The Auckland, New Zealand, skyline. New Zealand received high scores for personal rights and freedom, internet access and school enrolment. — FILE PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) – New Zealand came first in a global index published on Thursday that ranks countries by social and environmental performance rather than economic output in a drive to make social progress a priority for politicians and businesses.

The Social Progress Index (SPI) rates 132 countries on more than 50 indicators, including health, sanitation, shelter, personal safety, access to information, sustainability, tolerance and inclusion and access to education.

The SPI asks questions such as whether a country can satisfy its people’s basic needs and whether it has the infrastructure and capacity to allow its citizens to improve the quality of their lives and reach their full potential.

“The index shows that economic growth does not automatically lead to social progress,” Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, a non-profit organisation that publishes the index, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“If we are to tackle problems such as poverty and inequality, it shows that measuring economic growth alone is not enough.”

New Zealand received high scores for personal rights and freedom, internet access and school enrolment. It was followed in the Top 10 by Switzerland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Denmark and Australia.

Some of the world’s largest economies did not fare so well, with Germany in 12th place, the United Kingdom in 13th, Japan 14th, the United States 16th and France 20th. All of them except Germany scored poorly on environmental sustainability.

The United States also ranked poorly on health and wellness – despite being a top spender on healthcare – and on access to basic knowledge, with just 92 percent of children in school.

France lagged Slovenia (18th) and Estonia (19th) and had low scores on sustainability and opportunity, especially tolerance and inclusion. Italy was in 29th place, hurt by poor access to advanced education, sustainability and tolerance and inclusion.

The low rankings of China (90th) and India (102nd) showed that their rapid economic growth is not yet being converted into better lives for their citizens, said Green.

Chad ranked last, below Central African Republic, Burundi, Guinea, Sudan, Angola, Niger, Yemen, Pakistan and Nigeria.

Even though economic growth and social progress are correlated, especially for poorer countries, the connection is far from automatic, said Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, one of the index’s backers.

“The SPI finds that all economic growth is not equal,” he said in a press statement.

Costa Rica and South Africa, for example, have similar levels of gross domestic product (GDP), the most commonly used indicator for economic performance. But the central American nation achieves much greater social progress than South Africa thanks to progressive environmental and healthcare policies.

Social upheavals around the world prompted by citizens’ frustration over a lack of opportunities and inequality are also a sign that economic performance alone is not an adequate measure of progress, said Mr Green.

A 2014 survey by Deloitte found that the majority of the almost 7,800 millennials (people born in the 1980s and 1990s) it had surveyed in 28 countries prioritised education, health care, employment and protection from crime above improving their financial situation. They also believe social progress lies not just with governments but also with businesses.

“GDP doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do whereas the SPI does give indications where you need to focus attention to make progress,” Steve Almond, global chairman of Deloitte, which supports the SPI financially, told Thomson Reuters Foundation.


This article caught my eye because it revolves around a topic that is closely linked to our lives. I think it is very interesting to note how this article puts forth a very intriguing claim – that economic progress and social progress have little to no relation, especially given today’s context, where every country is on the pursuit of a prosperous economy in attempts to improve the standard of livings of the people. Singapore, being one of the richest countries in the world, ironically, scored the lowest on the Asia Happiness Index, as shown in the results of the survey conducted by Eden Strategy Institute (EDI).Therefore, have we compromised the happiness and welfare of the citizens, which technically should be the main concern for every government, for the sake of economic development?

The people’s needs should always be of top priority to any government, because it is the people that allow policies to take effect, to allow the parliament to function and to bring about a change in the economy. Without its people, a country cannot progress. Then, why is it that the peoples’ welfare has been neglected? We are so focused on building a progressively prosperous economy to secure our position on the world map that we have forgotten what it means to be happy. That, to me, is very disheartening. For example, the quality of lives of the people in Singapore is so high that we pay half a million dollars for a 3-room flat, but for the next few centuries, we leave it empty because we are too busy working trying to pay for it. To me, this is very absurd and it is not surprising why people choose to migrate to other countries. How are we supposed to foster a sense of nationhood to ensure the security of the country when the policies implemented by the government are the reasons why Singaporeans are unwilling and unhappy?