human rights. Yet, it also suggests that not having inclusive cities is a human rights issue and that has been controversial to many stakeholders and governments.

For my capstone project, I will be conducting a case study on Malaysia where I will look at how Malaysia has responded to the CRPD Article 24. From reading through government documents regarding education, I have noticed that Malaysia strives to create inclusive spaces for all students, but especially for those with physical disabilities. This is mostly evident in their most recent national education policy, Malaysia Education Blueprint 2015-2025. Yet, from reading general news sources and op-eds, it seems that schools in rural and poorer areas lack the resources and accessibility that other schools in larger cities have.


Asian Development Bank: Inclusive Cities (2011)

Smart Cities Council at

Malaysia Education Blueprint, 2015-2025 (2015)

Disaster Risk Reduction and Inclusive Practices

The Sendai Framework is one of the most inclusive UN conferences. Adopted at the 3rd global UN Conference for Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, the Sendai Framework outlines four priorities, seven targets, and thirteen guiding principles to adopt a people-centered approach and to recognize disability inclusive in Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR). The Sendai Framework ultimately shifted the focus from disaster management to disaster risk reduction with the primary focus on reducing the risk of both natural and man-made disasters while planning to rebuild cities in a sustainable, inclusive and resilient way. Following the Sendai Framework, the Dhaka Declaration on Disability and Disaster Risk Reduction took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2015. Two important points discussed here are the recognition that persons with disabilities are most vulnerable during disasters and how poverty and disability can intersect. Its primary focuses were on ensuring a people-centered approach, engaging meaningfully with persons with disabilities at all levels, strengthening governance and partnerships, integrating gender, age and disability data, and promoting empowerment and protection. What stands out about the Dhaka Declaration is that it reemphasizes the issues raised from the conference, but also provides specific actions that can be taken by the countries involved. This provides clear goals for the future to guide governments and organizations towards inclusive disaster risk reduction that includes persons with disabilities in the decision-making processes.

The Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction of 2017, which took place in Cancun, Mexico, redefined accessibility in the modern age (UNISDR). To ensure that all persons with disability had access and were included in the decision-making processes of the conference, the GP2017 provided International Sign Language translators for support during sessions, offered remote participations at hubs in Bangladesh, Fiji, Belgium, and the United States, and introduced the use of robots to connect these remote hubs to the conference. Although live webcasting does not always give access to discuss topics and ideas further with other attendees, the robots gave more access to those not able to participate in person to virtually engage with the conference.

I am blown away by the use of technology in this way, because of its role in promoting accessibility and inclusivity. Yet, I recognize its limitations because all may not have access to this technology and technology might not always be reliable. With my capstone project on inclusive education in Malaysia, I am intrigued by the idea of using this technology in teacher training programs to promote an exchange of ideas and learning.

The SDGs, HLPF, and Sen’s Approach to Development

Developed from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the target year 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have made tremendous strides in emphasizing inclusivity. As discussed in our first two class sessions, the MDGs had a one-size-fits-all approach to development that lacked consideration of cultural, political, and historical contexts as well as the lack of inclusivity in its goals, targets, and indicators. Ultimately, the MDGs did not specifically consider the almost one billion people in the world with disabilities in the conversation regarding development.

The SDGs, however, have expanded from 8 goals to 17 goals that include persons with disabilities. This expansion allows countries to customize their focus depending on their own needs and goals, which essentially allows more space for the expertise and engagement of non-profits and NGOs to enter the development conversation. With clearly defined goals, targets, and indicators that work to include persons with disabilities in development, the SDGs have been crafted with articulate language that can be easily read and understood by all persons.

This language is developed through the High-Level Political Forum with actors such as NGOs and interest groups of member states, national institutions, and the major groups. The UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), which was formed in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 is a highly inclusive and participatory forum of the UN that is responsible for overseeing the progress of the SDGs around the world. The HLPF meets annually for eight days under the Economic and Social Council and every four years under the UN General Assembly, which convenes with the heads of state.

Through these forums, the voices of the major groups are pushed to the fore front of the discussion. The major groups include women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, civil society, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, and the scientific and technological groups. Similar to Amartya Sen (1999) in his work Development as Freedom, the HLPF and the SDGs emphasize the importance of empowering the voices and agency of marginalized groups. The work of Sen (1999) has helped shift development approaches from a focus on GDP to a humanistic and inclusive approach that considers a person’s opportunity to live a long and healthy life, obtain knowledge, and have a decent standard of living. Without the individual at the center of development, it is difficult to truly understand whether development practices are aiding a country in an inclusive manner.



Sen, A. (1999). Freedom as Development. New York, NY: Random House, Inc.