ICTs and Multistakeholderism

The Internet is increasingly becoming the leading communication and information tool around the world, especially with younger generations. It seems that more and more of my own personal interactions include the line, “Do you have a Facebook?”. Beyond personal interactions, my studies and the studies of my friends all seem to begin with “Googling” the topic at hand. With more and more people, of all ages and backgrounds, depending on the Internet as their primary way to stay connected and informed, it is important that the global community recognizes it as such.

In 2003, the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was held in response to the growing use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Between the first phase and the second phase (in 2005), the concept of Internet governance emerged, which would lead to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Both WSIS and IGF took or have taken (respectively) multistakeholder approaches. Considering that the Internet is a global tool with no real owner and no real global barriers to participation, it is important that multistakeholdersim methods are involved in decisions and discussions regarding the Internet. To clarify, multistakeholderism is basically an approach that involves any or all– if even possible– relevant stakeholders with various backgrounds so as to yield the most inclusive plans possible.

As noted in other blog topics, the inclusion of multiple stakeholders is a great step for international agenda making but remains to be limited due to disproportionate resources between countries, organizations, and stakeholder groups. However, ICTs represent the potential to reduce these differences and barriers to partaking by providing tools that facilitate participation by reducing costs (i.e. travel), reducing physical barriers (for PWDs that may not be able to access the event because of sites with poor design), addressing time differences (by using recordings to allow people in different time zones or with different schedules to see what they missed), and through other means. Some of these tools were seen in action at the recent Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, where live streaming, recorded sessions, and social media where just some of the various ways the UN tried and mostly succeeded in expanding participation and involvement in the conference.

It is exciting to be in the field of development at this time where ICTs are increasingly advancing and becoming available to more and more segments of the global population, while, concurrently, international decision-making processes are becoming more and more diverse. The recent uses of ICTs to increase participation and expand development processes to previously excluded groups is an exciting step in the right direction towards inclusive and successful development practices.

Connected We Stand, Divided We Fall

In my home of Doswell, Virginia (most known for being the home of the amusement park, Kings Dominion), I do not have reliable Internet access. I have means of connecting to the Internet, as I have a smart phone and I have a computer, but this ability to connect does not mean my service is reliable. Throughout high school, and during my visits home, I am forced to make the 15 minute drive to the town of Ashland where I use the local university library or take refuge in a Starbuck’s to make use of the free Wi-Fi services. While a 15-minute drive is no huge obstacle and I am fortunate to be able to make this commute, the fact that my home remains so isolated in such a rapidly connecting world has always perplexed myself and my older brother, though has done little to trouble my parents. In contrast to this poor connection was the (mostly) reliable and quick service I had in my apartment in Nairobi.

To many, in both Kenya and the US, this was a startling revelation. However, it echoes the findings of the paper, “Falling through the Net”, which outlines the “digital divide” between rural and urban America. While this particular paper explored the topic in the United States, the “digital divide” is not solely an American construct and can be seen all the way from the bottom at the local level up to the top at the international level. It is an evolving term that corresponds to changes in access to and usage of technologies. To clarify, the digital divide once could have applied to the global population who did or didn’t have mobile phones but now as the majority of the world has these devices, it has adapted to whether or not these devices are smart phones with web-browsing capabilities.

Another report with a more international focus was the “Many voices, One world” paper by the MacBride Commission, published in 1980. This paper, though dated now, established many of the concerns associated with ICTs that still remain today, although mostly in newer forms of technology. The two reports mentioned here laid the groundwork for discussion on ICTs and are largely to thank for the forums and societies on Internet governance today that are still working towards closing the gaps created by ICTs. Since it is hard to know what directions ICTs will go in, it is hard to know for sure what digital divide(s) will look like in the future. However, it is important to continue to have both reflective and proactive discussions on ICTs so that the digital divide is less and less a cause for concern in development practice.


ICT(he) Future of Development

ICT(he) Future of Development

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is an all-encompassing term that means pretty much what it says: technology that is used for sharing and/or receiving (i.e. communicating) information. This technology can be physical devices like radios, computers, phones, etc. but can also be less tangible like software, applications, networks, etc. Using ICTs in development is by no means a new concept and can actually be traced back to beginning of modern technological advances.

The Maitland Report (1984) was the first real document to recognize the power of ICTs to fuel economic growth and other development measures, as well as the huge discrepancies in global access to technology (with a focus on telephone lines at this point in time). Just over 10 years later, the report, “Falling Through the Net”, expanded these ideas to address how the spread of Internet access to the public was growing gaps between the rural and urban populations in America. These reports paved the way for past and current Internet governance forums that have been the main means international leaders have sought to address technological disparities and ensure that ICTs are unifying tools and not divisionary tools.

The aforementioned Maitland Report was drafted in response to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference held in Nairobi, Kenya in 1982. Coincidentally, or maybe as a result of, Kenya has been a regional leader in ICT and is increasingly becoming a global leader in this arena. A recent example of this is the use of the Kenyan application, Ushahidi, in the US elections to track violence and voter intimidation. An even more important example is the M-Pesa service that has completely changed the development game in Kenya and has inspired other countries in the region and around the world to do the same. M-Pesa, launched in 2007, is a mobile banking service that allows users to access their finances via their phone. Considering the exponential increase in mobile phone users in developing countries in the past decade, this service exemplifies the power of ICTs in development practices. The service was an answer to many concerns faced by Kenyan people, as well as others around the globe, in regards to financial concerns. These concerns include mistrust in banking systems, cash theft, obstacles in sending money to family in rural areas, and also the problem of time that most people in both the developing and developed world face. M-Pesa has allowed for persons who would generally not have access to strong banking institutions a space where they can participate in the same economic processes as the most elite in Kenya.

M-Pesa is just one of many ICTs that have proven the power of these tools to transform societies. The growing literature and focus on ICTs in global development processes is promising for ensuring that these tools continue to close gaps and promote diverse participation.

Crossroads in Development

Intersectionality in international development is a largely feminist theory, originating in response to the lack of gender sensitivity and overall presence of gender-based inequalities in traditional development approaches. While its roots are in feminism, intersectionality can be and has been extended to cover a larger scope of development topics, including gender, disability, poverty, and age, among others. Basically, intersectionality in development is the idea that there are inevitably crossovers in who and what development agendas seek to address. No person or topic lives in a vacuum, and instead, our population is made up of unique individuals, each with their own complex identity. For example, one female can be hearing impaired and live in poverty, while another female might be visually impaired and homosexual; so while they may have similar gender concerns and even disability concerns, they could also have different disability, economic, and social concerns.

Recently, I have been interning at a development consulting firm on a project based in Ghana that seeks to address private-sector midwives in six of the ten regions in Ghana. While the project is mainly focused on providing these midwives with the business skills needed to run a successful clinic, we also partner with a national midwives association and work to build the capacity of this organization. As an intern with some experience and knowledge in the area of disability, one of my roles has been to support the incorporation of disability into the project. That being said, the concept of intersectionalities in development has been a recurring theme in my research; the intersection being between disability, poverty, and gender, with an added component of maternal concerns. While “general” gender inequalities have been addressed with greater effort and sensitivity in recent years, there remains little to be done for women with disabilities, especially in the area of sexual and reproductive health. I found that there are stigmas around the world that include the perception that PWDs can not have sex, should not have sex, and/or should not be parents. These stigmas contribute to the exclusion of PWDs from learning about sexual health and have led to many unplanned pregnancies, unsafe deliveries, and the spread of STIs, among other issues. This week, one of my supervisors was able to meet with a couple of the leading disabled persons organizations (DPOs) in Ghana to discuss potential training opportunities for midwives so as to provide better services for women with disabilities, among other discussion points. This type of discussion is promising for the future and shows that there is always room for improvement in various disciplines by recognizing and attempting to address intersectionalities in development.

When designing development frameworks, it is important to recognize these intersectionalities so as not to further marginalize populations by ignoring certain groups and/or by unknowingly using language that is too specific and leads to further exclusion. The best way to address these concerns is through discussion between relevant stakeholders, as can subtly be seen with the implementation of the UN Major Groups Framework and invitations to other relevant stakeholders.


Efficacy of Global Frameworks

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are arguably the most well known global frameworks in recent years. As the SDGs have only come into effect in the past year, it is easier to assess the MDGs as a global framework in both its successes and its failures.

In his work, “The MDGs after 2015: Some Reflections on the Possibilities”, Deepak Nayyar provides critical reflection on the MDGs. While many works related to the MDGs focus on the problems of what did or didn’t happen with the goals, Nayyar takes a more optimistic approach that evaluates the past and presents ideas for how to move forward. Like many others, he makes the common point that the MDGs were too vague. However, unlike others, goes further to explain that the vagueness of the goals was not really the problem and that it was actually the way the MDGs were supposed to function: as general global themes. Instead, he explains, the problems came from the vagueness of implementation methods and the lack of reference to initial starting points. While Nayyar’s review is thorough, a brief summary of his recommendations for the future is as follows:

  1. There needs to be recognition of national differences and flexibility that acknowledges and allows for these differences.
  2. Inequalities must be recognized and included in assessing future data and other evaluation outputs.
  3. There needs to be stronger emphasis on the means of implementation instead of simply focusing on the ends.

In reference to our class discussions, a principle example of problems with current global frameworks, namely the MDGs, is their lack of inclusive measures. While global leaders are taking moves towards inclusive agendas, it is happening at too slow a pace. For example, persons with disabilities (PWDs) were not once referenced in the MDGs and did not even come up in published documents until the 2010 MDG Progress Report. This came FOUR years later after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.   The SDGs mark a step forward from the MDGs as they make 11 explicit references to PWDs, but considering that there are 17 goals and 169 targets, it would seem that there is even more room for inclusion.

To quote Nayyar, “people are not just beneficiaries of development. They are the ones that can empower the people to facilitate the implementation of policies and goals” (14). While more and more global frameworks are taking steps to address criticisms of vagueness and exclusionary/non-inclusive language, there remains a need to give a voice to those who are currently unheard before we can truly regard global frameworks as successes.



Inclusive Education

Inclusive Education

Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is: “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”. At this point in time, it seems that the promise of education for development would be obvious. However, there still remain huge disparities across the globe that prove otherwise; one leading case being the lack of access to education for persons with disabilities (PWDs). Of the 11 references to disabilities in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, two are in SDG 4. The first is to “ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities” and the second is to “build and upgrade education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all”. These mentions are extremely important in combatting negative stereotypes that continue to marginalize PWDs and to better ensure future participation of PWDs who have time and time again been excluded from the decision-making process.

Inclusive education, or should I say exclusive education, is a topic I first really came in contact with when I was in Nairobi. I interned with an organization that provided physical therapy to children with disabilities living in informal settlements. The organization wanted to expand their services to address a huge issue for these children and their families: most of them were not in school. There were several reasons for these children not being in school, but the leading factors were that school staff felt PWDs did not have need for education or that the students would hinder the education of other, non-disabled students. For the children that were enrolled in school, they were put in the wrong classes and/or not given the appropriate instructions. For example, one child I worked with who had cerebral palsy was obviously able to speak and I witnessed his improvement in the short few months I was with him, but his mother informed me that his teachers made no attempt to develop this skill with him. This frustrating example is one of many similar stories around the world.

While inclusive education does put additional demands on school systems that may already have little resources to begin with, it is unfair to say who does or doesn’t deserve the right to education. Additionally, as with many other areas, making education inclusive does not hurt anyone else and instead usually has benefits for the population as a whole. Finally, inclusive education must be at the forefront of development measures as it is one of the, if not the, best ways to ensure participation for PWDs so that future development agendas are truly inclusive in all areas.




SDGs and HPLF: Acronyms for Progress?

The Sustainable Development Goals, often referred to as the SDGs, are a set of universal goals designed to meet the urgent environmental, political, and economic challenges of our world today. To quote UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, “The… Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people. They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.” Composed of 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs were designed to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the next 15 years. They seek to fill the gaps left by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and address the conditions that have remained, worsened, or arisen since the MDGs were put forth. To clarify, sustainable development is a development buzzword that can be interpreted by many people in many different ways. The best definition by my standards is that as put forth in the 1987 Bruntland Report that says,

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts:

  • the concept of needs, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and
  • the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.”

The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is the UN’s attempt at ensuring the inclusion is so wishes, but continually fails, to support. As described by the UN, the HLPF is the “central platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the [SDGs]…”   While this marks a great step towards more participatory decision-making in UN agendas, the HLPF still has several flaws that need to be address if the UN really wants the SDGs and their other work to truly be inclusive. The main challenges, to be brief, have mostly to do with the prevailing bureaucratic nature of UN conferences that benefit those with resources and experience in this arena.

The Sustainable Development Goals will continue to serve as a guiding framework in global development for the next 14 years and the HLPF will continue to meet regularly to assess and discuss the ongoing successes and failures of the SDGs. While it is easy to criticize and point out the flaws of these processes, it is important to still recognize the potential positive change that these transformations in agendas and policy-making could contribute.


Development Theory

Development, as so many other terms in the field of International Studies, is not easily definable. It has many interpretations, argued by extensive academics and practitioners with diverse backgrounds. Traditional development studies were largely based on the concept that development was directly related to development. Acemoglu and Robinson uphold this focus on economics for development in their recent work, Why Nations Fail, along with the concept of strong institutions. For this pair, these two concepts are the fundamental keys to whether a nation will prosper or, as titled, fail. While there are strengths to their arguments, their conviction in the economic model of development did not do much to change the minds of most development scholars and practitioners who have come to largely accept more humanistic approaches to development.

Thus far in my studies and work experience, Amartya Sen seems to be the leading figure in explaining what it means for a nation to be “developed.” Sen challenged the traditional beliefs that development is directly related to economic prosperity and income levels by proposing that, instead, development is much more dependent on freedom. In his own words, “Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising their reasoned agency. The removal of substantial unfreedoms, it is argued here, is constitutive of development” (xii).

This view was innovative in that it essentially supports individuals as actors who contribute to the overall development of a nation and, more generally, the world, as opposed to policy-makers and national leaders. Additionally, Sen’s concept is very inclusionary as it supports freedom for all and recognizes the need for representation from every group in a country, not just the usual elites who lead decision-making. Acemoglu and Robinson do make mention of the importance of inclusion, explaining, “Inclusive economic institutions…are those that allow and encourage participation by the great mass of people in economic activities that make best use of their talents and skills and that enable individuals to make the choices they wish” (74). However, their exploration of inclusion is limited by the emphasis on economic institutions.

With the adoption of international frameworks like the past Millennium Development Goals and the current Sustainable Development Goals, it seems as if development practices are becoming increasingly attuned to the needs of individuals. However, as the MDGs continue to be criticized as a failure, it remains unclear if the SDGs and similar frameworks will do their job in supporting the assurance of freedom that Sen so avidly promotes and that many, including myself, have come to accept as the true nature of development.


Inclusive Cities and the Urban Poor

Just over a month ago, in October, the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development was held in Quito, Ecuador. Often referred to simply as Habitat III, this event attracted some 30,000 people from 167 countries with the purpose of concluding the adoption of the New Urban Agenda. The New Urban Agenda is an “action-oriented document” that outlines the methods and practices the global community should follow in the quest to achieve sustainable urban development. The document pushes for cooperation between all relevant stakeholders and urban actors in both the private and public sectors.  This conference is the third of its type, following Habitat I in 1976 and Habitat II in 1996. With the urban population constituting over half of the total global population and continuing to grow at a steady rate, urban development is an increasingly important topic. While there are many aspects of this development, the one I find most interesting is the idea of “inclusive cities.”

Inclusive development seeks to ensure no groups are excluded in the development process. Commonly accepted marginalized groups include women, children, and persons with disabilities. In a report entitled “Inclusive Cities”, published by the Asian Development Bank, calls for the explicit inclusion of poor populations in urban development. In the introduction, authors Michael Lindfield and Florian Steinberg argue for the Asian community to focus on addressing not only urbanization but more importantly the “urbanization of poverty” (2). This term mainly has to do with the major consequence of urbanization: increasing slum populations.

After living and working in Nairobi for eight months, slum conditions and the matter of addressing these settlements without negatively affecting their populations has been an issue of great interest to me. One story that always perplexed me was the failed attempt by the Kenyan government to resettle residents of informal settlements to brand new apartment complexes. While it seemed, in theory, to be a great plan, it was actually a huge failure. Most people who were relocated ended up moving back to their original homes where they felt comfortable and knew there would be a sense of community, among several other additional reasons. The relocation plan failed to take the needs and wants of the slum communities into account, and instead, officials thought they knew what would be best. The New Urban Agenda plans to improve upon these cases of exclusionary decision-making processes by promoting approaches that involve various stakeholders who can contribute more rounded and inclusive practices. While processes like Habitat 3 and the New Urban Agenda are becoming increasingly open to participation, it is unclear just how much representation there is from the urban poor, which will likely pose problems similar to the case in Nairobi as nations move forward with urban development plans. To summarize this topic with a quote,

“If cities do not begin to deal more constructively with poverty, poverty may begin to deal more destructively with cities”

-1975, World Bank President, Robert McNamara

Grand Challenges

Grand Challenges

While there is no universally accepted definition of “Grand Challenges”, a general understanding is that Grand Challenges are ongoing, vexing problems for society. They have no clear current solution, but there is a consensus that they can be solved. An integral concept of Grand Challenges is that they require interdisciplinary collaboration that brings together different disciplines, various stakeholders, and participation from both the private and public sector.

In his recap and reflection of Tom Kalil’s* presentation on Grand Challenges (GCs), author David Pescovitz outlines Kalil’s five attributes of GCs:

  1. GCs have a major impact in global domains like health, energy, sustainability, etc.
  2. GCs are “ambitious but achievable”
  3. GCs should be compelling and capture the public’s imagination
  4. GCs should be specific and provide guidance for how to move forward, with measurable targets and deadlines for completion; however, they should not be so narrowly defined that they limit creativity and opportunity for innovation
  5. GCs recognize the potential of technology and science in finding solutions, thus driving innovation and advancement in these fields

Grand Challenges have been proposed by various international and domestic organizations, ranging from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to the Department of Energy (DOE) to European Academics Science Advisory Council (EASAC). The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has the Grand Challenges for Development initiative that seeks to “focus global attention and resources on specific, well defined international development problems, and promote innovative approaches, processes and solutions to solving them.” This initiative echoes Kalil’s sentiments of Grand Challenges that promote the importance of integrating technology and science into problem solving methods and the universally accepted notion to engage “non-traditional solvers” by seeking partnerships with and offering other involvement mechanisms to external individuals and groups.

As a student of International Development, it is interesting to see how USAID’s Grand Challenges for Development dictate work being done in this field. For example, I am currently supporting the USAID-funded project, “Saving Maternity Homes (SMH) in Ghana”. While it is not directly linked to the Grand Challenge of “Saving Lives at Birth”, I think the SMH project shows the pervasiveness and relevance of these grand challenges. By defining a Grand Challenge, these organizations, in this case USAID, outline what issues most demand attention and shape what projects are carried out by other organizations in the field.

Grand Challenges are becoming increasingly important as today’s issues continue to affect the global population and call for collaboration between actors on all levels. However, it is also vital to recognize that too many Grand Challenges could deter participation and lessen the likeliness of solutions. So long as organizations continue to work together to determine these challenges and seek solutions, Grand Challenges will be strong motivators for action and progress.

*Tom Kalil is the Deputy Director for Policy for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Senior Advisor for Science, Technology and Innovation for the National Economic Council