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UN Sustainable Development Goals: Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

What is an inclusive and sustainable social pact?

We are in a decade that demands solutions and changes from all. Many bet on innovation and a better infrastructure to improve the quality of life and generate sustainable and inclusive growth. The United Nations, bets too. In fact, it wants to fulfill these objectives, in nine years, in the most disadvantaged regions. But the road ahead is complex since there are a lot of layers of inequality to peel away from the fundamental blocks of a society.

Every day our decisions contribute to social and economic progress and influence all our social contracts. It is not only about inventing more things that make our lives more convenient for a few, while others live having to measure their resources or survive with a lack of these in almost unimaginable ways.

At this time, Latin America lives a reality of inequality more assaulting than COVID-19. The low level of decent jobs and social justice is alarming. There is not a fair public and governmental dialogue that allows for the creation of equitable and universal social protection systems so that everyone may enjoy a healthy life with collective and personal growth opportunities. What is discussed, both on the streets and in the offices, turns out to be in favor or against inequality.

A recent report on Latin American countries makes it very clear. This study, Trapped High Inequality and Low Growth in Latin America and the Caribbean, from the United Nations Development Program, concludes that:

“Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is in a development trap. Despite decades of progress, some of which could be wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, two characteristics of the region have remained largely undisturbed: high inequality and low growth. These two factors are closely related and interact with one another to create a trap from which the region has been unable to escape. This is not a new finding. This phenomenon is well documented in the region. A rich body of research has explored the different channels through which high inequality and low growth reinforce one another. However, many of our existing approaches in thinking about how to escape this trap inevitably leave us with a long list of “good policies” that work to address these channels separately. In LAC, this has often led to political incentives that foster fragmented policy responses with a short-term perspective—in some cases, deepening the existing distortions.”

Within this framework, I wonder how can the UN achieve its goal, at least in Latin America, and if you are listening to people? By 2030, the UN proposes to develop reliable, sustainable infrastructures, including regional and cross-border infrastructures. It is necessary to significantly increase the contribution of the industry to employment and the gross domestic product, in accordance with national circumstances, and duplicate that contribution in the least developed countries and support scientific efforts, among other objectives.

But this report calls us first to “explore the complex interactions of some of the factors that underlie the mutual reproduction of inequality and slow growth.” Because if it is only about fixing things with fragmented policies, a short-term perspective, this in some cases deepens existing distortions, the report says.

If we could only explore this complexity in our Latin American countries and motivate ourselves to devise solutions at a micro, multiple and community levels, we would start slicing away the layers of what this study calls, “the concentration of power; violence in all its forms, political, criminal and social; and distortive elements in the design of social protection systems and labour market regulatory frameworks.”

According to this study, there is an overwhelming agreement among Latin Americans that their countries are governed in the interests of a few powerful groups and not for the greater good of all. Therefore, I think, the UN has to concentrate its resources on innovative and technological progress, in new infrastructures and science, that prioritizes the development of human rights and the welfare of the Earth and all species of inhabitants. Because our present and future actions have to consider our environmental situation.

The dialogue on inequality and social justice is already open, it has cost the lives and futures of too many, from malnourished children and old people, to protesters in the streets, and single mothers. Now, the UN has to support a profitable dialogue using technology, new infrastructure, and science as bridges of connection that can amplify all voices. In this decade, the UN should support initiatives that protect communities and empower them to renew their social contracts in a fair, equitable, and positive way.