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.
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.
Applying the Social Progress Index
The Social Progress Index is more than a simple measurement tool. The SPI was designed as a tool to guide national development and facilitate public policy decision-making to maximize social benefits with minimal resources. In the exemplary case of Paraguay, the government pledged in 2014 to adopt the Social Progress Index as a guide to measuring national performance. Paraguay uses the SPI to evaluate its citizens’ social needs and to inform and monitor budget-making decisions and social investment.
A similar effort, at the state level, can be found in the Brazilian Amazon. The SPI initiative began in the Brazilian Amazon with Imazon (Instituto del Hombre y Medio Ambiente de la Amazonia). With Avina’s support, Imazon identified the SPI as a means to evaluate social conditions in the Amazon. The IPS Amazonas (or SPI Amazon) initiative uses the same statistical methods as the global SPI. The project answers the same fundamental SPI questions, but differs in that it uses only those indicators that reflect the social reality in this exceptionally distinct territory. The SPI in the Brazilian Amazon evaluates the region’s 772 municipalities. The reports may be viewed here.
Similar results were found with IPS Cuidades (SPI Cities) initiative in September 2015, which was based on Colombia’s Red de Ciudades Cómo Vamos. Using historical information, this Network (with over a decade’s data on city sustainability indicators) presents information comparing the 10 largest cities in Colombia, whose citizens collectively represent 40% of the national population. The Red de Ciudades has issued its first SPI report, which may be viewed here.
The challenge of moving from analysis to action
Undoubtedly, the SPI can help effectively and efficiently transform Latin American countries’ the social realities– if the Index is understood and applied as an action-oriented tool. To this end and in an effort to capitalize on the experience and lessons learned over the SPI’s past three years of development, Fundación Avina and the Social Progress Imperative extended an open invitation to the webinar “Social Progress Index 2016: The Challenge of Moving from Analysis to Action” took place on July 28th.
In this webinar, Juan Cristobal Birbuet, Fundación Avina’s Director responsible for positioning the SPI in South America, presented the initial results of the 2016 edition for Latin America. Several area experts also participated with their perspectives on the practical application of the SPI to improve Latin Americans’ quality of life.
Presenters: Jose R. Molinas, Secretary of the Secretaría de Técnica de Planificación del Desarrollo Económico y Social de Paraguay (Ministry of Planning for Economic and Social Development of Paraguay), will speak on use of the SPI as a tool for the development and application of national public policies; Pedro Massa, Coca Cola Brazil’s Director of Social Investment, will comment on private sector participation in the SPI’s adaptation and use for decision-making and monitoring social development in the Amazon; and Angela Escallon, Executive Director of the Fundación Corona de Colombia, will talk about civil society’s application of the SPI to measure social development in Columbian cities.