There are many ways a country can measure the well-being of its citizens. Gross Domestic Product is often a benchmark economists, politicians and lawmakers use to measure health, happiness and prosperity. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals are perhaps the best known and most adhered to internationally.
However, many of these means of measurement come under fire from people who say they do not take into account too many crucial factors. As a result, when governments and civil society organizations attempt to target the most needy, they start from a skewed and faulty foundation, as the data is not accurate. Such is the argument. (Check out this interactive graphic from the Guardian that does a good job of explaining the MDGs, their successes and shortcomings).
In any case, my attention was captured by a relatively new organization that has created the Social Progress Index. Their premise is that economic indicators are insufficient to measure social progress. In other words, economists fail to take into account many indicators that can measure how healthy and happy people are.
From their website:
Social progress is defined as the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential.
The Social Progress Index is a tool that we hope will be widely used to inform and influence policies and institutions around the world. The Index is founded on the principle that what we measure guides the choices we make. By measuring the things that really matter to people — their basic needs, their food, shelter and security; their access to healthcare, education, and a healthy environment; their opportunity to improve their live — the Social Progress Index is an attempt to reshape the debate about development.
The Social Progress Index was incorporated as a non-profit in 2012 and seems to have involved a Harvard Business School professor, an Economist bureau chief and funding from the Skoll Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, among other notable names and organizations.
And here are the indicators they measure:
Basic Human Needs
Nutrition and Basic Medical Care
Water and Sanitation
Foundations of Wellbeing
Access to Basic Knowledge
Access to Information and Communications
Health and Wellness
Personal Freedom and Choice
Tolerance and Inclusion
Access to Advanced Education
So how does Jamaica fare? Surprisingly, Jamaica does well when it comes to providing Nutrition and Basic Medical Care, Access to Basic Information and Personal Rights. (I am not sure I agree with those, from my experience, and would be interested to know what kind of on-the-ground research occurred.)
Also not surprisingly, Jamaica can improve on ensuring Personal Safety, Ecosystem Sustainability and providing Access to Advanced Education.
Below are some other stats, ranking Jamaica in comparison to 131 other countries. The social progress index is a score out of 100, and if you want to know more about their methodology, check it out here. What struck me is the assurance that the index excludes economic indicators and measures what matters in the lives of real people, to use their terminology. But here is more about how Jamaica fared:
Social Progress Index 70.39 (43rd)
Basic Human Needs 69.23 (76th)
Foundations of Wellbeing 76.34 (31st)
Opportunity 65.60 (30th)
Population (2011) 2,712,100 (118th)
GDP (PPP) $ 7,083 (73rd)
For the record, the top three countries are New Zealand, Switzerland and Iceland, while Chad is the worst. I suggest you take a look at the dataset, it is very interesting and offers a new way to measure progress and well-being.