WASHINGTON - The Society for International Development (SID)'s triennial World Congress, which concluded Sunday in Washington, drew over 1,000 attendees this year, 40 percent hailing from the global south, making it arguably one of the most influential and far-reaching forums for development experts and organisations in the world today.
"The emergence of new paths to development has [grown] along with the rise of middle- and low-income countries," Rebeca Grynspan, associate administrator of the U.N. Development Programme, said at the opening plenary here on Friday.
"But we have seen that we can also have growth without inclusion. In Latin America, for example, one in every four young people is not studying or working - 25 percent out of the education system and out of the labour market. If that's not exclusion, then I don't know what is," she said.
Referring to the fast-approaching 2015 deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Grynspan added, "Now we need to start thinking about growth without exclusion."
Grynspan stressed that the empowerment of women was essential to the solid development of global international economies, a sentiment echoed by many others at the congress.
"On Oct. 31, we will be a world of seven billion, which is sobering to think about," Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said at a panel dedicated to assessing challenges and approaches to achieving the MDGs. "Of this, 1.8 billion will be young people, 90 percent of them in the developing world."
"Half of these will be young women, 50 percent of whom will be in vulnerable situations, living without access to education or health. If these people are going to be the caretakers of the world, then we need to invest heavily in their education, including sexual and reproductive education and access to information and services," he stressed.
While many participants at the congress articulated the importance of increased private sector investment, others urged the need for swift and radical changes in the face of unprecedented ecological and humanitarian meltdowns.
Speaking at a panel on sustainable human development at the congress on Friday, Sanjay Reddy, a professor of economics at the New School for Social Research in New York, said, "What we need is a much more profound concern with how we can bring about structural changes in our economies and societies."
"When we talk of 'sustainability' we are [often discussing] what would be required to maintain certain levels of consumption for human beings with the notion that that level of consumption which is sustained should be as high as possible," Reddy told IPS.
"We'll have to define the goal much more broadly if we are concerned with non-human life, with sentient beings or if we believe that there are other obligations that humans have on earth which go beyond what human beings can derive from the earth for our own satisfactions."
A group of scientists and researchers echoed Reddy's critique of the "anthropocentrism" of development at a panel on Saturday entitled 'Pathways to Sustainability – meeting people's needs while protecting and conserving the environment.'
Alex Dehgan, science and technology advisor to the administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, said that 90 percent of changes tracked in 28,000 biological processes were related to climate change.
He added that there has been a stunning "loss of biodiversity, loss of pollinators, increase [of] invasive species, loss of economically important species and colony collapse disorder [among bees]".
"Human beings are losing the very structures that allow us to feed ourselves," Dehgan said.
SID's mission statement describes it as an organisation founded for the purpose of "advancing equitable development by bringing diverse constituencies together to debate critical [issues] that will shape the global future."
"SID has been very successful in the past in providing neutral ground in which bona fide dialogue could take place between diverse actors, many of whom had loyalties and connections to indigenous perspectives," Reddy told IPS.
"So I was disappointed to see that this year's meeting, hosted by the Washington Chapter, was dominated by the Northern development professionals, in particular those who appear to be engaged in for- profit contracting to execute development projects on behalf of organisations such as USAID."
Reddy added that, if genuine grassroots development were to take place, SID should return to its original role of facilitating discussions between diverse groups, including voices that call for radically alternative methods to the current neoliberal agenda.