Okay so I know that that’s a pretty sweeping statement. But bear with me.
This is the first of a series of uplifting, data driven stories/nuggets/insights about how things are getting better. Not a panglossian foray into fake news, but a belief that sharing good news would add some tiny improvement to our understanding of the world. Find out more about my inspiration for this here.
And so it seemed to make sense to start with a big example. I’ve gone to the Social Progress Initiative – an organisation who in their words
“provide decision-makers and everyday citizens with the very best data on the social and environmental health of their societies and help them prioritize actions that accelerate social progress. “
They’ve been tracking a whole slew of things since they started in 2014. They focus on human welfare issues, not the ubiquitous (and limited) language of GDP.
“We dream of a world in which people come first. A world where families are safe, healthy and free. Economic development is important, but strong economies alone do not guarantee strong societies. If people lack the most basic human necessities, the building blocks to improve their quality of life, a healthy environment and the opportunity to reach their full potential, a society is failing regardless what the economic numbers say. ”
And their news is encouraging. The average score has gone up from 63.53% to 65.87% – a small but material change. Of the 149 countries they study, they have only 4 going backwards. The graph below shows the nature of the changes – with most countries improving by a few percentage points. It’s not surprising, maybe, that this isn’t headline news.
What probably is surprising is that one of those 4 “going backwards” is the USA. Their extensive tools allow us to have a look at the scorecard for the United States – and see the areas in which it is not performing well. I’d hazard a guess that this US effect might explain part of why we can sometimes feel everything is going wrong; the US can dominate newsfeeds and media stories.
But this is supposed to be about uplifting data – not just an excuse for why the improvement isn’t apparent. Who are the countries performing well? The top few countries are the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark; with Switzerland occupying third place.
In terms of the greatest improvements, they include The Gambia, Nepal, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Sierra Leone – unsurprisingly those historically in the lower part of the “table”. But that division between the developed and developing world is shrinking rapidly (a point made brilliantly by Hans Rosling in “Factfulness”). And on some of the measures of inclusiveness and freedom from discrimination, the above countries are already outperforming the USA.
As for the UK – well things continue to get better. There are areas for concern, of course. But we still rank highly on social progress (higher than the economic measure of GDP PPP per capita ranking).
I urge you to explore the data. In the vast majority of countries, scores are improving across all the dimensions studied (basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity). It’s surprising. And uplifting.