InContext 81.The 2016 Social Progress Index: a tool for building sustainable development



Fundación Avina recently announced the 2016 Social Progress Index (SPI) results. The Index is produced by Social Progress Imperative and supported by Fundación Avina, Skoll Foundation and the Deloitte group. This annual study analyzes how efficiently countries transform economic growth into human wellbeing. The report’s first findings confirm– once again– the ability to generate economic wealth is necessary, but insufficient alone for a country to make social progress. Countries with modest GDP per capita, like Costa Rica and Uruguay, perform much better on the SPI than do some wealthier countries, such as the United Arab Emeriates, Israel or Russia (whose GDP per capita may be two to three times greater). Some possible factors tied to social progress are strong institutions, low corruption indices, quality higher education, and strong competitiveness in world markets.

The foremost lesson of the 2016 Social Progress Index is, beyond a certain point, economic income does not guarantee human wellbeing. Of the world’s top ten countries for GDP per capita, only two have corresponding high rankings on the social progress index. Switzerland, with a US$ 60,635 per capita, ranks in fifth place on the SPI. Norway, with US$ 61,472 per capita, occupies seventh place on the social progress index. In contrast, Kuwait has a GDP per capita of US$ 71,312, but ranks 45th in the world for social progress.

Countries with some of the highest GDPs are not necessarily among the best performers on the Social Progress Index. The United States, for example, has the world’s fifth largest GDP per capita and ranks 19th on the SPI. Saudi Arabia, with the 6th largest GDP per capita, falls in 65th place on the SPI. Wealthy countries occupying relatively low positions on the Social Progress Index demonstrate less efficiency than do those countries with a lower GDP per capita but comparatively greater social progress.

El progreso social en los países de Latinoamérica

Social progress scores for most Latin American countries fall around the world average, ranging from scores of 56 to 75.99. Half the world scores fall within this range. Three Latin American countries are better positioned. Chile’s score of 82.12 ranks 25th on the worldwide SPI. Uruguay and Costa Rica each score 80.12 and are tied for the 28th place on the social progress index. Countries occupying lower SPI positions include: Venezuela (score 62.6, ranking 81); Guatemala (score 61.68, ranking 87); and Honduras (score 60.64, ranking 90).

When Social Progress rankings are compared to GDP per capita worldwide, two countries stand out in particular. Costa Rica is ranked 59th for GDP per capita, but is 28th in SPI ranking. While Peru occupies the 68th place for GDP per capita, and is ranked 49th on the SPI. Guatemala and Venezuela, by contrast, are the only two Latin American countries whose SPI ranking falls below that of their GDP per capita. This may be attributed to inefficiencies in converting economic growth into wellbeing.


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Latin America’s Social Progress

The Latin American region as a whole would score 70.6 in terms of social progress, well above the world average of 62.88. Colombia’s social progress score of 70.85 may considered representative of the region. Colombia is ranked 48th on the worldwide Social Progress Index.

Looking at each component measured to determine an overall SPI score, Latin America’s disaggregated scores would be as follows: 76.62 for Basic Human Needs; 75.95 for the Foundations of Wellbeing; and 59.23 for Opportunities. Latin America’s strongest areas are: a) Nutrition and basic health, score 95.46; b) Access to basic knowledge, score 92.36; and c) Access to water and sanitation, score 85.95. Each of these were considered priority areas for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The region’s lowest scoring areas are: a) Tolerance and inclusion, score 58.62; b) Personal safety, score 52.01; and c) Access to advanced education, score 47.38.



Social Progress and Contributing Factors

It would be ill-advised to attempt to explain successful social progress in some countries versus others. As each country has its unique history, culture, demographics, and geography, it is impossible to make like-to-like comparisons. However, in review of other global indices, we can infer some common factors for economic efficiency in terms of a given nation’s ability to bring social progress to its people. The interactive graphic below places Latin American countries on a Cartesian plane, placed by their rankings in Social Progress and GDP per capita at purchasing power parity. Colors indicate the degree of success or failure in terms of other rankings, such as: the Human Development Index (UNDP); Corruption Perception Index (Transparency International); and the Global Competitiveness Index (World Economic Forum); among others[1].




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