Giving Compass’ Take:
• The 2019 Social Progress Index tracks progress against the SDGs and presents data on wellbeing in the form of an interactive map.
• How can funders use this information to guide effective giving in high-need areas? What is the current state of communities where you conduct your philanthropic efforts?
• Read about the imperfect arcs of social progress.
We’re 43 years behind schedule in our progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. That’s the sobering takeaway from the recently released 2019 Social Progress Index (SPI). The report gauges social and environmental health of societies by tracking wellbeing indicators that span wellness, equality, inclusion, sustainability, and personal freedom. The world, taken as a whole, has made slow and uneven progress since the first SPI index of 2015. Access to information, particularly in the developing world, has seen the most improvement, while personal rights and inclusiveness have continued a downward trend. The country with the highest measure of social progress? Norway. The US now ranks 26th in the world, between Estonia and Cyprus.
SPI complements official UN measurement because it creates an aggregate framework that offers an overall snapshot of progress. The index captures outcomes, making it a useful tool for uncovering what works for pushing progress, and it is flexible enough for policy makers to use it at the local level. The city of San José, California recently became the first US city to adopt the index, where Mayor Sam Liccardo plans to use it to design better programs and more equitably distribute resources.
We’ve spent a century building a system of economic measurements for our world around GPD and other such measures, but we know that’s not worked for us. We know that economic growth is not always leading to the outcomes that we want. Now is the time to invest in that statistical infrastructure to measure those things that are not captured by GDP: the quality of our lives, the quality of our communities, the sustainability of our environment.
Social Progress Index data shows that increasing GDP improves people’s lives in general, but it’s nowhere near the whole story. If you’re a community planning your development based solely on improved economic growth, then you have an incomplete plan.
Look at the news every day—we get reporting on economic numbers. The stock market is up; inflation is down; unemployment is up; GDP is up. People should be talking about how our social progress faring. If the foundations of long-term economic success, long term business success are based on strong social foundations, then Social Progress Index data is really important information for investors and businesses. Business cannot thrive if our societies are failing.
Some aspects of social progress that are easier to achieve than others. There are some problems that we know how to solve, for example, like water and sanitation. Countries with relatively modest levels of GDP per capita can provide clean water and decent sanitation to all their citizens. That’s a solvable problem. There are other problems where we don’t find this same pattern, where rich countries have solved it, like health and wellness. One of the most striking things that we find in our data is that the United States, which spends far and away their biggest percentage of its GDP on healthcare, only does as well on health outcomes as Panama. Part of this is because of the inefficiencies of the American healthcare system, but also it’s because health and wellness, especially mental health, is about things so much broader than medicine.
Read the full article about the 2019 Social Progress Index at Skoll Foundation.
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