ICTs and Sustainable Development

We live in an interconnected globalized world where information and communication are key components to development. However, not everyone has equal access to these communications resources and therefore there are communities around the world that get left out of global progress. Reports such as “The Missing Link” and “Falling through the Net” shed light on this issue, but what can be done to provide equal access to communications technologies to all?

There are several components to this issue, one of which lies in who is responsible for providing the ICTs. The two main actors at play are the public and private sectors. In situations where the public sector provides the good, it allows for the resource to be easily accessible to the entire population and generally offers low prices that are more affordable to the masses. However, for this to work, you need a stable democratic institute because in situations where this isn’t the case, the government often operates as a monopoly on the good and manipulates prices to fund other, inequitable projects such as war financing or personal profits. In the case where the private sector provides the resource, it can be provided efficiently and at the highest quality, but due to the profit seeking nature of private institutions, they will only provide the resource in areas that minimize costs and maximize benefits, leaving rural communities uncovered.

Other issues are more technical in nature, such as the physical cost of extending the ICT networks and laying down sufficient wire to cover the entire population. The technology is still relatively expensive, but with research and development in ICTs, this technology can quickly evolve and become less expensive. Currently, CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg is investing in solar drones that would fly around the world in fleets permanently, providing internet access to 4 billion people worldwide who are in the dark.

Although there are still many obstacles to providing ICTs to the global population, technology improves at exponential rates and I believe that as this technology evolves, finding ways to bridge this gap will become easier.

The Role of The HLPF in International Development

If we look at important landmarks in international development, we must first look at how defining the Sustainable Development Goals impacted the global community. Before the SDGs, there were already preexisting global developmental frameworks that operated similarly to the SDGs and that defined some of the grand challenges of today. However, the SDGs not only redefined what these grand challenges were, but also set a mission statement to be accomplished before the year 2030. By having a deadline of when these goals need to be achieved was a first major step towards resolving some of the issues. Knowing what the issues are and setting a goal for when they should be met is an essential first part of international development, but the most important component is finding ways to implement the different practices to meet the goals. How then can you enforce developmental practices in countries around the world to unanimously contribute to meeting these objectives? In 2012, the United Nations created the High Level Political Forum along with the SDGs as a way for all of the different actors involved in international development to discuss how the SDGs will be met and how to implement its strategies. The key role of the HLPF in this is that it uses soft power to encourage nations to adapt sustainable practices and also leverages international reputation of countries that do not implement sustainable development policies. There is much debate over the efficiency of said soft power, but altogether there is significant progress in achieving many of the goals set out by the SDGs.

The HLPF and the SDGs however do have certain criticisms, especially in regards to its multistakeholder aspects. The HLPF meets annually and is open to both state and non-state actors, but for non-state actors to take part in the meetings, they must first overcome a series of bureaucratic hurdles and become ECOSOC accredited in order to do this. For non-profit organizations that work towards helping local communities develop, not only would it be particularly difficult to overcome some of the hurdles, but it would also be extremely costly to participate in these conferences. Other issues with the HLPF pertain to the Major Grous framework and its division into nine inclusive categories. Although these categories cover a majority of the target population, they also leave out certain groups that are equally in need of development practices and representation.

All in all, we still have 13 years before the deadline of the SDGs is up, and although there are many challenges that seem out of reach in this timeframe, much progress has been made in the 5 years since their implementation and with efforts from the HLPF, states, and non-state actors working together, progress will come.

Inclusive Education

If we look at SDG 4, it focuses on “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Education, and more importantly equal access to quality education, is a fundamental element of development and plays a key role in advancing the development agenda. Paulo Freire, Brazilian instructor and philosopher, wrote a dissertation “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” where he addressed the importance of education for ensuring quality development for all populations. In his work, he focuses on providing basic education to grown adults who had never gone through the schooling process. The main goal that Freire sought was to not just teach his students fundamental education, but to teach them the ability to think critically. By thinking critically, it gives individuals the ability to not just learn material, but to find the answers to their questions themselves. The ability to think critically is fundamental because it gives individuals freedom. Once they started thinking for themselves, they quickly started to learn how unjust the societal system was and how oppressed they had been. Most of the individuals in his classes worked low tier minimum wage jobs and assumed that there was nothing else that they could do, that this lifestyle was the only thing available to them. However, once they started learning, they realized that learning and education were a significant part of what kept them in a loop of poverty and inequality. Freire takes a very marxist approach to education in that he believes that providing people with the ability to think critically will allow them to revolt against the unjust system that kept them uneducated. By becoming more educated, individuals can become a part of the conversation and advocate for their rights, furthering the development of poor and marginalized regions.  In creating an education system that provides the oppressed with the necessary learning to become fully active citizens in society and fight for their rights, it needs to be inclusive, not just to adults and children, but to persons with disabilities, women, immigrants, and all other groups that do not have equal access to education.  Education is a pillar to meeting the SDGs because it is the tool that individuals use to solve problems, great and small. It is a way to give marginalized people the freedom to develop themselves as they see fit, and fight against the system that oppresses them, instead of having others fight for their rights.

How Net Neutrality is a Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance Issue

The internet is an international communications resource that allows the exchange of content between individuals across a network of devices. Because the internet has no centralized governing body, constituent networks are the ones that set the policies on internet usage. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai recently proposed a plan to kill the net neutrality laws in the US, and this proposal will be officially voted on December 14th. This plans intends to give ICT corporations the right to speed up, slow down, and even block access to content. This would violate free access to information and technology, charging people more for better access and forcing others onto cheaper, slower networks. This course of action has been met with serious contention by the American public who feel like their freedom of speech rights are being violated.

With issues such as net neutrality, it is essential to have a multi-stakeholder framework in place. By having government, the private sector, and civil society take part in the governance of the internet, it establishes a framework that prevents the control and abuse of internet access. In the case of net neutrality, it is a plan that is pushed by the lobbying groups of large communications providers and that is being reviewed by the government in order to become official legislation. However, civil societies are advocating against it and through petitions and protest, are fighting to upkeep the net neutrality. Fundamentally, the internet is a public good and a key component of the freedom of speech rights that are the foundation of a democratic institution. It is up to the government to uphold these values and ensure the well-being of the population. Through actions of civil society, the official vote for/against net neutrality can be swayed to counter the actions of the private sector that seek to make profits off of the control of content. The multi-stakeholder internet governance therefore creates a system of checks and balances in order to create a just and equitable system for internet provision in the US.

Intersectionality of International Development

Intersectionality in international development is a gathering of different identities and actors to work together to tie together core concepts of development. This is essential for meeting the sustainable development goals before the year 2030 because with the inclusion of all of the concerned subjects of development, the interests of the entire population can be met. In the United Nations Major Groups Framework, there are nine categories that are represented in the decision making of the development policies. Having nine groups encompasses a majority of the groups affected, but these categories are also limiting in terms of who is represented.

In international developmental organizations, the task of resolving international issues is a challenging one, and often the biggest difficulty is making sure that the interests of all concerned groups are met. By having nine groups, it limits the amount of actors present at the decision making table and makes it easier to pass unanimous actions. However, if there are people that are still not represented in the projects and who do not see the benefits of development, then the efficiency gained in having less actors leads to a loss of  effectiveness of the programs. The Major Groups Framework tried addressing these issues by including specific groups in the official language and keeping it open to “other stakeholders,” keeping it vague enough to include any multitude of groups. Another way that the UNMGF includes all of the groups is by jointly categorizing groups (i.e. instead of having a separate category for the LGBTQA community, they would be included under the nine groups that compose the UNMGF). The main issue with this is hierarchy, where some groups are given more importance than others, which causes political dissent among the different actors over who should be given priority in developmental issues.

This is still a major barrier to international development and is a main criticism of the way the system works, but it is critical to find a way to maintain intersectionality and efficiency in the global frameworks to find ways to meet the sustainable development goals before the 2030 deadline.


Grand Challenges and Why They Matter

Progress can only be defined by the way that major obstacles are overcome. Without hardship, there cannot be progress. Since history itself, humanity has faced many grand challenges that have shaped the world into what it is today, and the grand challenges that we currently face will determine what the future looks like. But what are grand challenges and why are they so important? To start, grand challenges are issues that directly affect humanity as a whole and require multi-stakeholder partnerships and cross disciplinary work to achieve results and find a solution within a given time frame. This term was first coined during the cold war, when the Kennedy administration ambitiously set out to land man on the moon for the first time. In 1961, Kennedy announced to the country: “before this decade is out, [we will be] landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” At this point in history, this was a grand challenge because no one thought it could be done and that it was out of the realm of what humanity was capable of. Yet it was achieved in 1969 with international help and with scientists from many disciplines, and the belief that it could be done.

If we look at some of the main issues of today, it seems impossible that we will ever end poverty, or ever become more sustainable, or be able to eliminate inequality. When the UN OWG met in Rio of 2012, 30 state members gathered together to address these grand challenges and frame them into the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Not only did they gather to identify the problems, but they gathered to set a critical deadline for when these goals should be achieved by 2030. Since the sustainable development goals were implemented, significant progress has been made. Between 1999 and 2013, poverty has been reduced from 1.7 billion to 767 million, which is very significant. Progress has also been made in hunger with the amount of undernourished people going from about 930 million in the early 2000’s to 793 million in 2014. In the field of medicine, “The risk of dying between the ages of 30 and 70 from one of four main non‑communicable diseases (NCDs)—cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease—fell from 23 per cent to 19 per cent between 2000 and 2015” (UN, Sustainable Development Goals Report 2017). However, with the deadline of 2030, the progress is not happening fast enough to achieve everything that the UN set out to do.

Although it may seem impossible to meet all of the goals set out by the SDGs before the year 2030, by setting an agenda and a deadline, it pushed countries around the world to take initiative and move in the right direction. Regardless of whether the goals are actually met by the given year, there will be significant progress made in making the world a better place for all.

Why is Multi-stakeholder Cooperation Essential for Sustainable Development?

In the field of development, there is a multitude of actors that promote the SDGs and work towards improving the world on many different levels. These levels can go from grassroots movements, to local government action, to International cooperation. Each level of development has its own methodology, its own approach to resolving the Grand Challenges that we face, and each development actor presents different tools and knowledge for resolving the issues.

At the grassroots level where NGOs and other developmental organizations that are locally based perform hands on development work, they operate directly with the target population and do most of the developmental field work necessary to help local communities grow. These organizations collect over time the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work on a local scale, and it allows them to understand the needs of the population, making the development work as efficient as possible. However, grassroots organizations often lack the funding and resources to expand the scale of operations to affect more people, and because of this, the impact of their development work remains local.

Governments also play an essential role in development work as they manage the resources of the country and therefore have more power to fund development projects. The government also has a large extent of knowledge on the needs of the population. However, what the government has in resources and knowledge, it lacks in efficiency. Governmental development is often criticized for its bureaucratic red tape that makes it very difficult to efficiently manage and run development projects, and this lack of efficiency results in development operations that become much more expensive and yield lesser results.

Finally, international developmental organizations such as the World Bank, the IDB, the United Nations, the HLPF, and many others offer a macro approach to development through international cooperation. The advantages to this approach are that it allows to create a conversation surrounding specific developmental issues and brings them to light, making governments realize the importance of development work in the grand scheme of the SDGs. It is also a good place for different governments to propose ways to implement development with the purpose of meeting a particular criteria and through treaties, binds countries to meet the goals. Unfortunately, there is not a strong enforcement mechanism that forces countries to implement the development work they signed off to.

At each level of development there are partial solutions to meeting the SDGs but still encounter specific difficulties at each layer. The difficulties that the different levels of development encounter however can be solved using the tools and knowledge that other actors operating at different scales have to offer. No single actor possesses the solution to development, but by putting actors together, the optimal combination of knowledge and resources would be met, allowing for the maximum amount of progress to be made. This is fundamental to understanding the importance of multi-stakeholder operations in development and why it is essential to have platforms where the different actors operating at different levels of development can share ideas and knowledge to all resolve Grand Challenges.

How Does the NUA Include Rural Development as an Essential Part of Its Implementation?

When the New Urban Agenda: Habitat III conference was held in October, 2016, the main focus of the conference was to promote the idea of sustainable cities and start developing ideas on how to implement strategies of urban development. Although this document’s main purpose focuses on the urban landscape, the first draft of the NUA III official document contains fifteen mentions of rural development as a part of the plan for urban development:

Article 43: integration of rural development in the framework of developing cities and human settlements

Article 44: integration through ” transport and mobility, technology and communication networks and infrastructure”

Article 62: working with both urban and rural areas, “strengthening the sustainable management of resources ”

Article 77: ensuring coherence of local governmental policies regarding land development keeping rural areas in mind

Although it may not be evident how including rural development helps meet the targets of Habitat III, it is essential to consider what dynamics exist between the two and how improving one can indeed improve the conditions for the other.

One of the biggest challenges that we are currently facing is the overpopulation of our cities and how to accommodate for increasing numbers. This increase in population is mostly due to the migration of poor populations living in rural areas that look towards the city for better work opportunities. If we are to resolve overpopulation of cities, we need to look to what can be done in the rural landscape to provide sufficient opportunities and benefits to rural populations to keep them from migrating to the cities. This is the main goal of articles 43 and 44, where a stronger integration of rural-urban development through technology, communications, and infrastructure can bring a level of development to the rural setting, providing more economic opportunities in those areas and mitigating rural-urban migration.

Another important aspect is the effect that urban development has on the rural landscape. As cities grow, the need for resources such as land, water, food, electricity, etc… increases and most of the time, the use of those resources impacts rural communities. A lot of the waste generated by cities ends up polluting rural communities, which affects the crop outputs and therefore the livelihoods of the populations living in areas most affected. Article 62 emphasizes a strong partnership between the two in order to advance the goal of sustainable cities that would benefit rural areas as well. The urban sector bring to the table new technologies that can help improve the efficiency of the resources it uses, such as creating the infrastructure for green energy (solar panels, hydroelectric, wind energy) and reduce the amount of pollutants that cities emit, and the rural sector provides the conditions under which these resources work best, and provides insight on the effects that the pollution has. Sustainability is therefore an issue that needs to be addressed with the rural sector in mind if it will work at the highest degree of success.

It is impossible to achieve the goal of “sustainable cities” without considering the effects that it has on rural communities and without taking into account the tightly wound relationships that exist between the two. This is why rural development plays an important part in the development of Habitat III and helps us reach most of the Sustainable Development Goals in the 2030 agenda.

Entitlement Theory and Access to Communication

Amartya Sen, author of “Development as Freedom,” first coined the term of entitlement theory in his paper “exchange Entitlements” as a way to describe the causes of famine. What he found was that famines often are not due to a lack of food, but rather a lack of access to the food that the country has available. In class, we discussed the importance of ICTs in the development framework and how people living in different societies and living in different areas of the world don’t have the same access to communications resources as people who live in large concentrated urban areas.

In the Maitland Commission Report, the ITU presented the idea of a “missing link” in the age of communication as there is still a large percentage of people that live completely isolated from the rest of the world due to a lack of access to telephone lines, internet and other forms of ICTs. One of the reasons that these populations remain without access to these technologies is because companies in charge of installing the infrastructure do not see any benefit in spending time and resources to provide this technology to marginalized communities. Another issue is that often, even if the technology is available to the communities, they are unable to afford the fees for using the internet or cellular reception. How then can these populations be given access to these technological entitlements?

One way to address this issue is through government intervention to ensure all people get access to the ICTs. By providing subsidies to companies providing the communications infrastructure, it gives private enterprises an additional motive to provide the services to marginalized communities. Another way to provide the service is through government acquisition of the technology and provide it themselves. However, involving the government in providing ICTs to the population leads to other challenges such as a loss in efficiency due to additional bureaucratic transaction costs, an increase in prices as the government tries to compensate for the higher costs, and problems with the quality of the good provided due to lack of competition.

In order to find the perfect combination of public and private that would allow marginalized communities to access ICTs, there are several conditions that need to be met that Amartya Sen defined. The first condition is that the highest level of efficiency is achieved in democratic governments. This is because democratic institutions provide greater stability and are subject to the interests of the voters, and therefore have a responsibility towards the population. There are cases in countries where the government intervened in the distribution of ICTs in order to spike the prices for personal gain or for military spending, but in the case of democratic institutions, there are checks and balances that keep that from happening.

A second condition is to ensure perfect competition and a breadth in the market. Having a large diversity of suppliers that can compete on an even playing field would cause prices of ICTs to go down and would also decrease the prices of the infrastructure, therefore making it more beneficial to provide the good to the most consumers possible, making it more affordable and more available to people in marginalized communities.

Finally, in order to set these things in motion, it is essential to raise awareness of the importance of bridging the “missing link” because through awareness, the government can act and start implementing strategies to provide greater access to the rest of the population living outside of concentrated rural areas.

In a quickly modernizing society where technological progress increases exponentially with each passing year, it is essential to make sure that no one gets left behind. ICTs are an essential part of development work, and without this access to information and communication, marginalized societies will be perpetually trying to catch up with the progress in the rest of the world and will never be able to achieve the same levels of development.

Moonshot Thinking in Economics: Grameen Bank

Throughout the discipline of economics, scholars study models of perfectly functioning markets and what these markets would look like if all of the right conditions were met. It is a fascinating discipline which shows what a perfect world could look like, but the difficult reality of things is that often these models represent unrealistic expectations based on human behavior, availability of resources, and allocation of land, capital, and labor. We do not live in a perfect world where capitalism is a well-oiled machine that works perfectly for all people, or where everyone in the world embraces a single communist ideology. No, we live in a very diverse world with people from different backgrounds who have different interests, beliefs, norms, and values. This diversity is a fundamental element of our existence that makes our world more beautiful, but also more complex, and this is something that is often left out of economics.

When the Grameen Bank in India was founded in 1983, it was met with a lot of criticism because people expected it to function the same way any other bank functions, by loaning money with high interests and making a profit. People held the Grameen Bank to the standards of what people already knew, without thinking that they could ever operate differently. Instead of operating for profit, the Grameen Bank is a rare institution that offers microfinancing opportunities to poor communities by loaning them money to expand their operations, but offering very low interest rates that give the customers flexibility and reduces the pressure of paying back the loans. This model of operations is extremely risky from the perspective of a bank that runs on making a profit, because society leads us to believe that poor people are a liability when it comes to managing money. The Grameen Bank didn’t see poor people as a liability, but more as an opportunity to give back to the community and allow rural areas to develop and grow.

Not only is the Grameen Bank the first microfinancing institution of its kind, but it is also the first that favors women entrepreneurs and empowers women to become business managers and participate more actively in societies where they were often oppressed. According to statistics by the bank, around 95% of the women that took out loans from the bank consistently managed to pay back their debts and the interest, showing a high rate of success.

Why is this bank an example of moonshot thinking in my opinion? No one ever believed that there could be a “Bank of the Poor” and people never believed that a banking system could have the effect of reducing rural poverty and protecting social capital whilst also empowering women in local communities. The Bank was met with much opposition from people that believed that it was merely exploiting the poor and believed that the bank just put poor people into more debt that previously, or people criticized the bank for overstepping and intervening in the role of the government in providing poverty alleviation strategies, but it is undeniable that this Bank has brought a new way of looking at poverty alleviation and has generated a new conversation looking specifically at how this could potentially provide solutions for people not just in India, but around the world as well.