Habitat lll and the New Urban Agenda

Habitat lll, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, took place this year in Quito, Ecuador from October 17-20. The purpose of this conference was essentially to move towards the adoption of the New Urban Agenda, which was derived from the Surabaya Draft of the New Urban Agenda  (which was the outcome of the third session of the Preparatory Committee for the Habitat III Conference in Surabaya, Indonesia 2016). The New Urban Agenda  is one of the various globally adopted frameworks for international development projects, and appears to be more specifically targeted towards the urban population that consists of over half of our world’s population today. The New Urban Agenda delves into core issues such as adequate and sustainable human settlements, democratic development, as well as key emphasis on the importance of establishing global monitoring mechanisms to ensure that development projects and funding are being used productively. Some of the values that are expressed by this framework include emphasis on community engagement and capacity building within new urban developments since it encourages more sustainable development projects, that promote capacity building for future resilience from the bottom up. A bottom-up approach often seems like one of the keys in more successful development projects (as well as long-term solutions) since it helps ensure that local members of affected communities will have a more powerful voice in the decisions that will affect their future living situations.

The concept of community engagement reminds me of a class I previously took on development in India. Often time, when trying to urbanize slum settlements in order to “improve” a city’s aesthetic, project designers often do not take into account the ways in which slum dwellers lives can be heavily disrupted by development projects. For example, existing community social systems are often at risk of being destroyed as layouts for new settlements a lot of times are not designed to take into account the necessity for certain families or worker groups to be kept within close proximity. Additionally, there are various cases in which slum dwellers will not necessarily even want to be moved into “new and improved” establishments, because of the sentimental values that their homes may carry for them. Thus, if the purpose of development projects is to improve the wellbeing of those who are in need, one must take into account the opinions of the locals themselves in order to mitigate any wasteful spending of resources.

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Inclusive Education

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to have grown up in an environment where access to quality  education seems to be a basic commodity that most people have been able to take advantage of (at least until high school) if pursuing an education was the path they chose to follow. Education has often been thought of as one of the keys to economic success as it enables you with the knowledge and skills necessary in order to obtain a job with a sufficient enough salary to live a relatively comfortable life and to be able to support one’s family. Unfortunately, widespread access to quality education for all persons is not always the case for millions of people around the world. Often time, different groups, such as women, pwds, or low-income individuals, are faced with unequal access to education, thus inhibiting them from gaining the the skills and capabilities necessary in order to reach a higher potential of productivity in society (if that is the goal that one seeks to reach). Thus, SDG 4,  to “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”, has been one of the goals that the international community has agreed should be stressed upon, in order to promote higher levels of development worldwide.

The Model Policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities aims to assist UNESCO member states in “promoting the effective use of inclusive ICTs in education for learners with disabilities” (unesco.org). This model is interesting in the way that it aims to increase access to ICTs (which is a goal within itself) for more inclusive education, while also aiming to ensure that these ICTs are accessible by various groups of pwds to make sure that no one group is neglected in their overall access to the means of a quality education. I also believe that this model policy will be more effective in the sense that it also targets “any learners who are vulnerable to exclusion from any sector of education” (unesco.org), which correlates to the idea of “inclusive” education.

Along with aiming for more inclusive education, it is also important to uphold a certain standard of quality of the education. For example, in the article “ Inclusive Education Initiatives for Children with Disabilities: Lessons from the East Asia and Pacific Region”, one of the lessons that is mentioned is that “it is important to maintain a balance between rapid expansion and good quality educational provision” (pg 33). I think often time in development projects, people tend to analyze the importance of numbers more than the actual outcome of a project (in regards to its quality). Thus, it is important for international development actors to keep in mind that while helping more and more children access a facility for education, it is also important to keep track of other quality indicators, such as the quality of a teacher, or the quality of the school facility itself in making sure that every part of the facility is safe, and accessible by all students.

Intersectionality in Sustainable Development

Intersectionality in sustainable development essentially looks at how “different sets of identities impact access to rights and opportunities” (Intersectionality: A Tool for Gender and Economic Justice 1). For example, a woman of color may face different challenges as opposed to the challenges faced by a white male with a hearing impairment. When looking at the stakeholder groups outlined by the SDGs (Women, Children and Youth, Indigenous Peoples, Non-Governmental Organizations, Local Authorities, Workers, and Trade Unions

Business and Industry, Scientific and Technological Community, Farmers), it would not be uncommon for there to be intersectionalities between the overlapping issues faced by these groups. For example, members of the scientific and technological community who are also women may face similar issues such as in receiving funds for project developments. Thus it is important for the international community to understand that in addressing the inequalities that are faced by certain stakeholder groups, new policies or development projects may also end up benefiting other stakeholder groups whose development problems may intersect. Furthermore, there are other stakeholder groups that are not mentioned above, such as persons with disabilities, whom would also likely experience challenges similar to those faced by the groups outlined by the SDGs. In addressing the challenges of the various stakeholder groups, development goals will be more holistic in their scope and extent of beneficiaries that are targeted.

With education being one of the primary goals targeted by the SDGs, improvement in the quality and access of education for all persons would be beneficial, for example, for persons with disabilities whose education programs may have previously neglected addressing the unique challenges faced by the individual, as well as may also benefit the progressive goal of female empowerment in making education more accessible to females, thus enabling them with more economic and social mobilization capabilities, in turn promoting the greater productivity that many communities are in need of in order to nurture a more inclusive and environment with generally higher quality of living standards.

The realization of intersectionality in sustainable development goals will allow for the global community to plan for projects in a way that is inclusive in addressing all challenges met between various stakeholder groups. Additionally, it is important for policy makers to empower previously neglected stakeholder groups, such as pwds, with a more powerful voice in expressing grievances and the changes they wish to see  in development goals and development plans, in order to address them and increase all member’s of society’s capabilities for success.

Efficacy of Global and Regional Frameworks

Although the Millennium Development Goals in a lot of ways were effective in setting the stage for global international development, there have still been many criticisms towards the true efficacy of the framework when put into action after the United Nations Millennium Summit in the year 2000. The MDGs were effective in the sense that they brought to international attention some of the major developmental issues existing in developing countries such as child mortality and starvation. Although the MDGs could be considered to be successful in the sense that some development goals, such as poverty levels, have seen improvement (with “the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day has been reduced from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015” (The Guardian)), one of the criticisms regarding the structure of the MDGs is the distance that exists between the theory and practice of this development framework (Trocaire Development Review 2005 11). For example, although foreign aid is aimed towards progressing the goals of developing communities, and promoting sustained development solutions, often time, governments as well as aid organizations can engage in wasteful spending or ineffective projects that do not fall in line with their original development goals. For these reasons, it has been concluded that there must be greater emphasis upon a more “meaningful partnership between donor agencies and recipient governments” (Trocaire Development Review 2005 11). A more meaningful partnership between actors may help to mitigate issues such as corruption (within the recipient government), as well as may help to improve a recipient government’s capacity building capabilities. Capacity building is an important element for developing country governments to be structured around, since having the capacity to address developmental issues within one’s territory will essentially decrease dependence on external aid.

Furthermore, one may also question the inclusivity of the MDGs as there were essentially no mentions, for example, of persons with disabilities. Total inclusion of all members of society is vital in reaching development goals since the foundation of development is to essentially improve the well-being and quality of life for all persons around the world, regardless of which “groups” they may belong to. All persons have the potential to contribute to growing and thriving communities, so it is key that all persons are provided with the equal capabilities to do so. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (or CRPD) was a monumental stepping stone for persons with disabilities in the way that it called for the international community to recognize the importance of including persons with disabilities in global development discourse and frameworks. The SDGs, adopted by the international community in 2015 is an indicator of the effects that the CRPD had upon the structure of global development goals as it saw the mention of including previously (more or less) ignored stakeholder groups.

Digital Divide(s)

The digital divide essentially refers to the socioeconomic gap that exists between those with access to the internet and those without. In the present day, it seems like a majority of people with frequent access to the internet would agree that the internet is incredibly convenient in allowing us a direct line of communication to friends and family at whatever time of the day, access to news in real-time, as well as enables us with access to almost any piece of information or knowledge that one could seek. Although access to the internet has been a widespread, global phenomenon, there still remains an astounding 4.2 billion people worldwide who still do not have frequent access to the internet (www.mic.com). Without access to the internet, many people essentially face an information gap in which they may not be able to take advantage of the same knowledge that those who do have access to the internet can take advantage of (thus potentially lowering their abilities for social and economic mobilization). One of the issues pertaining to infrequent access to the internet is that there are many who simply can not afford the technology required to connect to the internet (such as computers and smartphones), can not afford the internet connection itself, or may also just not be in a location where capturing internet connection is not possible (thus pointing to some of the bigger developmental issues that exist in the world such as economic inequalities, or insufficient telecommunication technologies).

In the year 1999, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a report called Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide. The report essentially examined which American households had access to telecommunication technologies (such as the internet and telephones) as well as the households that did not. Overall, the report concluded that the digital divide seemed to be widening, particularly within groups such as “minorities, low-income persons, the less educated, and children of single-parent households, particularly when they reside in rural areas or central cities” (Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide, Introduction). What is unfortunate about the situation is that often time, the groups with infrequent access to the internet seem to be the disadvantaged groups that may benefit from internet access the most, since the information available on the web can empower these groups with further economic opportunities such as job openings for low-income persons.

With that being said, it is important for governments worldwide to realize the vital role that telecommunications can have on the global population. Bridging this technology gap will require governments to invest in providing the infrastructure for internet connection if need be, as well as require the government to create policies that heighten the probability of disadvantaged groups to have access to the internet (such as instilling more affordable connection plans, or even providing more widespread public facilities that can provide internet access for little to no cost).

Multistakeholder Internet Governance and Sustainable Development

The internet itself is a fascinating commodity in that no one entity can really claim ownership over it. Multistakeholder internet governance, according to the Internet Governance Forum can essentially be thought of as a “multi-stakeholder dialogue on public policy issues related to key elements of Internet governance issues, such as the Internet’s sustainability, robustness, security, stability and development” (intgovforum.org). The Internet Governance Forum was established in 2006 and aims to facilitate public policy discussions – that are both productive and inclusive– regarding some of the issues surrounding internet governance. I think that it is important that the IGF encourages discussion that is inclusive of all stakeholders because it allows for multiple actors to have the ability to express their opinions and concern over the governance of a single resource that is shared by millions of communities all over the world.

The 2016 Internet Governance Forum (IGF): ‘Enabling Inclusive and Sustainable Growth’, is currently being held in Jalisco, Mexico. According to the forum’s website, it looks like the discussions that have been held were in regards to maximizing internet opportunities, while also sharing opinions on different actor’s ideas of internet best practices. One aspect of the IGF’s website that I thought was a good compliment to their overall purpose, was that there is an option for people to submit their feedback on the conference directly to the IGF (which speaks to the inclusivity of all relevant actors having a voice in the IGF).

Furthermore, in regards to multistakeholder internet governance, NETMundial was a meeting held in Brazil in 2014 to discuss the principles of internet governance (including in relation to future international development). It is extraordinary to see that stakeholders from over 97 countries were able to participate in this forum. I think NETMundial was a good example of the importance in being inclusive of multiple voices in the discussion of development goals, as a means to gain the collective knowledge necessary to best approach development solutions. Within the forum’s outcome document, I think it is important to note that it explicitly mentions the idea that “persons with disabilities should enjoy full access to online resources Promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information, technologies and systems on the internet” (NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement 4), thus emphasizing the need for inclusivity in all development goals.

SDG Overview and the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF)

Week three was an interesting lesson in the sense that I developed a deeper understanding of the multifaceted goals that drive the SDGs. Originally in the year 2000, the United Nations Millennium Summit adopted eight Millennium Development Goals  (MDGs) that were intended to be accomplished by 2015 through the international coalition of governments and organizations. Some of these goals included, for example, “ to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” and to “combat HIV/AIDs, malaria, and other diseases” (un.org). Though the MDGs did target very severe and widespread issues in developing countries, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs) (which are essentially a continuation of the MDGs after 2015) appear to be better suited towards combatting a wider variety of development issues towards a more expansive audience world-wide. For example, because there are 17 goals rather than just 8, the 17 SDGs (with 169 targets)  seem to have a greater emphasis on the inclusivity of sustainable development activities in the realm of international development, since the global community seeks to promote the productivity of all citizens –and their institutions– in order to promote more sustainable and impactful development in all human development sectors. Unlike the MDGs, the SDGs  included 7 explicit mentions to persons with disabilities, 5 mentions to persons in vulnerable situations, ans well as 2 mentions of the importance of non-discrimination (Kumar, Vivekadhish 1). I think this was a massive improvement in the way the global community views international development since on the international front, there appears to be a better understanding on the social ideals that must be met in order to promote more holistic and inclusive development solutions.

The High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals, according to their website is the “ United Nation’s central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and sustainable development goals”. In 2017, the HLPF will be convening under the Economic and Social Council under the theme of “eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”. It appears that the HLPF is working towards improving the efficiency of the SDGs as there will be a review of SDGs 1,2,3,5,9, 14 and 17.