Social Progress Index Calls for Focus on Inclusive, Sustainable Growth

Development efforts must focus on inclusive growth strategies that target social progress — as measured in terms of basic human needs, well-being, and opportunity — and not just economic progress as measured by GDP, a report from the Social Progress Imperative argues.

Based on fifty-two indicators in areas ranging from water and sanitation, to health and wellness, to personal freedom and choice, the 2015 Social Progress Index analyzed the social and environmental performance of a hundred and thirty-three countries and ranked Norway at the top, followed by Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, and New Zealand. The United States ranked sixteenth overall, the same as in 2014, but ranked lower on basic human needs (twenty-first), well-being (thirty-fifth), and opportunity (twenty-first). Now in its third year, the report (158 pages, PDF) found that if the world were a single country, its score of 61 on a population-weighted basis would rank it eighty-fourth on a composite index — between  Kazakhstan and Cuba — with especially low scores in the areas of tolerance and inclusion (42.36), personal rights (43.10), access to advanced education (46.24), and ecosystem sustainability (51.6).

"Sadly, as a whole, the world earned a failing grade, ranking in the bottom 40 percent of countries," said Skoll Foundation president and CEO Sally Osberg. "Of particular concern is the world's performance on 'opportunity,' which very closely correlates to personal well-being. This is a wake-up call rich and poor countries alike should heed."

Funded in part by the Avina, Rockefeller, and Skoll foundations and Cisco, Compartamos Banco, and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd., the report notes that while many aspects of social progress improve with increased income, with wealthier countries generally delivering better social outcomes than lower-income countries, progress in protection of personal rights and tolerance and inclusion do not correlate with GDP. For example, Costa Rica, twenty-eighth in the overall ranking with a GDP per capita of $13,431, achieves a higher level of social progress than Italy ($34,167 GDP, thirty-first) and South Korea ($32,708 GDP, twenty-ninth).

"Inclusive growth requires achieving both economic and social progress," said Michael E. Porter of Harvard Business School, who chairs the index's advisory board. "A striking finding is that GDP is far from being the sole determinant of social progress. The pitfalls of focusing on GDP alone are evident in the findings of the 2015 Social Progress Index. Countries must invest in social progress, not just economic institutions, to create the proper foundation for economic growth."

"Governments, Businesses & NGOs Urged to Invest in Social Progress to 'Unleash Economic Success'." Social Progress Imperative and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited Press Release 04/09/2015.