The essence of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) lies in the commitment to "leave no one behind," requiring concerted efforts to reach individuals caught in situations of conflict, disaster, displacement, vulnerability, and risk. Yet, the translation of this principle into tangible action, encompassing inclusive participation, decision-making, and equitable benefit-sharing, demands further attention and implementation on a global scale.
At the core of the mission for inclusivity lies in the crucial need to amplify the voices of the most marginalized. However, reality often obstructs the representation of these marginalized groups alongside influential powerholders and decision-makers in significant dialogues.
Let me introduce the concept of the "empty chair." Reflecting on my insights gained during early 2000s doctoral interviews, I came to recognize the profound significance even in silence - a silence that signifies a "missing voice" warranting consideration in qualitative analyses. This concept serves as a reminder of an absent presence at crucial national and global discussions on developmental agendas. The symbolic "empty chair" persists in international summits, governmental conferences, donor assemblies, and sessions involving various international and non-governmental organizations.
Globally, the journey toward inclusivity faces multifaceted challenges. While diverse countries and regions grapple with their unique landscapes, the overarching aim remains consistent—to ensure that no one is excluded from the development trajectory.
It is heartening to witness individuals from various marginalized communities gaining representation in global forums. However, mere representation does not guarantee the authentic inclusion of the most marginalized in the decision-making processes.
We urge elected officials and leaders - representatives, policymakers, and influencers to acknowledge the symbolic "empty chair" in all deliberations. This vacant seat signifies the voice of the most marginalized, those furthest from access, those severely affected by local and global crises, and those silenced by systemic oppressions and marginalization.
Embracing a positive outlook toward the "empty chair" is pivotal, recognizing it as the most critical presence in the room. This involves empathizing with those represented by the "empty chair," understanding their needs and barriers, and recalibrating strategies from this perspective. Additionally, reshaping perceptions about the capabilities of the most marginalized is essential, acknowledging their invaluable potential contributions to global society.
We anticipate innovative and inclusive leadership from national and global decision-makers, fostering a sense of belonging for every individual, including the metaphorical "empty chair." This commitment ensures that no one is excluded and that everyone, irrespective of background or circumstance, has equitable opportunities to thrive in a globally inclusive world – a visual reminder to decision makers!
Author: Dr. Prabin Manandhar is an expert in international development. Currently, he is working as the Country Director of Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation Nepal. He is the Former Chair of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN). He is also a visiting faculty at Kathmandu University and the Tribhuvan University Institute of Crisis Management Studies. The opinions are his own and not that of his employer. He can be reached at email@example.com