G20 Osaka Summit: Using the Social Progress Index to Measure the Sustainable Development Goals

On June 28th and 29th of 2019, leaders of the G20 countries met in Osaka, Japan for their annual summit. The G20 is comprised of the most advanced and emerging economies in the world and works to ensure global economic stability. The Summit’s ensuing official declaration also emphasized the need to make progress towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development—defined by its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—and reaffirmed the necessity of social progress on a global scale. 

While the official declaration did emphasize the need for strong economic growth, it also highlighted the importance of addressing the often unforeseen corresponding social costs. Specifically, summit leaders sought to address inequalities caused by economic growth and outlined the ways in which they hoped to realize an inclusive and sustainable world. They focused on a wide range of important topics including, but not limited to: the environment, labor and employment, women’s empowerment, global health, displacement, and migration. 

Breakdown of SDGs within the Social Progress Index Framework

Although the G20 acknowledged the need for global social progress, the historical measure of a country’s success—Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—is purely financial, counting bombs and prisons as progress and failing to account for personal rights or the environment. In contrast, our global Social Progress Index (SPI) separates GDP from quality of life and provides a way to measure the progress of the world’s countries against the 2030 SDGs. As our CEO and co-founder Michael Green describes in his Ted Talk: The global goals we’ve made progress on—and the ones we haven’t, the SDG-calibrated Social Progress Index (SPI) is calculated using the same methodology as the 2018 SPI. However, all the indicators are standardized, scaled from zero to 100, and weighted to align with the SDGs, such that a score of 100 represents achievement of the 2030 SDG targets. 

At first glance, the SDGs do not look like the Social Progress Index. Some of the 17 goals are very specific and measurable, while others are more vague and difficult to assess. However, the SPI and SDGs evaluate the same concepts and although many of the SDG indicators are incomplete, irregular across countries, or missing, the SPI data is consistent and can be measured over time. By using the SPI to measure the SDGs we can see aggregate scores that allow the individual SDGs to be evaluated collectively which encourages countries to tackle all of the SDGs instead of picking and choosing the ones that would be easiest to achieve. 

Graph of the G20 Countries SDG-Calibrated SPI Scores and GDP PPP Per Capita

Currently, none of the G20 countries have met the 2030 SDGs, after all, it is only 2019. Germany is the closest to reaching the target, scoring 98.21 on the SDG-calibrated SPI. Behind Germany is Japan with a slightly lower overall SPI score of 96.38. Both countries already meet the 2030 benchmark for the SPI dimension of Basic Human Needs and come very close on Foundations of Wellbeing. Neither country reaches the benchmark for the Opportunity dimension, but Germany (95.84) comes closer than Japan (89.65). These results make sense; the world has the answers to many basic need-based issues such as water and sanitation, now it’s just about scaling interventions. Unfortunately, solutions for increasing opportunity—ensuring freedom, personal rights, inclusion, and educational access—are less clear and may vary between countries. However, those challenges are also a strength of the SDGs; a person’s lived experience goes beyond just access to healthcare and indoor plumbing; societal acceptance and opportunity for advancement are important components of social progress as well.

The G20 countries, despite their economic strength, also serve as a reminder that income is not destiny. Saudi Arabia (73.72) and Indonesia (72.73) have nearly identical SDG-calibrated social progress scores, but Saudi Arabia has just under five times the GDP per capita of Indonesia. Each country faces its own set of unique issues, and the SDG-calibrated SPI provides insight on how to focus resources so that challenges can be surmounted to meet the 2030 benchmark. 

Graph of Component Breakdown of SDG-Calibrated SPI Scores for Saudi Arabia and Indonesia

Saudi Arabia scores much better than Indonesia on the SDG-calibrated SPI dimensions of Basic Human Needs and Foundations of Wellbeing. In fact, within the Basic Human Needs dimension, Saudi Arabia already meets the SDG benchmark for three of the four components (Nutrition & Basic Medical Care, Water & Sanitation, and Shelter), but falls significantly short on the Personal Safety. Within the Opportunity dimension, Saudi Arabia has the lowest scores of all the G20 countries on Personal Rights and Inclusiveness. Indonesia, when compared to Saudi Arabia, has less variation in the SDG-calibrated SPI scores, but the country still dimensionally does the best on Basic Human Needs and struggles the most with Opportunity, scoring in the bottom 25% of the G20 countries within the latter dimension.

On the surface, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia have very similar levels of social progress. However, the SDG-calibrated SPI allows us to see the more detailed and distinct challenges that each country faces. Both struggle with Opportunity, but Indonesia is also struggling with more components of Basic Human Needs than Saudi Arabia. Basic Human Needs are typically matters of infrastructure that can be resolved through adequate funding while the relationship between Opportunity and financial support is less direct. Data driven comparisons can tell us what works in which countries and can also allow interventions to be scaled for maximum impact. The SDG-calibrated SPI also provides a way to look at both overall and more focused progress towards the established benchmarks, breaking a very large goal into smaller and more manageable dimensions and components. 

The G20 countries are economically dominant and while they disagreed on many issues during their 2019 Summit, the overall emphasis on the need for social progress is encouraging. However, the countries with the largest and most rapidly growing populations, such as Mexico, Indonesia, and India will play the most significant role in the achievement of the 2030 SDGs. For the SDGs to be successful, all goals must be met by all countries, big or small, and rich or poor. Yet above all, without the tools to measure progress against the SDGs which allow countries to see where they need to focus their energy and resources, social progress will not improve enough to meet the established benchmarks. Luckily, the SDG-calibrated SPI provides a way to do just that, measuring the SDGs both in aggregate and on a more specific level. 2030 is rapidly approaching; now is the time to use data to create global meaningful change.

Learn more about how the Social Progress Imperative is using the SPI data to support the Sustainable Development Goals.

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