WEF 2020 Davos Summit: Stakeholders, Sustainability, and The Social Progress Index

In late January world leaders and businesspeople met for the annual World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. The theme was “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World.” The conference program prioritized several key areas including the environment, technology, fairness, and health across economies around the world.

At the summit Sharon Thorne, Global Chair of Deloitte and board member at the Social Progress Imperative, moderated a panel on the need for urgent and collective action to accelerate progress against the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Michael Green, CEO and co-founder of the Social Progress Imperative sat on the panel with the Honourable Julie Bishop who is currently serving as the chancellor of the Australian National University, Global Shaper Chinenye L. Monde from Lagos, and Jürgen Griesbeck, co-founder Common Goal.

Thorne opened the panel by stating: “the alarm bells are sounding, there is now a true sense of urgency to act on some of the most pressing issues of our time: climate change, inequality, and inclusion.” She continued, “Data from the current Social Progress Index suggests that if we carry on at our current trajectory were not going to achieve the SDGs until 2073.”

The world faces many urgent problems, illustrated by increasing incidents of climate disasters such as the forest fires in Australia and growing social unrest all over the world. The summit at Davos provided an opportunity for leaders across all sectors to come together and develop networks and connections in an attempt to solve some of these seemingly unsolvable problems. While many do fear that previous inaction on many of these issues has left humanity in an unescapable predicament, others still found reason for optimism.

Green emphasized that, “we are actually seeing an extraordinary amount of progress in the world and we mustn’t forget that, so our challenge is actually to accelerate progress.” Tools such as the Social Progress Index, referenced at the beginning of the panel by Thorne, can help determine where progress is taking place and also show us where we have the opportunity to make big leaps and bounds towards the SDGs.

The Sustainable Development Goals visualized within the 2019 Social Progress Index framework.

For example, Green noted that, “what we also see in our data is that it is generally poorer countries that are moving faster in terms of social progress, and progress towards the SDGs, so we’re seeing that catch-up, a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor countries.” This trend is reflected in the 2019 Social Progress Index results. The Gambia and Nepal are the two countries that have improved the most on the index, with scores increasing by +8.78 and +7.73 points over the past six years, respectively. However, these countries remain relatively poor, and both have a GDP per capita less than $900 USD. In contrast, the United States—one of the wealthiest countries in the world— has actually declined on social progress by -1.12 points over the past six years. Despite minimal resources, many poorer countries are bearing the burden of progress towards the SDGs, while richer countries stagnate or even decline.

Yet the Social Progress Index also shows areas where all countries can work together to more quickly advance Social Progress. For instance, sanitation is a civil issue that has a real impact on lived experience and the data shows that countries across the world struggle with management of waste. Over the past six years the world has improved by +3.84 points on the component of Water and Sanitation according to the 2019 Social Progress Index, but much more work remains to be done, and in a relatively finite amount of time if we are to achieve the SDGs by the 2030 goal.

2019 Social Progress Index scores mapped against GDP per capita.

The Social Progress Index can also help countries around the world compare policies and learn about practices that can accelerate social progress. Countries are grouped in tiers of economic peers and scorecards indicate if a country over performs, underperforms, or performs as expected given its tier. Above all, when mapped against GDP, the Social Progress Index shows that income is not the only factor that determines lived experience. Even countries with limited economic resources are able to implement programs that allow social progress to be accelerated.

Above all, the panel on urgent and collective action to accelerate the SDGs serves as a reminder that we are all stakeholders and all have a responsibility to act in the face of potential disasters, natural, social, and economic. The Social Progress Index serves as a tool to help countries identify problems and learn from others successes and failures to calamity and accelerate progress.

The full panel discussion can be viewed here.

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