Measuring Social Progress

A few weeks ago, the 2018 Social Progress Index was published.

As the title suggests, the Index provides a holistic snapshot of how well the world is progressing, from a primarily social and environmental perspective. It ranks 146 countries on how well their citizens are provided with some of the fundamental building blocks of quality of life – focusing on outcomes rather than opinions, and separated into three broad categories:

  • Basic human needs - such as nutrition, healthcare, sanitation and shelter;
  • The foundations of wellbeing - such as access to basic knowledge, access to communications and environmental quality;
  • Opportunity – such as inclusiveness, freedom and personal rights.

The driving force here is that detailed data on the social and environmental health of a society can help policy-makers and other leaders to develop ideas and prioritise actions that accelerate progress 

Economic factors are excluded, and those who compile the Index point out that it is intended to complement, rather than replace, measures such as GDP.

Overall, social progress has been advancing across the world in the four years since the first Index was published – although this year recorded a regress in the specific areas of personal rights and inclusion.

A Useful Tool for Business

At a time when trust in business is suffering, studies like these provide an opportunity for organisations to better identify and address the issues that make a real difference in people’s everyday lives.

I’ve written before of how there are many ways that businesses can create value beyond wealth and jobs; through education, building skills, improving the health and safety of working environments and taking measures to reduce waste and protect the environment.

At the heart of this is sustainability – and I’ve also noted before, the interdependence between sustainability and business success.

Strong economies are rooted in behaviours that are responsible, ethical and inclusive. I know that many business leaders today recognise the importance of this approach, and believe that business should have a wider social purpose.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

A global mechanism for helping business to do just that is the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are a vision and articulation of what the world wants to achieve – how we can all achieve ‘social progress’.

Businesses should be seeking to embed the SDGs as part of their operational strategies, driving positive change in practice, rather than viewing them as external challenges and objects of philanthropy.

At ICAEW, we’ve proudly embraced the SDGs as a new framework within which to pursue the public interest. We recognise that our actions, and those of our members, will be critical in turning the Goals into a reality.

Greater social purpose leads to greater social progress – which leads to greater public trust.