Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

According to The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), “Intersectionality is a tool for analysis, advocacy and policy development that addresses multiple discriminations and helps us understand how different sets of identities impact on access to rights and opportunities.” Historically, white men have benefitted most from society (at least in the US) and all others have been substantially disadvantaged in a variety of ways. While societies have become substantially more progressive and inclusive, many people are still vulnerable and disprivileged from having a higher quality of life. This is largely in part because because people live multiple, layered identities that are rarely considered in their entirety. This is to say that often “vulnerable” people are generalized into larger groups but their personal overlap among those categorizations goes unrealized or ignored. For example, the UN developed “Major Groups and other Stakeholders” (MGoS) to better engage and incorporate specific sectors of society into sustainable development initiatives. These nine sectors of society are: women; children and youth; indigenous peoples; non-governmental organizations; local authorities; workers and trade unions; business and industry; scientific and technological community; and farmers. While this is a positive effort in achieving wider participation and consideration on global issues, it clearly falls short. For one, Persons with Disabilities are terribly ignored in this framework and they make up 15% of the world population. Moreover, intersectionalities are not supported by these groupings and thus people who carry several of these identities (which is the majority of populations) are forced into dividing their needs and thus identity. For example, a female, indigenous farmer would have to reach out to three major groups and explain how each aspect of her identity was discriminated or disadvantaged by certain policies, rather than how her problems have been a consequence of a combination of these identities and how she could be better assisted overall. This is not a inclusive nor sustainable way to achieve inclusive sustainable development. Instead, there needs to be a bottom-up approach and a wider framework for acknowledging and aiding members of more than one identity and how those identities simultaneously produce oppression. This not only illustrates how policies, programs, and services in one aspect of life are inevitably linked to others, but also provides a greater understanding of how various identities impact overall levels of opportunity, development and access to rights (AWID).


Major Groups:

Disability-Inclusive Education

Persons with Disabilities are often neglected from equal opportunity initiatives and face discriminatory policies and prejudices in their daily lives (Rieser). This is a particularly prevalent problem within educational institutions, where in many places, children with disabilities are sent to institutions and thus segregated from mainstream schools, or are excluded from getting an education all together. According to the 2011 World Disability Report, approximately 93 million children live with a disability (about 5% of the world’s population) (UNICEF). Because of this there needs to be significant attention placed on inclusive education, specifically in regards to curriculum content, teaching methods, and materials, so that disabled students are able to fully participate in schools and receive quality education (Rieser). Disability-inclusive education is an approach to education that acknowledges the special educational needs of students with disabilities, without excluding them from educational environments and opportunities. Students with disabilities spend most if not all their with with non-special needs students, rather than be separated into other classrooms or sent to “special” schools. This approach recognizes the inherent right to every child to have equal opportunities to learn, and adapting classroom settings to meet their needs along with everyone else’s. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) partnered with Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ICT) to create a model policy to facilitate the implementation of the UNCRPD. The purpose of this joint effort was to document and distribute a template to better assist UNESCO Member States in effectively utilizing ICTs for all students, but particularly learners with disabilities. Furthermore, its intention was to promote the establishment of policies that strive to achieve inclusive education across all educational sectors and settings (G3ICT Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for PWDs). In order to achieve quality education for all learners, as mandated by SDG #4, it is imperative such models are put into place so that inequities are diminished and schools are truly inclusive educational institutions. Individualized services and approaches to learning must be offered for all students, including those with disabilities.

Efficacy of Global Frameworks

The MDGs expired in 2015 without successfully achieving their very ambitious goal of eradicating poverty. Consequently, this remained the greatest global challenge and requirement for sustainable development. The MDGs failed in part because they only specified a desired outcome and didn’t adequately establish a process for achieving their objectives. The MDGs also didn’t recognize that nation states have individual priorities that often weren’t aligned with or put before the MDGs (Nayyar). The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs established a more inclusive and detailed plan in an attempt to counter the poor efficacy of the MDGs. The SDGs expanded upon the eight MDGs by extending the framework to include 17 specific objectives not only focused on eradicating poverty, but also on protecting the planet and fighting inequalities. Since the SDGs only went into effect at the start of this year, it’s far too early to tell how productive and impactful they will be, but their potential seems far more promising. The HLPF will be helpful in determining the progress of the SDGs’ targets and bring special attention to thematic areas each year. Moreover, specific aspects of the SDGs are connected to other global frameworks and thus the potential for sustainable collaborations is encouraging. In particular, cultivating stronger partnerships (SDG #17) between the SDGs, CRPD, NUA, and WSIS will help maximize development resources, global assistance, financial support, and political attention in fulfilling all 17 goals and their ties to all of these frameworks.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is particularly important in realizing the “inclusive” aspect of sustainable development since it supports equal opportunities and access to the approximately 1 billion people (15% of total world population) living with a disability. There are several direct links between the language of the CRPD and the SDGs, with 33 of the CRPD’s core articles encompassing aspects of specific SDGs.  The New Urban Agenda (NUA) that was adopted in October 2016 as a result of the Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador, is another important framework that relates to the SDGs and inclusive sustainable development. Habitat III provided a great opportunity for local and regional governments to work together and explore the interrelations of the NUA and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The NUA is directly related to and strengthened by Goal 11: “Sustainable Cities and Communities” and its efforts to make “cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.” Both the NUA and the SDGs have policy frameworks that can be supported by local institutions and authorities as bottom-up approaches. Actors at the local and municipal levels are just as essential as world leaders in implementing the SDGs, particularly in regards to Goal 11’s targets. However, most communities lack the necessary financial and technical support or are constrained by political and institutional regulations to effectively implement Goal 11 and its similar targets. Because of this, it is vital for the NUA to help foster the required conditions to succeed in producing smarter cities and communities. Because the SDGs and the NUA are voluntary, though highly encouraged, frameworks, the support of a wide range of actors is necessary, as is effective communication and engagement with a larger audience. Lastly, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) is another extensive framework that has significant overlap with the SDGs and its efficacy capabilities. The linkages between WSIS and the SDGs are comprehensive and explicit in a detailed report sponsored by the ITU, entitled “WSIS-SDG Matrix: Linking WSIS Action Lines with Sustainable Development Goals.” Since the main objective of WSIS is to advocate for the ability of ICTs to promote and contribute to development goals, its influence to the progress of the SDGs is undeniable. In conclusion, when considering the potential efficacy of sustainable initiatives, it’s necessary to understand how they complement one another rather than isolate or overshadow others.



Multistakeholder Internet Governance

In this week’s class we discussed the fact that no one “owns” the internet and because it is used by people all over the world and surpasses the level of any nation state, its governance is quite complicated. With the internet, states are able to interact in a global sphere but without the guidance or rules that come with an all-encompassing governing body. Although the internet originated in the United States through DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), they only owned the infrastructure not the protocols. The internet was initially designed as and intended to be a research and military communication mechanism that could withstand a nuclear attack. However, after the National Science Foundation invested in the internet, its use rapidly expanded and it became internationally commercialized with the help of companies. Naturally, the more people that used the internet, the more valuable it became to everyone as a global resource, but still a lack of internet governance was evident. “Internet governance is the development and application by Governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet” (Class Notes). In 1992, a movement started to institutionalize the process in a way that would provide private governance of the internet rather than by a government. This also internationalized the internet further. Now in every country you can determine who owns the telecom infrastructure but the internet remains unowned. In 1998, a nonprofit organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) was set up in California as a major experiment in internet governance. It was a stable and secure regime with all stakeholders having a role to play and serving its purpose, but it didn’t go far enough in further developing the internet, so there remained pressure to create new forces and a multistakeholder system (Internet Society).

After the 2005 Summit in Tunis, the WSIS attempted to tackle this challenge by creating a multistakeholder organization called the IGF (Internet Governance Forum). The IGF “serves to bring people together from various stakeholder groups as equals, in discussions on public policy issues relating to the Internet. While there is no negotiated outcome, the IGF informs and inspires those with policy-making power in both the public and private sectors” (IGF). It was initially given a five year mandate and was renewed after the first. Now, the IGF continues to thrive with its persistent governing structure as a multistakeholder advisory group and has established dynamic coalitions that discuss and share information and best practices with one another. Therefore, to date the IGF has been the most successful creation for instilling “ a common understanding of how to maximize Internet opportunities and address risks and challenges that arise” (IGF).

Digital Divide(s)

With the revelation of the “missing link” by the Maitland Commission Report, immense concern arose for the staggering differences in access to telecommunications across the United States. This was intensified with the creation of the internet and faster, easier, global communication possibilities. In the late 1990s, the NTIA (National Telecommunications & Information Administration) determined there was a significant division between Americans that use the internet, the “haves,” and those that do not, the “have nots” (“Falling through the Net”). This dichotomy is referred to as the  “digital divide,” but it is not as clear a division between two groups as it may sound. There are evident divides between rural and urban areas, young and old age groups, certain racial and ethnic groups, and variances among education and income level. There are also many different ways in which people may be disadvantaged or unable to participate in the digital world. This can include differences in quality of digital connections and devices, the availability of technical assistance and training, and/or subscription-based content. Currently, the most widely discussed issue within the “digital divide” is the availability of quality access at an affordable cost (“Falling through the Net”). The policy driven programs of the NTIA emphasize this need to expand broadband Internet access and adoption in the United States. This also entails ensuring that the Internet maintains and improves its capabilities for continued innovation and economic growth. Increasing the spectrum of internet users is vital step in addressing and improving many of the nation’s most urgent needs, including education, public safety, and health care. The NTIA also represents the Executive Branch in international telecommunications and information policy activities which is important because the digital divide is not just a domestic issue. Now, it is also increasingly evident that huge  populations all over the world have been excluded from this ever-growing technological era due to inadequate resources and education and that the “digital divide” is actually widening (“Falling through the Net”). This is in part because some areas or countries are substantially more equipped to acquire and benefit from internet use than other developing places, and specific groups within populations require but are deprived of necessary assistance within the digital world.  Consequently, bridging the gap of the “digital divide” is a crucial component of achieving inclusive sustainable development and would help create greater economic equality, social mobility, informational capabilities,  and development as defined by Amartya Sen.

ICTs and Sustainable Development

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are of growing importance for countries and their sustainable development, largely for their efficient and extensive capabilities in spreading information. Moreover, development, as Amartya Sen describes it, encompasses the differences in what people can and can’t do and the freedoms they have and those they lack. Initially ICTs included mostly telecommunications, but as technologies progressed the term grew to include computers, e-mail, and internet. ICTs continue to widen as even newer technologies are created and shared among the masses. The overall goal of US telecommunications policy was to provide “universal service” so that all American have affordable access to telecommunications. The ITU (International Telecommunication Union) is a specialized agency of the United Nations, focused on information and communication technologies (ICTs). The Maitland Commission, chaired by Donald Maitland and sponsored by the ITU, was assigned the task of determining and overcoming obstacles impeding the expansion of global telecommunications. In 1985, the Maitland Commission’s Report illustrated a direct correlation between a country’s economic growth and its access to telecommunication infrastructure. The report revealed there were huge imbalances between developed and developing countries’ access to telephones and communication infrastructure. This gap in access to telecommunications became known as the “missing link.”

Access to ICTs naturally expands freedoms and possibilities for others and thus also the potential for development. Consequently, ICTs are a crucial aspect for the fulfillment of international development initiatives. One example of a framework extremely reliant on and devoted to the efficient use of ICTs, is the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). WSIS was endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 2001, as a two phase conference devoted to support further development of information society through the efficient use of ICTs. The first phase of WSIS took place in Geneva in 2003, and established the foundations for an “Information Society for all.” The second phase was held in Tunis in 2005, to implement Geneva’s Plan of Action and to determine solutions and arrangements in the fields of internet governance and financing mechanisms (WSIS Declaration). The ITU acted as the major leader  throughout the process. Then in 2014, WSIS+10 was hosted in Geneva as an extended version of the WSIS Forums. The purpose of this high-level meeting was to review the progress of WSIS mandates, address subsequent gaps and challenges, and plan for how to proceed beyond 2015 (when the MDGs expired). ICTs are also a key factor in achieving each of the SDGs as they are necessary in recording, monitoring, and sharing the progress and challenges of each indicator, target, and goal. For example, with rapidly advancing technologies and endless digital networks and resources, ICTs have great potential in producing quality education (SDG #4). Industrialization and innovation (SDG #9) are also highly dependent on ICTs as they enable enhanced collaboration, productivity, and infrastructure systems.


               With the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals this past December, the UN established new goals to further address the major development issues in our world. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals went into effect January 1, 2016 with a new, more inclusive fifteen-year plan. The MDGs were mostly focused on eradicating poverty, but the SDGs have expanded upon them by also intending to protect the planet and fight inequalities. There are 17 global goals in the SDG agenda, each with specific targets and indicators for implementation within the next fifteen years. Although the SDGs are not legally binding, their widespread support and ratification makes them more legitimate and provides further grounds for advocacy and accountability.  However, because the goals are so ambitious and complex, producing and monitoring their implementation remains incredibly challenging. Consequently, the HLPF (High-Level Political Forum) was created as the central platform for follow-up and review of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. The HLPF is the High-Level Political Forum that meets annually for eight days under ECOSOC and at a higher level every four years under the UN General Assembly. Each convening has a different theme of focus related to specific goals and targets to analyze their progress. The HLPF states that it is “the most inclusive and participatory forum at the UN,” although in reality it is not because it is highly political in that you need to be a member or accredited by ECOSOC to participate and attend the forum. Therefore, only representatives of the major groups and chosen stakeholders can participate and have the right and capabilities to attend all official meetings, have access to all official information and documents, intervene in official meetings, submit documents and present written and oral contributions, and make recommendations. However, this does encourage the major groups and other stakeholders, such as persons with disabilities, “to autonomously establish and maintain effective coordination mechanisms for participation in the HLPF at the global, regional, and national levels in a way that ensures effective, broad and balanced, participation by region and by type of organization” (Class notes). Although it’s the state reports that are the official reports, shadow reports are also written by NGOs who don’t have to be as comprehensive and can instead use their resources to focus on one or some aspects of the articles. Fortunately, both state and shadow reports are taken into consideration when determining the success and accountability of SDGs, but there seems to be a lack in enforcement capabilities and solutions when the SDGs targets and indicators aren’t adequately achieved.

Inclusive Cities, Habitat III, New Urban Agenda

In this class we had a long discussion on what entices people to move to and continue living in cities. It’s important to acknowledge these factors when considering how to design and/or rebuild smart cities. Based on what others said in this discussion, I think smart cities have a lot to do with Sen’s idea of development in terms of freedoms and opportunities available to individuals. People want choices and opportunities no matter where they are and the more choices they have available to them, the happier I believe people will be. People want places for recreation and leisure, but they also desire security and a sense of community. When city planners and councils determine the population they wish to attract to cities, they need to make sure the area provides such opportunities. When a city lacks what its inhabitants want and need, it will quickly deteriorate as opposed to develop. Moreover, it’s important to enact “right to the city” policies and practices so that all individuals, and not just certain groups, have equal right and access to the cities’ amenities. Often this involves significant strategic planning and immersion in order to make sure all are included and no one is marginalized.

In accordance with the New Urban Agenda, developing smart cities is a political, social, economic, and environmental task. All these aspects need to be addressed in sustainable urban development. With Habit III taking placing in Quito, Ecuador this October, now is the time more than ever to reconsider and discuss how our world’s future cities will be and what policies need to be immediately implemented. Governments are the main actors and drivers of smart cities, but there are also opportunities for non-governmental organizations and partners to engage and participate in discussion of these issues. For instance, the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) was formally launched at the Seconding Preparatory Committee for Habitat III in April 2015, and allows for all stakeholders to participate and to better collaborate in the conference in order to promote and establish sustainable urbanization.


Development Theory

My previous understanding of development has been rather limited because most of the discussions and research in my other development courses have been in reference to a states’ GDP and economic factors. I now know that development can actually mean much more, and I personally find Amartya Sen’s definition of development the most compelling.

Sen explains that human freedom is both the main object and the primary means of development. Therefore, development is seen as the expansion of everyone’s opportunities and freedoms. Sen realizes that development is a crucial element in determining people’s quality of life and not just state capacities (Development as Freedom).

At its core, Sen views development as the difference in what people can and can’t do – the freedoms they have versus those that they lack. People are greatly hindered by insufficient support and resources from their economic, political, and social institutions. Institutions also intersect and depend on one another, which means they impact those beyond their direct work. For example, it is the political institutions and their politics that determine what economic institutions a country has or doesn’t (Why Nations Fail). Vulnerable groups are then further marginalized when these institutions don’t meet their needs because their opportunities and prospects critically depend on whether these institutions exist and how they function. Moreover, people need the freedom of choice within institutional frameworks in order to have personal development within their state’s development.

The shift from the MDGs to the SDGs is so significant because it takes development beyond its predetermined economic relevance and incorporates it into political, social, and environmental institutions and indicators. As we move forward, smart cities are going to become particularly necessary in achieving true inclusive, sustainable development. This makes local and municipal leaders the main actors of development rather than just high-state officials. Development has to be rooted in local needs and innovation. From an international perspective, it is then important to determine and understand how these issues and actions permeate outward. Clearly, development is not just a term but a discourse as it is incorporates ideas and processes that shape real situations (Class). It is now up to us to reconsider how our previous notions of development have hindered true inclusivity and how we can use Sen’s definition of development to provide real opportunities with long-lasting impact throughout the world.

Grand Challenges

There are many different types of challenges people face all over the world each and every day. Grand Challenges, however, typically encompass substantial issues that impact a large population and/or area. Although a formal universal definition has yet to be established, “Grand Challenges are ambitious but achievable goals” that require global acknowledgement and efforts to tackle (WHOSTP). I think the key word here is “achievable.” While these problems can be incredibly daunting, such as NASA’s Asteroid Grand Challenge, they are indeed considered feasible when all hands are on deck. Moreover, in attempts to solve Grand Challenges, positive social change is sparked as the “social contract” between science and society is enhanced via job creation, economic growth, and multi-sector collaboration (Kalil 2012). There is also a rhetoric shift from what is possible to what is necessary, creating a much more proactive and working dynamic.

At first I found it very interesting that the majority of the Grand Challenges listed on USAID’s website weren’t the same as the ones on The White House’s page, considering USAID is a government agency. However, as mentioned earlier there are a plethora of challenges and they can clearly fall into several categories. The White House naturally has national issues as its primary concern and priority, whereas USAID has a more global and developmental scope as its main interest. Since international development is my major’s thematic focus, I find USAID’s Grand Challenges particularly compelling. Grand Challenges for Development have explicit international engagement and look mainly to science and technology as a means for problem solving. Of USAID’s eight listed Global Challenges for Development, I was most surprised and intrigued by “Making All Voices Count” because it seemed quite progressive in acknowledging social injustices beyond what is considered basic necessities (USAID). Furthermore, my studies have been largely focused on the lack of accountability and transparency plaguing different world issues and their actors.

Although Grand Challenges are plentiful, it seems many are interrelated and could be tackled simultaneously as problem solving in one challenge would likely lead to problem solving in another. The first step in combatting Grand Challenges is research to understand the root of the problem. Then further research and innovation are necessary in order to discover and adapt alternatives and solutions. Because these challenges tend to be quite complex, trial and error is an expected and essential component, as well. I believe the Grand Challenge of finding and utilizing new energy sources is one of the most pressing world issues in sustainability and international development. We simply cannot afford or rely on continuing to use nonrenewable energy sources like oil. Already there has been significant development on renewable energy sources like wind and solar power, but I think they remain incredibly underused and are nowhere near their full potential impact. I believe there needs to be a complete shift in energy production from the extractive industry to one that utilizes the natural elements in order to tackle this Grand Challenge.