Intersectionalities in the SDGs

Intersectionality is defined as the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group. Simply put, intersectionality is the overlaps of systems, experiences, or identities. This term is a huge buzzword in the social sciences field and in academia broadly and is taught as a theory or lens of which to look at social situations critically through. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a great framework to critically look at with an intersectional lens. The SDGs are categorized by People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships which all overlap with each other, are codependent on each other to be achieved, and are therefore intersectionality related and should be approached as such. You cannot achieve SDG 1: No Poverty without addressing SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, which can’t be achieved without the implications that come with SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities which is directly tied to SDG 13: Climate Action which is has extreme implications for both SDG 14 & 15: Life Below Water and Life on Land which cannot be achieved without SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals, upon which all the goals are connected to. The overlaps and the realities of all the SDGs are tied to, hinged on, have implications for, and are only achievable through addressing one another – that is at the heart of intersectionality and arguably sustainability broadly.

Sustainabilty like intersectionality depends on the observer to look critically at the overlaps, the points of contact, that social, environemtnal, and economic realms make with themselves and with each other. How decisions in one realm have implications and ramifications for the others and the decoupling of them in most cases is not an option. The SDGs are a great global framework to look to in how intersectionality is both vital for success an easily interpretable. Intersectionality for the SDGs isn’t an option it is the only viable avenue.

Global Framework Limitations and Opportunities

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were the first of their kind as a global framework, goals approach for global development. Created in 2000, the MDGs sought to eradicate poverty, hunger, achieve primary education, promote education gender equality, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat common disease, ensure environmental sustainability and develop global partnership to achieve the MDGs. All the MDGs were grand challenges that were measurable, timebound, and pushed forward by the United Nations. However, the MDGs had extreme limitations, marked by the fact that by the year 2015 none of the goals were achieved. Although the MDGs were good intentioned, had widespread international support and multilateral engagement, as well as targets that were comprehensive it simply did not have the power of sanction to achieve these goals. They also did not change the discourse on development.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the predecessor to the MDGs. There are 17 SDGs that build upon the MDGs and are more comprehensive, inclusive, as well as timebound, quantifiable and measurable targets and indicators, and forwarded by the United Nations. In many respects the SDGs built and learned from the MDGs failings to try and achieve these grand challenge goals. The support for the SDGs is widespread from countries, nongovernmental actors, and industry actors as well however, the same issues of achieving the goals, sanction to achieve the goals, and changing discourse on development may not be attainable. Arguable, the SDGs have started new discourse and reshaped how development discourse is being formulated but achievability and the authority to do so are still not in reach. According to the 2019 UN SDG Progress Report, all 17 SDGs are not on track to be achieved by the year 2030 and the UN still lacks the authority to go about achieving these goals in every country.

So is it just better to have more timebound, grand challenge goals rather than no global framework at all to address these grand challenges? I would argue that is better to have something rather than nothing. We must keep in mind that this goals approach framework from the UN is relatively new, since 2000 and would feasibly require a learning curve of some sort to increase desired results for success. The MDGs were a test run and the SDGs are the better next steps to the MDGs. If the SDGs are not achieve another set of goals will precede it filling in the gaps were the SDGs did not succeed and so on. With nothing in place there would be no framing for the world to look to and address these grand challenges together and I believe that even if slow it is vital to keep and have to forward sustainable development of any sort.

Multistakeholder Internet Governance and Sustainable Development

Globalization of our world has been larger due to and rapidly pushed forward by the Internet. Since its inception several decades ago, the internet has offered expansion and new opportunities for businesses, schools and education, news and information sharing, as well as institution creation and sustainment. The fluidity and accessibility however, poses a challenge for international and governmental bodies to control; I would even argue more so hard for them to adapt to as well. While some countries, such as China, have found ways within their governance strategies to have a better grasps of control over the internet, versus other countries, such as the United States that have a different governance strategies that make internet governance a grand challenge, no one governmental body will be able to properly govern the internet alone. This is why it is important to have a multistakeholder approach and collaborative effort between governments and international bodies to properly and efficient govern the internet.

According to the Internet Society, an organization dedicated to global internet development, the best and most efficient way to govern the internet is through the multistakeholder governance framework which consist of three components of open-ended unleashed innovation and infrastructure, decentralized governance institutions, and open and inclusive processes. These three components are intentional as they are formulated to approach the international norm that the Internet lives in as well as make the policy formulation process more optimal for a globally distributed network. The Internet society’s markers for success for a multistakholder approach is if decision making was inclusive and transparent, collective responsibility, effective decision making and implementation, and collaborative through distributed and interoperable governance. This approach forwards SDG 17: Partnership For The Goals, which is intended to strengthen the means of global partnership for sustainable development. Notable as this approach can be a driver for sustainable development through partnership but also could be a threat to countries were strategic partnership for internet governance can be seen as an encroachment off their countries governance.

 The issue of internet governance will not go away as the Internet is so ingrained in the world and interconnects us all to each other. The multistakeholder approach seems the most feasible way to govern the internet, if governance is what is to be sought for the protect of citizens. However, it should be noted that this process may not be adopted as it is also a door for countries to garner influence over other countries and through which can be a threat of encroachment in how a country is governed.

Digital Divides in Sustainable, Inclusive, and Smart City Development

In 1982 the Independent Commission for World-Wide Telecommunications Development was created to identify the obstacles hindering communications infrastructure development and how to bridge the telecommunication gaps globally. These efforts resulted in the Maitland Report which drew attention to the huge imbalance in telephone access between developed and developing countries – calling developed nations to action in rectifying this imbalance. Translated to modern-day, digital divides have expanded that of which is purely telecommunications. In the 2000s, the terminology of the missing link was relabeled the: digital divide” and the digital divide that interest me the most is the integration of smart technologies for cities and how this translates a city to become more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive. Smart cities forward sustainable development goals 11 and 7 for sustainable cities and affordable energy respectively but are completely reliant on technological and digital advance means in integration to create a smart city. This created digital divides and exclusions to areas of the world that are more low-resource or lack access to capital to implement on their own. However, smart cities, smart grids, and smart city technology implementation will and already is the future for sustainability, resiliency, and ultimately inclusivity in developing and retrofitting a bright future.

The question to ask is how do we bridge a digital equity bridge so that areas of low resource can also engaging in smart city development to protect their civilian populations from the ramifications of climate change, including the diversity of their population in cities, and be more sustainable overall? One way is through social impact investment from foreign countries that are already highly engaged in smart city development; not much different from the call to action the Maitland Report pushed. In the fight forward for a more sustainable future, which is increasingly becoming reliant on technological advancements to see it realized, we as a world cannot leave anyone behind. A steady flow of information and data sharing as well as project development fo smart city initiative s in low resource areas will ensure that no one is left behind in retrofitting their cities, protecting their citizens, and seeing a more sustainable future that is smart together.

Inclusive Education: All Children Reading

Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all. However, as stated in the progress report for 2019, SDG 4 may not be met by the year 2030. 262 million children and youth aged 6 to 17 are still out of school and more than half of children and adolescents are not meeting minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) addresses the issues of inclusive and equitable education in their Grand Challenges. All Children Reading is a USAID initiative that is advancing edtech innovation and research to improve reading outcomes for marginalized children in low-resource contexts. Through the use of technology, USAID has been able to reach over 600, 00 children with early grade reading materials and approaches, distributed 1.3 million learning materials in over 140 languages spoken. All Children Reading also source and test solutions that address barriers to child literacy in the books in underserved languages, foundations of literacy, and children with disabilities. The use of technology to make education inclusive and accessible has been a major turn in realizing SDG 4 as it has not only connected our world to share resources but also given the ability for these resources to be put to good use such as meeting the need for education for all children regardless of their background, language, culture, or ability.

The challenge is how do we expound on these efforts to use technology to forward quality education for all that is inclusive more rapidly to meet SDG 4 by 2030? I believe that a greater spread of data and information, increasing the number of teachers that are properly trained to meet diverse student needs and technological capabilities for education, as well as use technology to shape the classroom environment are all ways to investigate and forward to potentially close gaps in meeting SDG 4 by the year 2030. USAID’s All Children Reading initiative is a great example and leader in pursuing technological capabilities to create quality education for every child around the world and other efforts should follow suit in using technology to advance SDG 4 by the year and beyond 2030.

Disaster Risk Reduction & Management for Garment Factories

This class topic focused on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Disaster Risk Management (DRM) and the overarching topic of inclusive emergency preparedness for cities and countries. Pointing to the Sendai Conference that created the Sendai Framework for inclusive development around accessibility measures for persons with disabilities in cities, in DRR, and DRM. After the Sendai Conference, the Dhaka Conference created the Dhaka Declaration that followed expanded upon the work done in Sandai. As we discussed the implications for DRR and DRM and how they are tailored to address the disasters that will come with climate change, the Dhaka Declaration made me think of the measures or lack thereof of DRR and DRM for the industry that runs it economy. Specifically in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the issue of garment factories in the garment industry has been a major point of civil upheaval and has been subjected to another form of disaster not addressed in DRR or DRM frameworks in Sendai or Dhaka – industrial disasters.

In 2013, Rana Plaza a major 8-story garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed killing over a thousand garment workers who were majority women. It is still the worst industrial disaster in Bangladesh’s history and not much has changed in terms of policies, measures, or frameworks to protect citizens from another industrial disaster in the future. Unfortunately, many more small-sized factory failures and collapses have occurred since Rana Plaza in 2013 in Bangladesh. This leads me to question the feasibility of the Dhaka Declaration for addressing points of inclusivity in Dhaka or countrywide DRR or DRM when in the industries that run Bangladesh’s economy lacks the very same measures to protect its citizens. In short, I think that DRM and DRM should be instilled not only as a city or country plan for climate change but also throughout a country’s economy and industry as well.

WUF10 & Entrepreneurship

The World Urban Forum (WUF) is a conference born out of the United Nations that addressed urban issues surrounding urbanization and its impact on economies, climate change, and cities. The most recent WUF conference, WUF9 took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and was themed Cities 2030 – Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda. WUF9 focused on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda’s goals and commitments regarding creating cities that are inclusive and sustainable. The upcoming World Urban Forum, WUF10 will be taking place in February 2020 in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The theme for WUF10 is Cities of Opportunities – Connecting Culture and Innovation which reads to me like a convergence of culture, technological and social innovation, working in tandem with fostering local-focused global entrepreneurship.

A marker for success for WUF10 would be addressing how to foster locally-focused with global perspective entrepreneurship to drive social change and innovation for sustainable development. According to the Harvard Business Review, the entrepreneurial ecosystem is a core component of economic development in cities and countries. The top three challenges that prevent entrepreneurship from flourishing however are access to talent, excessive bureaucracy, and scarce early-stage capital. I believe it would not only be to the World Urban Forum’s benefit but also for the all stakeholders attending WUF10 to address entrepreneurship in cities as a driver for sustainable developing and making their respective economies more productive and inclusive.

An Inclusive & Smart City

The New Urban Agenda (NUA) was created out of the United Nations Conference Habitat III to address the need to focus on the world’s most built environment, namely cities. The focus on cities is pertinent because by the year 2050 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, according to the United Nations. Within NUA, the focus on sustainable development and reimagining our cities to be inclusive and equitable for all is apparent but I found it interesting that the topic of creating more “smart” cities is only mentioned once. Smart cities or making a city “smart” involve integrating technologies and sustainability and or resilience measures through technology to advance, protect, and make a city more accessible for all. The 66th paragraph in the New Urban Agenda speaks to the “smart city” approach stating:

Paragraph 66: We commit ourselves to adopt a smart-city approach that makes use of opportunities from digitalization, clean energy, and technologies, as well as innovative transport technologies, thus providing options for inhabitants to make more environmentally friendly choices and boost sustainable economic growth and enabling cities to improve their service delivery.

New Urban Agenda, page 19

Ambitious as well as crucially needed for a future impending the harsh ramifications of anthropogenic climate change but does not fully speak to how smart-cities would be inclusive if implemented in cities. I believe that the integration of inclusive smart cities in the future and pertinent to address in this way as to not leave any person behind in its development. For instance, how can making a city smart involve inclusivity measures for out low-income areas, update urban services and disaster risk management plans, accessibility measures for persons with disabilities and older persons, as well as overall increasing the ability for people to choose as a developmental framework?
Washington D.C. is attempting the rout of making itself a smart city and has yet to fully address the inclusivity measures that a smart city can have and therefore underutilizing the potential of integrated technologies to make the District smart. This is a lost opportunity that moving forward must be addressed and implemented in tandem with inclusivity measures for everyone as the city will be holding out the world’s future generations.


The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is a United Nations platform created in 2013 to deal exclusively with sustainable development. Under the Economic and Social Council, the HLPF meets every year to assess the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 grand challenges that are time-bound and overarching for our world to achieve. According to the UN, the SDGs were created to proceed with the 8 Millennium Development Goals that lacked more modern inclusivity measures and resiliency aspects for a world charged in addressing the negative impacts of climate change for instances. The expansive, inclusive, and resilient SDGs are categorized by People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships which address all forms of development – inclusive, universal, integrated, locally-focused, and technology-driven development. The goal-based planning approached that the SDGs are created on, claim that well-crafted goals are able to accomplish guiding the public’s understanding of complex challenges, unite the global community, promote integrated thinking, support long-term approaches, and define responsibilities as well as foster accountability. The SDGs are meant to have positive impacts and to turn our world for the better however multiple critiques have come out against the intent or potential impact of the SDGs. One London School of Economics posts critiqued the SDG framework for creating this agenda on a failing economic model. A Quartz article claimed that the SDGs undermine democracy due to the dictatorship governed countries apart of working groups created to monitoring and implementing of the SDGs. Lastly, Dr. Michelle M.L. Lim of the University of Adelaide claims that the SDGs goals approach should shift from goals to an integrative approach to prevent “cherry-picking” components of the SDGs in countries. Many critiques raised rank respectively in merit and in concern. However, it is my thought that only time will either confirm or deny these concerns raised against the SDGs. I think it is better to have some overarching global framework for sustainable development in place than none at all and the buy-in from nations to willingly want sustainable development for their nations, their citizens, our collective future generations is what will make the difference outside of the SDGs and the HLPF. By the year 2030, the HLPF will assess whether the SDGs were met globally and whether these concerns and the intention of every nation for wanting sustainable development will be revealed.

Fashion as a Grand Challenge

The term “Grand Challenges,” although I had not yet fully read the definition, reminded me of a constant focus in my study – material industries. Believed to be covered under the wings of the SDGs, our global economy is large if not entirely consistent in the material. Textiles and apparel, food and agriculture, and technology being the major three industries that are the nucleus of all material industries. Their respective supply chains cover every issue from climate change to human rights and are abundant in challenges.

For example, in the fashion industry effects and perpetuates environmental degradation, human rights violations, and tamper in good governance practices globally so that anyone could buy a $5 t-shirt and a $15 pair of jeans before it even makes it to the sale rack. I use this to preface that a “Grand Challenge” is just as Branscomb defines as a “technically complex societal problem(s) that have stubbornly defied solution.” To want to solve the challenge of restructuring material economies and industries to do better by the environment, foster job creation that is positive, and aid in good governance practices is a lofty goal to want to reach. According to the United Nation Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, the clothing and textile industry contributes 2.4 trillion dollars to global manufacturing, employs 75 million people worldwide who are mostly women, are responsible for 8-10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide originates from the fashion industry, and 500 billion dollars is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and lack of recycling. The fashion industry has an implication on almost all 17 Sustainable Development Goals and therefore I and others agree that the industry itself is a Grand Challenge.

Solutions for this industry and other material economies are not simple by any means. How do we reshape how consumers interact with material economies, how do we restructure economies to be more circular, if circularity is even the answer or a short-term solution, and how would this affect vulnerable populations in the transition periods and in the long-term are all questions that have multiple avenues for foreseeable positive impact if addressed in some collaborative fashion. But, with any Grand Challenge, if industry, government, and other stakeholders are willing to come and work together to use their expert judgment to synthesizes disparate and often conflicting sources of information from their perspectives to produce an integrated picture of success by producing viable solutions the concept of a Grand Challenge may not seem so grand anymore.