Live from the UN Internet Governance Forum and GigaNet

The thirteenth Internet Governance Forum (IGF), hosted by the Government of France, took place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris between November 12-14, 2018. The purpose of the IGF is to “bring people together from various stakeholder groups as equals, in discussions on public policy issues relating to the Internet” (www.intgovforum.org). The topic of Internet governance was one of the most important and controversial issues at WSIS and the WSIS+10 review, especially in light of the creation of the SDGs in 2015 (www.intgovforum.org). In an effort to promote an inclusive and responsive approach to Internet governance, WSIS “mandated the Secretary-General of the United Nations to convene IGF for multistakeholder policy dialogue” (www.intgovforum.org). IGF is important because of its unique “ability to facilitate discourse between governments, intergovernmental organizations, private companies, the technical and civil society organizations that deal with or are interested in Internet Governance related public policy issues” (www.intgovforum.org).

With that being said, the key issues at the 13th IGF included: cybersecurity, trust & privacy; development, innovation & economic issues; digital inclusion & accessibility, emerging technologies; evolution of internet governance; human rights, gender & youth; media & content; and technical & operational topics (www.intgovforum.org). In regards to the key issues, participants examine proposed responses, “including regulatory frameworks, potential risks, global trends, as well as best and worst practices that have been adopted or are currently under decision” (www.intgovforum.org). In addition, participants at IGF discuss “the impact of treaties, recommendations and other documents adopted in various international venues within the Internet governance ecosystem” (www.intgovforum.org).

The session of this year’s IGF that I tuned into was on the second day of the forum, titled, “DC Schools on Internet Governance: Schools on Internet Governance.” The session began with introductions of the various stakeholders present, and continued with a discussion of a website developed over the last year that was based on proposals for “a dynamic coalition on schools and Internet governance.” The purpose of the dynamic coalition is to create a space and network not only for schools on Internet governance to exchange ideas for best practices, but also to provide guidance for emerging schools. The majority of the meeting was dedicated to developing the website, which can be found at: https://www.igschools.net/sig/.

It is important for forums like IGF to take place, as they provide a space not only for different organizations around the world to discuss key issues, but also to create and develop innovative new ideas.

Resources:

https://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/

https://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/content/igf-2018-day-2-salle-x-dc-schools-on-internet-governance-schools-on-internet-governance-0

https://www.igschools.net/sig/

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Global Grand Challenges

A Global Grand Challenge. At first, this phrase seems as if it is proposing a daunting task. The words themselves emphasize the utter importance of a challenge or issue that has been posed by the international community. Yet, global grand challenges are key to inclusive sustainable development that strive to make the world a better place for all people. As discussed in class, a grand challenge is a large-scale, multi-dimensional challenge that the global community faces and attempts to solve through collaborative research and technology. Technology plays a large role in global grand challenges because it is viewed as an innovative tool that has the potential to solve some of the world’s greatest issues. Some of the grand challenges the global community faces range from creating new jobs and eliminating hunger to improving health care and developing new ways of teaching and learning. These global grand challenges of development focus primarily on “moon shot” ideas, or enthusiastic yet attainable goals that were derived from the Apollo missions to the moon in 1969. Similarly, Branscomb and Kalil’s research explicates that governments aim to focus societal attention on pressing challenges that are linked to well-defined societal goals that are ambitious, yet achievable.

The Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals are considered two grand challenges that were brought forth to the international community. The MDGs, as we have discussed, were created to tackle the global issues of poverty. Essentially, the MDGs posed a grand challenge to the development community to push everyone towards eradicating poverty universally. However, the MDGs were critiqued on their lack of context, lack of equitable approach to timeline, and lack of inclusivity, which ultimately affected their impact. Despite this, the SDGs were created in 2015 to pose yet another global grand challenge that attempted to respond to the critiques of the MDGs in order to become more inclusive. The SDGs expanded into 17 goals and allowed countries to customize these goals to each of their own contexts. It also integrated the non-profit and non-governmental sector into the conversations, which brought new expertise and engagement to the table. Ultimately, the SDGs used the momentum of the MDGs to engage the international community in conversation and action for inclusive sustainable development.

Theoretical and Conceptual Approaches to Development

Within the field of international development, there are many different approaches to the definition of development and how to best approach it. Nobel Prize winner and famous development scholar Amartya Sen defines development as “a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy” (Sen 3). Sen looks at development through the lens of freedom, first by defining the concept of “unfreedoms” in the context of poverty and tyrannical societies. Sources of “unfreedom” include poor economic opportunities, systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities, and and intolerance of repressive states (Sen 3). He reasons that the removal of “unfreedoms” will move society towards development and freedom, as a more developed society will provide its citizens with a greater amount of freedom.

By Sen’s definition of development, countries and regions are currently not equally developed because there is an inequality in the freedoms that people around the world are able to enjoy. Sen would argue that countries and regions will be equally developed when all citizens are able to enjoy the same freedoms. He believes that development can be accelerated by promoting institutions that work to remove unfreedoms from society. Sen outlines a set of five institutions that promote the advancement of freedoms: political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security (Sen 10). Examples of these institutions could include health care or educational facilities, institutions that promote local peace and order, and markets and market-related organizations (Sen 8-9).

Sumner and Tribe focus on three different definitions of development. The definitions include development “as a long-term process of structural and societal transformation,” development “as a short-to-medium term outcome of desirable targets,” and development “as a dominant discourse of western modernity” (Sumner and Tribe 11). All three of the definitions that Sumner and Tribe have merit. Development is a long-term societal process because in several different ways, it seeks to improve the structural inequalities that exist within a society. Development is also a short-to-medium term process with specific targets, because without including achievable targets, the process of development as a whole would be difficult to achieve. In addition, development has historically been a discourse of western modernity, which is very important to be cognisant of in the area of international development.

While the term “meta-narratives” refers to grand theory, the term “micro-narratives” refers to context-specific theory, and both can be a guiding force in development studies research (Sumner and Tribe 81). Different theories of development provide a “better overall understanding of development” and serve as a base for research (Sumner and Tribe 82). It is important that research on international development continues, especially as the concept of development progresses, so that the world can have a better understanding of what it means to provide equality and freedom for all people.

Resources:

Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen, Introduction, Chapters 1-5

International Development Studies, Sumner and Tribe, Chapters 1-4

Intersectionality in Development

Intersectionality is an analytic framework created by Black legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw that shows how interlocking systems of power can impact the most marginalized in a community. More specifically, Crenshaw explained how the combined effects of racism and sexism affected African-American women in the 1980’s. In other words, intersectionality shows how multiple identities can combine and determine how a person experiences oppression. These identities include those related to age, gender, race or ethnicity, economic status, and level of education. Moreover, intersectionality illustrates how different identities can overlap and ultimately impact inclusive sustainable development. Essentially, identities cannot be viewed in a vacuum because they all relate to and impact one another. In other words, carrying multiple intersectionalities may make more individuals vulnerable to environmental stressors than others. Recognizing intersectionality within inclusive sustainable development brings these challenges to the forefront of the conversations, while also encouraging strategy and policy makers to consider intersectional identity and the challenges that they face.

In the context of inclusive sustainable development, intersectional approaches are critical to developing programming and solutions to solve problems. Without recognizing the complexity of identity, creating viable solutions that benefit all is challenging. This can be exemplified when looking at the intersectionality of disability and gender. A woman with a disability in a country that has conservative gender role may not have the opportunity to go to school. If it does, she may face physical barriers to her education because the schools within her area are not disability inclusive. Ultimately, this individual is not only oppressed because of her gender, but is physically limited within schools because of her disability. Moreover, when looking at the UN Major Groups Framework, it is evident that there are groups formulated based off of identity. These groups represent women, children and youth, NGOs, and indigenous groups, to name a few. Yet, it is important to recognize that within these groups there are other compounding identities present. For example, among indigenous groups there are also indigenous people with disabilities, and of all ages and genders. Therefore, when considering inclusive sustainable development, it is critical to understand and provide for the complex intersectionality of identity.

The Global “Grand Challenge” of Inclusive Development

“Grand challenges” are defined as “technically complex societal problems that have stubbornly defied solution (Branscomb 2009). Although the world faces many “grand challenges,” there are individuals, organizations, and governments working tirelessly to make strides towards finding and implementing effective solutions. Tom Kalil of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology wrote that, “Grand Challenges can catalyze innovations that foster economic growth and job creation, spur the formation of multidisciplinary teams of researchers, encourage multi-sector collaborations, bring new expertise to bear on important problems, strengthen the “social contract” between science and society, and inspire the next generation…” (Pescovitz 2012). In this way, the concept of “grand challenges” should be looked at as an opportunity for the world to grow, advance, and innovate.

For the grand challenges of inclusive sustainable development in particular, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) partners with public and private actors to “bring in new voices to solve development problems” (USAID.gov). USAID and its partners launched ten grand challenges since 2011, including saving lives at birth, securing water for food, and creating hope in conflict. The initiative has since raised over $508 million in grants and assistance to fund over 450 innovations in 60 countries around the world (USAID.gov).

Two other examples of global initiatives taken to work towards grand challenges in inclusive sustainable development are the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The MDGs were created in 1990, and detailed eight goals such as reducing child mortality and improving maternal health, that leaders around the world can work towards (UN.org/milleniumgoals). The MDGs were important because they provided an organized set of goals with a timeline, that could be applied on a global scale. The SDGs built upon the MDGs in 2015, with a more expansive set of goals and more of a focus on inclusivity. In particular, the SDGs had more references to persons with disabilities than the MDGs (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/).

The development of the MDGs and SDGs show an advancement in the approach to development, as they represent a greater focus on international collaboration and using a multistakeholder approach to solving problems. In addition, while the MDGs focused on inclusivity, the subsequent SDGs became even more inclusive. The increasing emphasis on inclusivity shows that international development is moving in the right direction by recognizing that advancement means including everyone in society. If global approaches to development continue to focus on collaboration and inclusivity, there is a remarkable opportunity for the world to make greater and faster strides towards solving the “grand challenges” in inclusive sustainable development.

Resources:

https://issues.org/branscomb-4/

https://boingboing.net/2012/04/12/white-houses-tom-kalil-on.html

https://www.usaid.gov/grandchallenges

http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/

https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/

ICTs and Inclusive Sustainable Development- Digital Divide(s)

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) play a crucial role in working towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. The term digital divide refers to “the gap that exists between those with access to new technologies and those without” due to inequality in access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) (NTIA).

The Missing Link, also known as the Maitland Report, was published in January 1985 and “drew international attention to the huge imbalance in telephone access between developed and developing countries and concluded that this imbalance was intolerable.” Most notably, this report “underlined the direct correlation between the availability of, and access to, telecommunication infrastructure and a country’s economic growth, and it proposed concrete solutions to fix this missing link. The report advocates for an “expanded world telecommunications network” which would benefit both developing and developed countries. It outlines how this expanded network would increase the flow of information, trade, and make the world a better and safer place (NTIA).    

In 1999, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, released a report titled Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide. The NTIA is responsible for advising the President on policy issues regarding telecommunications and information. Falling Through the Net identified the digital divide as “one of America’s leading economic and civil issues.”

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) took place in two phases- the first in Geneva in 2003 and the second in Tunis in 2005. The first phase sought to “develop and foster a clear statement of political will and take concrete steps to establish the foundations for an Information Society for all,” whilst the second phase sought to put the plan that was developed in Geneva into motion. This Summit demonstrates the understanding amongst the international community that the digital divide is an issue and needs to be addressed.

The digital divide that still exists today is a Grand Challenge of inclusive sustainable development. Given the capacity that ICTs have to influence inclusive and sustainable development, it is imperative that we address this Grand Challenge of the digital divide so that the capacity that ICTs have to assist in affecting positive change can be realized. In order to meet the goals of the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, information and communication technologies need to be available for all. Therefore, we need to close the digital divide, and increase equality in access to ICTs.

Efficacy of Global and Regional Frameworks

Frameworks are an important step to any project or goal that one is trying to accomplish. I have always found issue with international frameworks being effective. The problem with global frameworks is that the international order is in a state of anarchy. The United Nations is a great organization that tries to guide countries to do the right thing, but it has limited ability to hold a foreign government accountable for developmental goals.  While countries may sign onto or agree to follow a global or even regional framework, they could be doing it just to avoid falling under a bad light on the world stage.

The UNCRPD is a framework and convention that lays out what countries should do to ensure the successful inclusion of persons with disabilities. This something that countries can voluntarily sign onto. The United States, one of the greatest world powers, has not signed it. The efficacy of the framework is then called into question if a large power does not sign. My capstone project looks at the access to education for children with disabilities in Haiti. The country ratified the CRPD and the optional protocol in 2009 which allows the UNCRPD Committee in Geneva to make comments on their progress. The committee can make comments and suggestions, but they can not hold the Haitian Government accountable to the CRPD. Haiti may have signed the convention with every intention of fulfilling the commitments that they signed up for, but they have not made much progress in providing and inclusive environment for persons with disabilities. This could be because of changes in government, cultural friction,  lack of financial resources or technical ability to implement the new policies. No matter the reason, there is not a system international system in place that can truly hold the country accountable with any consequences or penalties if they do not implement policies related to the CRPD. Therefore, a global framework such as this can never been considered extremely effective.