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2017 Social Progress Index Reveals Actionable Insights for Decision Makers, Social Entrepreneurs, and Engaged Citizens

June 20, 2017

By Sally Osberg -

Today marks the release of the 2017 Social Progress Index, a tool that uses key indicators in the areas of basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity to measure the relative performance of nations, regions, and even cities. In its fourth edition, the index can now compare 128 countries to reveal trends on both a macro and micro scale, patterns that could make clear the path to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Topline macro global trends from the past year: quality of life overall is improving, but personal rights and safety, and tolerance and inclusion are all showing a troubling decline. Overall the world is underperforming on social progress when you look at what the average GDP per capita suggests is possible. It’s not all doom and gloom though, Skoll-funded social entrepreneurs are working actively in each of the ten countries that have shown the greatest improvement in the last four years.

Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation, sat down with Skoll Editor Zach Slobig to talk through the value of the index as a tool for social entrepreneurs, decision makers, and ordinary citizens.

Zach: It seems to me that this index provides a useful common language for a range of stakeholders, a way to determine where the most work needs to be done. What are your thoughts on how the index can be useful or insightful for ordinary people?

Sally: SPI is designed so that ordinary citizens can get a very quick read on how well or poorly their countries perform in areas that matter to them: health care, education, rights. The tool can also provoke citizens to demand accountability from the decision-makers responsible for strengthening institutions they care about.

Zach: And how is this tool useful to social entrepreneurs specifically?

Sally: When people think about their governments, and about being citizens of a state or a subnational unit, a city or a region, what do they care about? It’s their schools, their water supply, their access to healthcare, their rights and freedoms. Social entrepreneurs focus on driving new, sustainable solutions in all these areas and more. SPI provides a clear picture of how well a society and its institutions are performing, which helps social entrepreneurs understand—at both the macro and more specific levels—where their interventions fit.

I think of someone like Vicky Colbert and Escuela Nueva, the educational reform work she did in Colombia; eventually her model was adopted and became that country’s policy. Madhav Chavan and Pratham are having a similar impact on India’s educational system and its accountability. It’s models such as these that challenge a dysfunctional status quo and drive sustainable societal progress.

Zach: The 2017 SPI Index shows that the G20 countries have essentially flatlined with no discernible progress. Do you have a hunch of what’s going on?

Sally: I would have to really dig into the data, but here’s my take: with increased concentration of wealth and power comes rising inequity, a greater divide between the very rich and the very poor, along with a stagnating middle class. Inequity and stagnation both show up in the data, whether in the form of declines in progress or in the lack thereof.

Since SPI is designed to sit alongside GDP, it also shows how a country performs against its economic capacity. Again, this comparison points to the catalytic role that social entrepreneurs can play—unleashing innovative capacity where it has been moribund or oppressed.

Zach: You sit on the board of Social Progress Imperative. If you think back to several years ago, what initially attracted you to this nascent idea of SPI?

Sally: Social entrepreneurs try to bring about change commensurate with the scale of the problems they’re attacking. SPI is such an important contextual tool for social entrepreneurs and for us as an investor in solutions with scalable impact. SPI was never meant as a summary judgement. It’s a tool for accountability, for decision-making, and for accelerating positive societal progress.

SPI helps us see where the wind is at the back of the social entrepreneurs and where the headwinds are massing. Just look at a country like Brazil, which was making tremendous progress but now appears to be moving backward. Social entrepreneurs active in Brazil must contend with those headwinds. The importance of that connection between the macro context and the on-the-ground work of social entrepreneurs cannot be over-stated. SPI helps us all understand where a society is making headway, or not, and encourage us to dig into the drivers. Behind many of the trajectories heading in a positive direction and advancing social progress, are social entrepreneurs.

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