“Visions without metrics are hallucinations”, said one speaker at this year’s Skoll World Forum, which hosted the launch of the beta version of the Social Progress Index on April 11th. The importance of rigorously measuring social impact is one of the key themes of our writing about philanthrocapitalism. That is why we have been enthusiastic supporters of the idea of creating the Social Progress Index and are delighted that it has now become a reality.
In this first iteration of the Index, the top ranked country is Sweden, followed by the UK, Switzerland and Canada. The United States is 6th of the sample of 50 countries (a number that will increase in years to come). South Korea is 11th. The leading Latin American country is Costa Rica, ranked 12th. The UAE is 19th, Turkey 20th, Tunisia 28th, China 32nd and Botswana 35th. Bottom of the pile is Ethiopia, just below Nigeria.
The ranking is devised using 52 different metrics, grouped into three main categories: basic human needs; foundations of well-being; and opportunity. This lets users of the Social Progress Index drill down into the details of how well – or badly – a society is doing on different aspects of social progress and, crucially, identify opportunities for improvement.
In future, an explicit measure of the capacity of a country to do social innovation will be added.
As we have written before, Matthew played a catalytic role in the creation of the index. As part of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Philanthropy and Social Investment he helped articulate the need for better measures of how countries compare with each other on delivering a better society. The traditional measures of GDP and competitiveness do not adequately pick up on non-economic measures of progress. The Human Development Index and various other indices tracking national happiness, sustainability etc are useful but not designed to highlight what policies and innovations work, or don’t, for particular aspects of social progress.
The Social Progress Index is the name given to what started out as the Social Competitiveness Index. It has been put together by an organisation called the Social Progress Imperative, of which Michael is now the executive director and Matthew is an advisory board member. Much of the detailed work of turning a vague idea into a thought provoking index has been overseen by Michael Porter, the famed Harvard Business School professor.
Under Porter’s guidance, it was decided to exclude economic income from the measures in the Social Progress Index. By contrast, economic income accounts directly for a large part of the Human Development Index. Porter points out that though there is a good correlation between economic growth (as measured by GDP) and the Social Progress Index, it is not perfect. Economic growth alone does not explain levels of social progress. The Index shows that countries at similar levels of GDP – Costa Rica and South Africa, for example, or Ghana and Nigeria – can have very different levels of social progress. It also finds that once a country reaches high income status, social progress decelerates so that the richest county on the ranking, Switzerland, does not do dramatically better than a country less than half as wealthy, such as Poland.
This is a beta version of the Social Progress Index. To ensure the rigorous measurement the world needs, it will need to get better – much better. The definition of social progress needs to be vigorously debated, as do the measures used. As a better picture emerges of where social progress is happening, vigorous debate will be needed to learn what factors and policies led to this progress. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.