ICTs and Inclusive Sustainable Development- Digital Divide(s)

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) play a crucial role in working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The term digital divide refers to “the gap that exists between those with access to new technologies and those without” due to inequality in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) (NTIA).

The Missing Link, also known as the Maitland Report, was published in January 1985 and “drew international attention to the huge imbalance in telephone access between developed and developing countries and concluded that this imbalance was intolerable.” Most notably, this report “underlined the direct correlation between the availability of, and access to, telecommunication infrastructure and a country’s economic growth, and it proposed concrete solutions to fix this missing link. The report advocates for an “expanded world telecommunications network” which would benefit both developing and developed countries. It outlines how this expanded network would increase the flow of information, trade, and make the world a better and safer place (NTIA).    

In 1999, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, released a report titled Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide. The NTIA is responsible for advising the President on policy issues regarding telecommunications and information. Falling Through the Net identified the digital divide as “one of America’s leading economic and civil issues.”

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) took place in two phases- the first in Geneva in 2003 and the second in Tunis in 2005. The first phase sought to “develop and foster a clear statement of political will and take concrete steps to establish the foundations for an Information Society for all,” whilst the second phase sought to put the plan that was developed in Geneva into motion. This Summit demonstrates the understanding amongst the international community that the digital divide is an issue and needs to be addressed.

The digital divide that still exists today is a Grand Challenge of inclusive sustainable development. Given the capacity that ICTs have to influence inclusive and sustainable development, it is imperative that we address this Grand Challenge of the digital divide so that the capacity that ICTs have to assist in affecting positive change can be realized. In order to meet the goals of the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, information and communication technologies need to be available for all. Therefore, we need to close the digital divide, and increase equality in access to ICTs.

Multistakeholder Internet Governance- Live from the IGF

The multistakeholder approach to internet governance is “widely accepted as the optimal way to make policy decisions for a globally distributed network” (Internet Society). Multistakeholder decision-making is an essential component to achieving inclusive sustainable development because because as we have discussed throughout the semester, international cooperation is a key factor in solving the “Grand Challenge” of inclusive sustainable development. Multistakeholder Internet Governance allows for inclusiveness and transparency, effective decision-making and implementation, and collaboration (Internet Society).

The 13th annual Internet Governance Forum was hosted by the Government of France in Paris at the headquarters of UNESCO from November 12 to 14 of 2018.  The Internet Governance Forum aims to bring together a variety of stakeholder groups annually to discuss public policy issues regarding the Internet. Some of the key issues confronting the 13th annual IGF were gender and access, cyber security, and artificial intelligence. The Internet Governance Forum is a prime example of how important multistakeholder internet governance is, as it is a forum for a variety of stakeholders to come together and discuss best practices and a way forward in today’s digital world.

The session I tuned into from this year’s IGF was titled “Hack the Hate: Empower Society to Face Hate Speech.” I was intrigued by the title and found that it was especially important that this topic be discussed in today’s day and age. Increasingly, we are hearing stories of people using the internet- social media specifically- to spread messages of hate. While the advancements made regarding the Internet have opened the doors for many positive developments, there are undoubtedly consequences of it as well. This is why I was drawn to the IGF session addressing hate speech.

The session began with a discussion of the rise of hate crime statistics and the plummeting of the global peace index indicator that addresses the acceptance of the rights of others. The conversation revolved around what collaborative efforts are needed to mobilize civil society to ‘compete’ with those on the internet who are trying to spread hate, as well as education and and the longer term challenge of eradicating this issue. The theme and contents of this session are an example of why both the Internet Governance Form and multistakeholder internet governance are important- they allow for a variety of actors to come together and discuss how to solve the most pressing issues regarding the internet and our world today.



Internet Society. (n.d.). Internet Governance – Why the Multistakeholder Approach Works. Retrieved from https://www.internetsociety.org/resources/doc/2016/internet-governance-why-the-multistakeholder-approach-works/

Opportunities and Limitations in Global Strategic Frameworks

Global Strategic Frameworks such as the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals can be instrumental in the international community’s efforts to work towards solving some of the grand challenges that are faced by the developing world. However, it is important to recognize and learn from their limitations.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ran from 2000 to 2015 posed a grand challenge to the international development community to solve the issues which were recognized as grand challenges. While the MDGs were successful in that they had clearly defined targets and indicators and were quantifiable and measurable, they had many shortcomings. The eight MDGs- to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to promote gender equality and empower women; to reduce child mortality; to improve maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDs, malaria and other diseases; to ensure environmental sustainability; and to develop a global partnership for development- lacked specificity and attainable short-term goals. They were also marked by a Western bias and assumed that one size fits all when it comes to international development, which, as we have discussed throughout this course, could not be further from the truth. The MDGs failed to take varying cultural contexts into consideration as a result of this assumption. Finally, one of the most notable shortcomings of the MDGs, especially for the context of this course, was the lack of mention of persons with disabilities in any of the MDGs.

Though the MDGs had many limitations, this provided opportunities for the international community to improve upon them. This paved the way to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are set to run from 2015 until 2030. Some of the most prominent differences between the MDGs and the SDGs are that the SDGs contain 11 specific references to persons with disabilities, language on vulnerable populations, and a focus on sustainable development ‘for all.’ There are undoubtedly limitations that exist within the SDGs, though I do not think we will get a firm grasp on those until further into the Sustainable Development Agenda. I believe that it is most important to recognize that no global strategic framework is going to be perfect and solve all of the world’s most pressing challenges. However, they do provide opportunities for the international community to come together to work towards addressing these challenges.

Inclusive Education

It is stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that “everyone has the right to education.” Education also plays an integral role in social and economic development. It is therefore essential that access to education is available to all, and this is addressed in the Sustainable Development Goals which will run until 2030. Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all.”

Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities addresses the need for inclusive education. State Parties to the Convention acknowledge that persons with disabilities have the right to education. Article 24 also states that State Parties must ensure “that children with disabilities are not excluded from free and compulsory primary education, or from secondary education, on the basis of disability” and that persons with disabilities are able to access quality and inclusive education with reasonable accommodations when necessary in order to be able to access in an equal manner with others in their community. These inclusive education systems must be geared towards the development of persons with disabilities to their fullest potential, and ensuring that persons with disability are able to freely participate in society.

As one of the grand challenges concerning disability and development, inclusive education requires collaboration and cooperation from a wide range of actors. As part of a joint effort to facilitate the implementation of the CRPD, UNESCO and the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ict) created a ‘Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities.’ The main objective of this initiative was promote the effective use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for learners with disabilities. This initiative is an excellent example of how important cooperation is in working towards the Sustainable Development Goals and addressing global grand challenges such as inclusive education.

The Model Policy’s main intention is to “assist Member States in the process of developing policy in order to achieve the wider goal of inclusive education across all educational sectors and settings.” This can be so valuable to a state such as Cote d’Ivoire, which I am looking at for my capstone project, which does not have a good history of including persons with disabilities. The Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities promotes inclusive education further by making the distinction that it can be applied to all learners who may be excluded from education.



Intersectionality refers to how marginalized identities overlap and interact with one another. It creates an understanding of how intersections of these identities create challenges for those people who experience them. In class we discussed that recognizing that intersectionality exists and is real has an important impact on inclusive sustainable development. Recognizing that these intersectionalities exist make them and the people that experience them more visible which is integral to inclusivity. It also has the potential to, and should, inform policies and strategies related to the Sustainable Development Agenda so that they are taking into account and including intersectionality.

The United Nations Major Groups Framework is something that I discussed in my blog post about the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). I mentioned how this framework which informs the Major Groups and Other Stakeholders High Level Political Forum Coordination Mechanism is a positive thing because members of disadvantaged groups such as women and indigenous peoples are given a voice in the HLPF. However, it is important to note that the Major Groups Framework is not perfect, and while it does have the intention of giving a voice to disadvantaged groups, there is still work that needs to be done especially as intersectionality is concerned. For example, women are a group that are marginalized, and it is important for them to be included in the conversation on sustainable development. However, women with disabilities are grouped into this category and there is therefore not enough visibility given to them because the focus is on women’s issues in general.

As we discussed in class this week, the Major Groups Framework is not sufficient in addressing intersectionalities that exist amongst people who hold multiple marginalized identities. Therefore, there should be a strategy to get the major groups framework to take on intersectionality. The argument that there should be a separate coalition to address intersectionality is a strong one, and I believe that this is an essential step to giving intersectionality the attention it deserves. This goes back to the discussion we had in our first class about Grand Challenges- the grand challenge of disability and development cannot be overcome without collaboration and inclusion of all.

Inclusive Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Management (DRM)

Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Disaster Risk Management (DRM) are both essential to minimizing adverse effects from disasters. DRR is a systematic approach to identifying, assessing and reducing the risks of disaster, while DRM involves the application of these DRR policies and strategies in order to prevent new disaster risks, reduce existing disaster risks, and manage residual risks. As we discussed in class, it is imperative to implement inclusive DRR and DRM. Inclusive DRR and DRM take into consideration the needs of all inhabitants of an area when it comes to a disaster. It is especially important in times of disaster that those who are most vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, are being accounted for and that there is a plan to keep them safe.

The United Nations has held three World Conferences on Disaster Risk Reduction every. The most recent conference was held in Sendai, Japan in March 2015. At this conference, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 was adopted. This framework outlines seven targets and four action priorities to prevent new disasters and reduce existing disaster risks, and “aims to achieve the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, businesses, communities and countries over the next 15 years.” (Sendai Framework) This Framework is one of the most inclusive global frameworks on disaster risk reduction, and the conference itself is seen as a ‘gold standard’ for an accessible UN conference.

The Dhaka Conference on Disability and Disaster Risk Management was held from the 12th to 14th of December 2015 to identify concrete actions to take to launch the Sendai Framework and ensure that persons with disabilities are able to participate and contribute meaningfully in all its processes. At this conference, the Dhaka Declaration on Disability and Disaster Risk Management was adopted, which recognized that “disability is part of human diversity and person This diversity and varied requirements need to be considered in all aspects of Disaster Risk Management (DRM).” This declaration is such an important one because it acknowledges the need to consider persons with disabilities in disaster risk management and reduction processes. This is especially relevant and necessary as climate change continues to pose great disaster risks; and persons with disabilities are predicted to be disproportionately affected by it as they make up 20 percent of the population of the poorest people in the world (Dhaka Declaration).


Works Cited

Sendai Framework: http://www.unisdr.org/we/inform/publications/43291

Dhaka Declaration: http://www.cbm.org/article/downloads/131683/Dhaka_Declaration_on_Disability_and_Disaster_Risk_Management.pdf

Inclusive Cities, Habitat III and the New Urban Agenda

Urbanization is occurring rapidly around the world, as 60 percent of the world’s population is estimated live in urban areas, according to the United Nations World Cities Report in 2016 (UN). Therefore, it is increasingly important that cities are inclusive of persons with disabilities, who make up an estimated 15 percent of the world’s population (Chan and Zoellick 2011). An inclusive city is an urban community with attitudes that value everyone. Inclusive cities consist of accessible infrastructure so that persons with disabilities can have full access to all the amenities and experiences of the cities that every other citizen does. It is so important that cities are inclusive because it is a fundamental human rights issue; persons with disabilities have the right to full and equal access and enjoyment.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme, also known as UN-Habitat, is the United Nations agency for human settlements and sustainable urban development. It is currently active in over 70 countries, with projects aimed at addressing issues related to housing problems and slum growth. The United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development happens every 20 years. Habitat III was the third, and it took place in Quito, Ecuador from October 17-20, 2016. The New Urban Agenda was the outcome document for the Habitat III, in which the Quito Declaration on Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements for All states in part:

“We share a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient and sustainable cities and human settlements to foster prosperity and quality of life for all” (Habitat III).

I believe that the Quito Declaration in the New Urban Agenda reflects the shift in the international community towards inclusion of persons with disabilities, and is a huge and important step towards inclusive sustainable development. With rapid urbanization occurring, it is essential to ensure that cities are not only sustainable in order to protect the environment, but also inclusive so that all inhabitant can enjoy equal access and opportunities. While there is still much work to be done before all cities are inclusive, I think the New Urban Agenda is huge step in the right direction.


Works Cited

Chan, D. M., & Zoellick, M. R. B. (2011). World Report on Disability (p. 24).

Habitat III. (2016). Retrieved from http://habitat3.org/

  1. (2016). World Cities Report 2016. Retrieved from http://wcr.unhabitat.org/

Development Theory and Actors

Development is a contested concept, which has been conceptualized in many different ways throughout history in the international community. Sumner and Tribe argue that there are three discernable definitions of development: a process of change; short to medium-term outcome of desirable targets; and a “post-modernist” definition which views development as a social construct that does not not exist outside of discourse (Sumner and Tribe 2008).

Amartya Sen, in his book “Development as Freedom,” steered development away from a western approach and that the only way to think about development is economic growth or GDP- he argued that the economic component is not the only thing that matters. Sen defines “Development and Freedom” as the freedom to make decisions; countries with more freedom to make decisions are more developed (Sen 2000). Sen’s conceptualization is one that I gravitate towards the most, because there are so many different factors that play into freedom. Therefore, I believe that Sen’s conceptualization of development as freedom provides a better measurement of development than just looking at economic growth.

Amartya Sen argues that development can be seen as “a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy,” which is a different view from many who see development in economic terms, such as the growth of GNP. He mentions the removal of “major sources of unfreedom” (Sen 2000) that development requires, such as poverty and tyranny, which say more about the development of a country because a country can be economically developed but still have oppressive governments. Sen’s argues that freedom is not only one of the main ends of development, but also one of its principal means. Therefore, the freer people are, the more they can contribute to the development of a society, because they will live longer and more productive lives.

The United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report, which was established in 1990, was influenced in part by Sen’s work. This report discussed a new framework of development: the ‘Human Development’ or ‘Capabilities Approach’ (Sumner and Tribe 2008). Sen focuses on the capabilities approach, which considers the opportunities or freedoms people have to exercise the agency to live a life they see as meaningful. The capabilities approach to development is one that I believe is essential to the grand challenge of inclusion of persons with disabilities, because persons with disabilities must be afforded the means and opportunities to live their life just as a person without disabilities does.

Works Cited

Sen, Amartya (2000). Development as freedom.

Sumner and Tribe (2008). International Development Studies.

Sustainable Development Goals and the High Level Political Forum

The United Nations High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is the UN body responsible for monitoring the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs were adopted on September 25, 2015 as part of a new sustainable development agenda to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all,” which will run until 2030 (UN). The SDGs are much more inclusive than their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which ran from 2000 until 2015. There was no mention of anyone with disabilities in any of the Millennium Development Goals, whereas in the Sustainable Development Goals, there are 11 specific references to persons with disabilities. I would argue that this is a reflection of the growing awareness in the international community that it is important to include persons with disabilities. I think the inclusivity of the SDGs is a positive step in the right direction towards achieving full inclusion of persons with disabilities.

As we discussed in class, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development is the ‘most inclusive and participatory forum at the United Nations.’ This is largely due to the ‘Major Groups and Other Stakeholders High Level Political Forum Coordination Mechanism’ (MGoS HLPF Coordination Mechanism) which is responsible for ensuring “broad, open, transparent and inclusive participation in the HLPF” (UN MGoS). All representatives of the nine Major Groups and all other active stakeholders in sustainable development are eligible for membership in this mechanism. This major groups framework allows for the participation of groups of people that are especially vulnerable, as the nine major groups are: women, children and youth, indigenous peoples, NGOs, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, scientific and technological community, and farmers.

It is so important for the body in charge of monitoring the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals to be as inclusive and participatory as the HLPF is. This goes back to the idea of “nothing about us without us” that we have discussed since the first class; those who are being affected by an agenda should be able to have a say in it. The MGoS HLPF Coordination Mechanism ensures that all groups and stakeholders involved are included and able to participate in the monitoring process of the SDGs.



Works Cited

  1. High-level Political Forum .:. Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform. Retrieved from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/hlpf


  1. Major Groups and Other Stakeholders High Level Political Forum Coordination Mechanism Terms of Reference. Retrieved from https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/12947HLPFMGoSCM-ToRJan2017.pdf


The Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Sustainable Development

According to Lewis Branscomb, grand challenges are “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution” (Branscomb 2015). Global “Grand Challenges” are such issues in international development for which international cooperation is necessary in order to reach a solution. Since 2010, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and its public and private partners have launched ten Grand Challenges around which their programs and resources would go to addressing. These Grand Challenges include: Saving Lives at Birth, All Children Reading, Powering Agriculture and Combating Zika and Future Threats (USAID).

Persons with disabilities have historically been left out of opportunities and conversations. According to the WHO/World Bank Report, more than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability. It is estimated that about 15 percent of every country’s population is persons with disabilities, it is long overdue that they are now finally being slowly included into the conversation. The UN High-Level Meeting on Disability and Development called on the international community to enhance cooperation to “seize every opportunity to include disability as a cross cutting issue in the global development agenda” (WHO). Progress is beginning to be made, as the Sustainable Development Goals, which will run from 2015-2030, have 11 specific references to persons with disabilities and are focused on development for all. This is an improvement from the Millennium Development Goals, which ran from 2000-2015, in which persons with disabilities were not mentioned once.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was adopted on December 13, 2006 as a human rights instrument to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” The CRPD currently has 161 signatories, and has been ratified by 177 countries which have adopted national law to put it into place. The CRPD transfers disabilities from a medical model to a rights-based model, with the understanding that persons with disabilities should have equal access, and be included in issues that affect them (CRPD 2006). Inclusive Sustainable Development is itself a Grand Challenge that requires international cooperation, and the CRPD is one example of how states can commit to inclusion of persons with disabilities. In order to overcome this grand challenge of inclusive sustainable development, the international community must follow through with their commitments to inclusion of persons with disabilities.



Works Cited

Branscomb, L. (2015, May 15). A Focused Approach to Society’s Grand Challenges. Retrieved from https://issues.org/branscomb-4/

USAID. (n.d.). Grand Challenges for Development | U.S. Global Development Lab. Retrieved from https://www.usaid.gov/grandchallenges

WHO. (2016, February 27). UN High-level Meeting on Disability and Development. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/disabilities/hlm/en/