In the next fifteen years, world leaders of the United Nations are aiming to cultivate a planet where poverty does not exist. They want a world where inequality and injustice are worries of the past and where climate change is no longer a threat. To achieve this vision, they have dedicated themselves to promoting and fulfilling seventeen Global Goals. All seventeen goals are reasonable, relevant and in desperate need of attention. For this movement to work, the UN needs every individual to spread the word and take action. Sounds simple enough. Even more so since they’ve provided us with myriad possible and applicable solutions. One way is to teach the Global Goals in schools in a manner that empowers children, through a campaign called Design For Change. Nevertheless, people like me (that is, pessimists) may question whether these goals are realistic and their solutions effective enough. If so, how do we measure our development?
Michael Green, co-author of the book Philanthrocapitalism, proposes a Social Progress Index in his TED talk as a means to rank societies based on citizens’ quality of life. The Social Progress Index considers three fundamental components: basic human needs, foundations of well-being and opportunity. By charting the SPI of countries against their GDP, he makes the claim that though countries with a higher GDP typically have a higher SPI, this is not always the case. There are several examples of countries that are underperforming and others that are over-performing. If GDP and social progress are not directly correlated, what is the relationship between them?
Economic growth is no longer the solution to development, a statement is true but only to a certain extent. It is true for countries that have surpassed the threshold of economic growth and can now begin to direct these resources towards human wellbeing. However, every country needs to reach this threshold, they need to establish a foothold in the economy and then proceed to focus on social development. Countries like Costa Rica, which appear to be over-performing given their GDP, are likely to be outliers. We should also take into consideration the differing political, economic and social issues faced by each country. A comparison between them is unfair. Each of these countries will have differing priorities and these priorities will have very different consequences on each country’s Social Progress Index.
Despite these apprehensions, Green does introduce or rather reintroduce a unique way of evaluating the world’s progress. He uses an all-too-familiar method of assessment — report cards. The People’s Report Card strives to provide an annual report on humanity and checks whether we have climbed up the Social Progress Index or not. It judges our proximity to achieving the Global Goals and allows us to hold not only our world leaders accountable but also ourselves. What I am uncertain of, however, is the method used to arrive at this so-called grade. It is a complex task trying to understand what criteria countries are being evaluated on, especially since the list is long and detailed. This task is intensified if we try to analyze whether these criteria are valid, reliable and useful.
I certainly am skeptical about this idea of a Social Progress Index and a report card. Is it even possible to evaluate our countries, given the subjective state of their socio-economic and political standing? Moreover, I am doubtful of our world reaching its Global Goals by 2030. I am, however, inspired. These are issues that have been clearly identified for us. The suggested solutions give us a clear path to follow, while giving us the freedom to come up with our own. This should be of utmost importance to all of us. In our own little ways, we can make a difference.