Intesectionalities in Development

Intersectionality exists everywhere. Within development theory, intersectionality is especially prominent. The meaning of the main word, intersect, can be defined as two or more things passing through each other. The theory of intersectionality is a framework that is centered on social identities. It is a framework that can be applied to a variety of topics relating to development, including gender, disability, poverty, religion, social status, job status, and others. Intersectionality affects everyone because everyone is an individual. Everyone is affected by a set of circumstances that is unique to only that individual person. A person might be deaf and female or unemployed and old. These are important things to consider when talking about development because everyone is in a unique situation and must be treated as such in order to effectively understand how policies and procedures will affect them. A person who is deaf will have different obstacles to overcome than a person who is blind, but a person who is elderly and poor has another set of obstacles. These are things that must be considered when creating policies for inclusive sustainable development.

When I took my course to get certified to teach English as a Second Language, I was taught to teach to the average student in the class – not the best, but also not the worst. It was reinforced that we should provide support, whether that is more challenging homework for the best students or more 1 on 1 time for the students not doing as well, as much as possible. When teaching as a class, it is important to teach to everyone, but each individual must be taken into account to ensure success.

In regards to sustainable development, some of the most common intersectionalities that exist are: gender and disability; gender and development; youth and development; and race, ethnicity, disability, and development. These individual topics are some of the most controversial topics. Gender is hotly debated on every level of the socioeconomic scheme while disability is being worked into policies (because we have long disregarded 15% of the population). Race and ethnicity have been a tense topic for hundreds of years, with racism still prominent today. But these intersectionalities are found in every day life. In sustainable development, we have to take these intersecionalities into consideration when drafting policies in order to be truly inclusive and not leave anyone out. This needs to be done on every level from local governments to the United Nations, with relevant stakeholder groups taking part in the discussion and getting their voices heard.

Inclusive Education

Education is something that everyone should be entitled to; everyone should have access to a good education. The fourth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is centered around education, with the end goal being to achieve inclusive and equitable education for all. The term “inclusive education” emphasizes that education is for everyone, no matter your background. Rich, poor, white, African-American, Asian, autistic, old, young – it does not matter. Everyone should be able to get a good education.

Inclusive education is much more than providing access to education for persons with disabilities. Girls and women all over the world have struggled for access to education throughout history, something that we can still see in the United States today with the gender pay gap. While many people will look at the term “inclusive education” and think about providing accessible education to persons with disabilities, there are a lot of other marginalized populations that also need to be considered and cannot be forgotten. To be inclusive is to include everyone, no matter his or her background. SDG 4 outlines this by aiming to “ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education.” If everyone had a quality educational background, it would allow for opportunities that currently do not exist. The UN continues by aiming to “eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, and children in vulnerable situations.”

Education is a key to future success. By not providing accessible education, it limits future possibilities. Many jobs require college degrees, yet without accessible education, many people will not be able to get high school diplomas. The challenge is the process to make education accessible. In many countries in the world, education is free to the citizens of the country, subsidized by the government in order to provide access to everyone. In the United States, however, a free education is unheard of; college tuition often ends up costing about the same as a house. But in the United States, there is a lot of money available for scholarships, especially for first generation college students and other marginalized populations. The world as a whole has come a long way, even in the last few years, but there is still a far way to go. In 2017, the UN updated the progress by giving examples of how far we still have to go in order to achieve the goal of quality education. In 2019, Goal 4 is slated to be reviewed by the High Level Political Forum.

Efficacy of Global Frameworks

Global frameworks are used everywhere and every day. The only way to understand what these frameworks are is to see the examples that we interact with on a daily basis. Examples of these frameworks include the Millennium Development Goals, the replacement Sustainable Development Goals, and the New Urban Agenda. These frameworks affect everyone, as every country that takes part in the United Nations has agreed to accept them. The only way global frameworks can exist and be effective is through partnerships. Everyone must participate and everyone must contribute.

The MDGs were adopted in 2000 with a goal of achieving them by 2015, something that did not happen. Because of this failure, there has been a lot of negative backlash towards the MDGs. The MDGs included the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality, and environmental sustainability, among others. Deepak Nayyar, a professor of economics, is one of the biggest criticizers of the MDGs in his article “MDGs After 2015.” He argues that one of the major problems with the MDGs was that they were not specific. They lacked specificity so much so that it seemed as they were not fully planned. The replacement goals, the SDGs, took in this criticism when they were being constructed. The SDGs are extremely specific and have yearly updates available to mark progress. The use of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) as a way to monitor and evaluate the progress of the SDGs will aid in the overall success of the SDGs, both individually and collectively. While these goals are still lofty, they are better structured and defined, which will make them more obtainable in the long run.

Global frameworks, such as the MDGs and SDGs, provide challenges in achieving the intended and desired results. The MDGs failed for a variety of reasons and we are still too far out to know if the SDGs will be achieved or not. Challenges lie within the systems of evaluating progress. With the world being so large and so diverse, it is hard to measure effectiveness. SDG 6, clean water and sanitation, is something far easier to achieve and measure in developed countries. In developing countries, the infrastructure might not be there or populations might be more remote, adding challenges in the efficacy of these frameworks. At the end of the day, someone will argue something went wrong. Someone will criticize some aspect of what happened. Critics will always exist because people come from different background and have different perspectives. What is important is that we do not let these critics shift us from the desired end goal.

Internet Governance

Internet governance is hotly debated in the current world we live in, with people who are adamantly opposed to it and people who believe it is the future. The heart of internet governance has its foundations in technology used to facilitate public policy and shape the evolution and future of the internet. The internet itself is transnational, open, interconnected, and hard to manage. When thinking about the internet, the only real way to provide governance is through a multi-stakeholder approach.

Multi-stakeholder means that no one individual entity will have sole input; it will be a combined effort. The multi-stakeholder approach bases its foundations on the following components:

  • Participation from stakeholders (organizations, governments, individuals, who have a claimed interest)
  • Distributed responsibilities and rights to participants
  • Variety of input from different backgrounds

Additionally, in order for this approach to work, there must be decentralization from the government. While the governments can have some input, they are not to be in charge of regulations. The backbone is the bottom-up process, where the people (the users) of a product, the internet, have the most control and say in what happens. Just as the internet is open and available to everyone, so must be its governance. There is no room for a lack of inclusivity or open-mindedness.

Recently, there was a meeting of the African Ministers of Communication and Information Technologies in Ethiopia at the second conference of the Specialized Technical Committee on Communication and ICT (STC CICT-2). The aim of the conference was to discuss and (potentially) make decisions on a variety of programs that will impact Africans in these kinds of realms. The conference was set to discuss topics ranging from internet access to digital literacy of African citizens. The chair of the committee, Minister Modibo Arouna Touré, stated that “the he Governance of the Internet is a concern to all of us because it is in the heart of economic, political, geopolitical stakes at the national level. For this particular reason it becomes imperative for Africa to become actively involved in the dynamics of Internet Governance, Cyber security, and Cybercrime.” This marks a large occasion, with African nations bidding for their share of global internet governance.

This conference and organization is an example of how regional mulit-stakeholder internet governance is an important step in a more global picture, with representatives from African nations discussing and deciding how to make the internet more accessible as well as wanting citizens to play a bigger role, something only possible if they are digitally literate. The end goal is to be represented on a global scale, but it must start somewhere, and this second regional conference is the beginning.

Digital Divides in Development

Technology is one of the pillars of the future. Access to technology is greatly unequal throughout the United States as well as the world. This is the heart of the concept “digital divide.” I, as an upper middle class white male, have had almost no limitations to what I want in regards to technology. I get a new iPhone every year or two, as well as a new laptop or tablet device. I have access to large amounts of digital libraries through my university, something that many people do not have access to if they do not go to a large, liberal arts university. I live in a place where I have access to efficient public transportation. A lot of people in the United States do not have the access to the technology that I do, let alone the rest of the world. This lack of access to the internet and other digital technologies, something that is extremely convenient and beneficial, is socioeconomically detrimental. It blocks many people from reaching their full potential and staying competitive in this day and age.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration wrote a report in 1995 titled “Falling Through the Net.” That report focused on a disparity between the “haves” and “have nots” in the United States, a prominent digital divide. The report states that “while Americans are becoming increasingly connected, there are still significant discrepancies in Access.” The United States is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, with many new innovations being patented every day. Even though many people have access to laptops, smartphones, and other technologies, many others do not. But how do we overcome this economic inequality and repair the digital divide? This is part of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – goal #9 focuses on innovation and infrastructure while goal #10 centers on reducing inequalities within and between countries. The combination of these two goals will help to reduce the digital divides that exist. With less inequality between and within countries, more people will have equal access and opportunities, one of which being access to digital technologies. With innovation and infrastructure, this access will be more readily available and accessible for everyone.

An older report, the McBride Report “Many Voices, One World” (1980), also highlights the major inequalities between countries considered “developed” and “developing” in regards to information technology. Everywhere we look, we can see these discrepancies. In order to overcome them, we have to put the infrastructure in place. Technology needs to be more accessible to overcome these digital divides. The SDGs do well in providing an outline to follow, but now we just need to follow it.

ICTs in Sustainable Development

Information and communications technology, ICT, combines information technology (IT) with telecommunications. The idea of ICT is fluid, constantly changing with the new adaptations and creations in the technological and communications fields. The global interest in ICTs sparked in 1998 when the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) called for the United Nations to hold a summit for world leaders to come together and discuss the up and coming information society and ICTs. This conference was called the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and was held in two phases: the first in 2003 and the second in 2005. In 2015, WSIS+10 took place, a conference that marked 10 years since the original conference and discussed progress and what still needs to happen.

ICTs play a large role in development today and have the potential to have a larger role in years to come. ICTs make every day life more efficient and easier. Radios, computers, and cellphones are just a few of the many ICTs that are a part of daily life for many people. However, there is a significant portion of the population, both in the USA and globally, that do not have this access. This “digital” divide is something that hinders development in many parts of the world. The large goal of WSIS was to develop a framework to combat the digital divide between nations. One of the earlier arguments of this divide was brought forth in the ITU’s “Maitland Commission Report,” highlighting the disparities in telephone access between nations. This continued with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) report “Falling through the Net,” which highlights internet access between individuals in the United States. The former was published in 1982 while the latter in 1995. These two reports were some of the many that set the stage for WSIS.

What if the internet just shut off tomorrow? What would happen? Chaos. Many people depend on the internet, whether for watching movies to sending emails to publishing articles. What these people do not realize is the amount of people that have never seen or used the internet. This is the digital divide that WSIS set out to solve. The outcomes of WSIS+10 highlight the need for a multistakeholder approach to this problem, arguing that the only way a solution can occur is through a variety of partnerships. We still have a long way to go, but often the recognition and acknowledgement of the problem is a huge step forward. We have made that first step and some baby steps after with the WSIS conferences.

Smart Cities and the NUA

The world is becoming more and more urban each year. The vast majority of the world’s population lives in cities, a different case than 100 years ago. Even looking at the top 10 most populous cities, there is over 150 million people, or roughly 2% of the total population, that live between just those 10 cities. That does not include the metropolitan areas, which would inflate that number exponentially. Smart cities are cities that use technology and electronic data to more efficiently manage the cities. These cities are aimed to attract young adults through the integration of information and communications technology into the everyday aspects of the city, such as public transportation systems. Smart cities are becoming more and more prominent every year with more cities adopting smart city initiatives. Some examples of this include Madrid and Stockholm. Madrid adopted a policy called MiNT – Madrid Inteligente (Smart Madrid). Since the adoption of this policy, there has been significant improvement in sustainable and computerized management of city systems like garbage collection and recycling. Stockholm, like Madrid, has implemented citywide infrastructure policies. These include green buildings and traffic monitoring systems. Smart cities will continue to evolve in the years to come, getting more efficient and improving management with each new city.

While smart cities are clear and obvious examples of development, the New Urban Agenda focuses on the development of all cities. The New Urban Agenda is the global standard for sustainable urban development, causing us to rethink how we live in and manage cities. While some of the New Urban Agenda is basic, like providing access to housing and drinking water for everyone, parts are much more complex, like reducing the risk of impact for natural disasters. The New Urban Agenda is one way that the United Nations is using to achieve SDG 11, sustainable cities. With the world urbanizing, the need to address cities is great. The New Urban Agenda is a framework in which governments can look to when designing programs and improving infrastructure.

The Asian Development Bank published a report titled “Inclusive Cities” that helps to frame the history of urbanization in Asia. The report states that after World War II, there was a major influx of people in cities due to a spur in economic development. This influx of people put a strain on city planning and development causing a massive explosion in the slums, areas of the city where there is a lot of overcrowding and poverty. The Asian Development Bank highlights the amount of people in Asian cities that live in these areas, which ranges from about 30% to over 50%. This is one of the things that the New Urban Agenda aims to combat, allowing everyone to be prosperous and successful.

SDGs and the HLPF

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an important part of our lives right now on a global scale. Since the expiration of the Millennial Development Goals in 2015, the SDGs are one of the most important things within the UN. While there has been a lot of change and additions to these goals, setting the bar ever and ever higher, the UN and the vast majority of the world has committed to obtaining them, as they are important to our future and the generations of people to come. This new set of goals is supposed to be obtained by 2030.

There are 17 SDGs we are aiming to achieve – covering a wide array of issues from poverty to clean water to the way that organizations/governments/people cooperate with each other. Because there are 17 goals, each with a specific focus, the roadmap until 2030 is relatively straightforward and defined. By separating the goals to be less overlapping, the UN allows a more clear definition and understanding of each one.

A major player in seeing how well the goals are being achieved, as well as a way to hold countries accountable, is the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). The HLPF was designed as a way to follow-up and review the successes and failures in obtaining the SDGs. The HLPF is made up of the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The HLPF meets every year for eight days and has a set agenda to discuss. For example, this past year (2017), the HLPF met and discussed SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9, and 14 and the theme was “eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world.”

We have come a long way since 1992, when the UN held the Conference on Environment and Development, the first major step to fighting climate change together. From then until now, there is no doubt that we have done more to begin our steps in the right direction, but we are still far from becoming carbon-neutral and eventually stopping and/or reversing climate change. While the SDGs mention climate change, they are focused on much more than that – they are centered around being sustainable in all meanings of the word. Ending poverty and world hunger, making life better for every person and living thing, and providing clean water and energy to the people of the world are just examples of the high bar that has been set through the SDGs.

I believe we have made great progress, especially in regards to disabled persons. For a long time in history, 15% of our population was excluded on both a national and a global scale. The SDGs specifically mention to be inclusive of everyone and has a great “no person left behind” mentality that we have lacked for so long. While we are not anywhere near the end yet, we have been able to recognize and move forward with the understanding that we must be considerate and include everyone in order to be truly sustainable for the future. Going forward, there will be struggles, especially with need to meet the needs of everyone and for everyone to be able to come to the table and be heard, but that is a challenge we can face head on and conquer. In 13 years, the world will be a much better place than now, but I still suspect it will have a lot of room to grow.

Development Theory

The word “development” has no clear and universal definition and understanding. It is vague. What does “development” mean? Is it different in different situations and contexts? Development is hard to define and even harder to understand, making it one of the most complex and most common terms used today. I could spend a lot of time defining the term from a variety of angles, but I will end it here. In his book, Amartya Sen defines development as the removal of unfreedoms and give back opportunities to those who were affected by these unfreedoms. Per Sen, an example of an unfreedom is poverty, something that has not purposefully been imposed on people but has affected people left and right.

To combat Sen, the authors of Why Nations Fail, Acemoglu and Robinson define development as how well economies are doing, whether they are succeeded, barely getting by, or failing. For Acemoglu and Robinson, economic indicators, such as GDP or unemployment, are important predictors in how well an economy is doing. If GDP is on a decline, the economy, and therefore the development, of a country is not doing well. If unemployment is high, that is also true. Acemoglu and Robinson believe that economic growth, measured by economic indicators and technological advancement, is development. This is more akin to how we understand development on a global level today. On a global scale, we classify countries as developed, developing, and least developed. In this idea of development, the concept of development is strictly based upon economies.

Development is more than just economies and freedoms. There are a variety of development theories out there, including modernization theory, structuralism, dependency theory, basic needs theory, and neoclassical theory. Out of these, basic needs theory is the one that I am most indifferent about. In the United States, we use the foundations of basic needs theory to determine poverty levels and how we distribute state and federal help programs like food stamps. Basic needs theory is rooted in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow was a psychologist who created a five tier pyramid that has the basic human needs at the bottom and culminates with self actualization at the top. This pyramid emphasized basic needs to be air, food, and water on the bottom level and shelter and clothing on the second level. In the world, these basic needs are understood and that is why food shelters and homeless shelters exist to provide assistance for people to obtain these needs.

Grand Challenges

Grand Challenges are complex problems that have no clear solutions. For USAID, these Grand Challenges include battling and curing Ebola and Zika, securing water for food, and having all children reading, among others. The United Nations addresses a variety of Grand Challenges in the Sustainable Development Goals, ranging from the elimination of poverty to affordable and clean energy to partnership for the goals.

Looking at the name, the two words “Grand” and “Challenge” are heavy, serious words. These words can overwhelm and overpower people. While “grand” does mean large in size, it also means magnificent in appearance and style. Similarly, “challenge” can denote something is hard to overcome, but it also means something that tests abilities. So while this phrase can mean large problems that are hard to overcome, it can also mean magnificent ways to test someone’s abilities. That is what organizations like the UN and USAID are doing: they are testing us, as a society, in our abilities to solve issues that we face every day.

These grand challenges have been used to frame the end of some of the world’s largest problems, like climate change or poverty. These frameworks make it so that we, as a society, see the means to the end – collaboration. This directly relates back to SDG 17: partnership. The rest of the goals tackle specific problems like poverty and hunger, but this final goal, number 17, tells us how to accomplish the rest: through partnerships. By framing it in a way that we believe that collaboration and teamwork is needed for success, it involves more people than it would if it solely dictated that we have to do x, y, and z in order to overcome the issue.

Grand Challenges exist on a local, state, federal, regional, and global scale. Each level has different challenges that it must solve and overcome. For example, the city of Bangor, ME might have accessible public transportation as a grand challenge. The state of Maine might not view this specific issue as a grand challenge, but might focus on accessibility for Medicare and Medicaid. On the federal level, a grand challenge is combatting drug trafficking. On a regional level, a grand challenge is migration within the region (people leaving country A to go to country B, etc.). On a global level, the grand challenges in the SDGs are some of the most prominent. On each stage of government and on each level of the scale, there will be overlap in grand challenges. Accessible public transportation is a grand challenge in Bangor, ME, but it is also one on the federal level with the idea that more big cities need better and more accessible public transportation. This is also reflected in SDGs 9 and 11.

Continuing with the challenge of accessible public transportation, a variety of organizations—governmental, non-governmental, and inter-governmental—have come together to try and solve this problem. One example of this MetroAccess in the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA, commonly referred to as Metro). When living in both Spain and Costa Rica, I did not see the same efforts put in for people who needed transit to be accessible. In Madrid, many of the metro stations are not accessible, but they do have a plan in place to make them so. The buses are not all accessible, but they are making progress into making them so. In Costa Rica, many people use buses to travel around, but a majority of these buses were not accessible. This has not been a priority for Costa Rica, with not a large need for accessible transportation, but even one person provides justification for need.