The 2020 Social Progress Index Sparks Discussion

On September 10th, we released the 2020 Social Progress Index, our most comprehensive analysis ever on the true state of the world. This year’s index is already generating important discussions about the current trajectory of social progress in our world, the prospect of achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the potential impact of the Covid-19 pandemic if we continue with business as usual.

The New Statesman noted that, based on the 2020 Social Progress Index projections, the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to set back global development by a decade, delaying achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 62 years unless urgent actions are taken. “The 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which include the eradication of poverty, improving access to education and action on climate change, will only be fulfilled by 2092 once the effects of the pandemic are taken into account.”

Environmental Quality (36.87) and Inclusiveness (39.25) are one of those areas where the world shows particularly alarming results, raising questions about the future of environmental sustainability, more since climate change is predicted to continue through this century and beyond.

World Components of the Social Progress Index

“There’s virtually zero headway on environmental quality, and a retreat in personal rights in much of the world”

Michael Green, the CEO of SPI, told Ryan Heath and Catherine Boudreau of Politico.

Out of the 163 countries measured by the Social Progress Index, the ones that improved the most since 2011 have been low and lower middle-income countries, including The Gambia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Eswatini and Sierra Leone, while richer countries have tended to improve slowly. Nicolas Kristof’s New York Times coverage of the index highlights that economic wealth does not necessarily lead to a better quality of life; the United States, one of the richest nations in the world, ranks 28th in the 2020 Social Progress Index, falling behind less wealthy countries like Greece, Cyprus and Estonia. And that the United States is just one of three countries in the world that has declined in social progress over the past decade, together with Brazil and Hungary.

Top performing countries of the 2020 Social Progress Index

As Avivah Wittenberg-Cox of Forbes pointed out, while all three above-mentioned, declining states are run by populist, male leaders, “the four top-ranked countries in the world on 50 dimensions of wellbeing, in the just-published 2020 Social Progress Index, are all run by … women.” Indeed, Norway, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand occupy the top positions in the overall ranking, performing especially well in the Foundations of Wellbeing dimension; however, there is still room for further improvement in all three dimensions.

Now more than ever, it is important to measure what matters; the Philanthropy News Digest accounts that “a Social Progress Index-Ipsos poll conducted in July and August found that majorities of respondents in countries hardest hit by COVID-19 said their countries should prioritize social progress in terms of health and well-being (72 percent) over economic growth (28 percent).” The findings hold true for young people, who are at a lower risk of Covid-19 illness but are the ones most affected by its economic impact.

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