Forget GDP: The Social Progress Index Measures National Well-Being

What’s the best way to tell how a country is doing (and serving its citizens)?

It’s not just a measure of economic output, that’s for sure. This new index tracks everything from opportunity to health to sustainability. Guess where the U.S. ranks.

For many years, the powers that be thought that economic indicators were the ultimate measure of a country’s well-being. That’s starting to change. As we have discussedbefore, the general happiness of a country doesn’t always correlate with its wealth. In fact, economic indicators don’t match up with a number of important indicators about well-being.

Hence the Social Progress Index, an initiative from The Social Progress Imperative and Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter that examines how 50 countries perform on 52 indicators related to basic human needs, the foundations of well-being, and opportunity. The top country: Sweden. The U.S. doesn’t even rank in the top five (it comes it at number six).

The Social Progress Index was hatched at a World Economic Forum working group, where participants decided that they needed common frameworks to measure the problems they were working on. “The big conceptual step was to say that if we’re trying to measure the well-being of a society, the big thing we have to do is actually look at outcomes directly rather than proxy of economic indicators,” explains Michael Green, the executive director of the Social Progress Imperative. “We’re looking at social and environmental outcomes directly, which means that the index isn’t determined by economic factors.”

These social and environmental components include personal safety, ecosystem sustainability, health and wellness, shelter, sanitation, equity and inclusion, and personal freedom and choice. Each component is calculated based on specific outcomes–health and wellness, for example, is determined by life expectancy, obesity, cancer death rate, and other factors.

The 50 countries in the list were chosen because they’re a representative sample of countries around the world. They also encompass 75% of the world’s population. So who made it to the top? Here are the countries with the highest ratings on the SPI (click to zoom). A full list is available on the SPI website.

There are a handful of important trends that we can glean from the index. Almost all of the wealthiest countries do poorly on the ecosystem sustainability component. “The U.S., Canada, and Australia are all struggling with that environmental measure generally,” notes Green. Also, he says, “although economic growth is broadly correlated with social progress, there are departures from that.” One example: Costa Rica (12) performs much better than South Africa (39), even though they have a similar GDP.

While the U.K. and Sweden didn’t perform well on the United Nations Human Development Index, they are at the top of the SPI because they have top marks across the three foundations measured by the index.

Read more . . .

via FastCoExist

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Big Data Is Opening Doors, but Maybe Too Many

IN the 1960s, mainframe computers posed a significant technological challenge to common notions of privacy.

That’s when the federal government started putting tax returns into those giant machines, and consumer credit bureaus began building databases containing the personal financial information of millions of Americans. Many people feared that the new computerized databanks would be put in the service of an intrusive corporate or government Big Brother.

“It really freaked people out,” says Daniel J. Weitzner, a former senior Internet policy official in the Obama administration. “The people who cared about privacy were every bit as worried as we are now.”

Along with fueling privacy concerns, of course, the mainframes helped prompt the growth and innovation that we have come to associate with the computer age. Today, many experts predict that the next wave will be driven by technologies that fly under the banner of Big Data — data including Web pages, browsing habits, sensor signals, smartphone location trails and genomic information, combined with clever software to make sense of it all.

Proponents of this new technology say it is allowing us to see and measure things as never before — much as the microscope allowed scientists to examine the mysteries of life at the cellular level. Big Data, they say, will open the door to making smarter decisions in every field from business and biology to public health and energy conservation.

“This data is a new asset,” says Alex Pentland, a computational social scientist and director of the Human Dynamics Lab at the M.I.T. “You want it to be liquid and to be used.”

But the latest leaps in data collection are raising new concern about infringements on privacy — an issue so crucial that it could trump all others and upset the Big Data bandwagon. Dr. Pentland is a champion of the Big Data vision and believes the future will be a data-driven society. Yet the surveillance possibilities of the technology, he acknowledges, could leave George Orwell in the dust.

The World Economic Forum published a report late last month that offered one path — one that leans heavily on technology to protect privacy. The report grew out of a series of workshops on privacy held over the last year, sponsored by the forum and attended by government officials and privacy advocates, as well as business executives. The corporate members, more than others, shaped the final document.

The report, “Unlocking the Value of Personal Data: From Collection to Usage,” recommends a major shift in the focus of regulation toward restricting the use of data. Curbs on the use of personal data, combined with new technological options, can give individuals control of their own information, according to the report, while permitting important data assets to flow relatively freely.

“There’s no bad data, only bad uses of data,” says Craig Mundie, a senior adviser at Microsoft, who worked on the position paper.

Read more . . .

via The New York Times – 


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Davos: The Future of Space

Space: the beneficial frontier.

That was the underlying theme of a panel called “The Future of Space,” which I moderated at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos, Switzerland. It was the first such session on space services in the formal part of the program at this meeting of leaders in policy and business—and its focus was decidedly down to Earth.

“We want to educate people about the utility of space,” noted panelist Brian Weeden, technical adviser, Secure World Foundation. The panel discussed applications of orbiting satellites, including weather observations, climate studies, GPS location services, security—and even preserving cultural artifacts.

“Many of the world’s great global challenges can be effectively addressed by space-based satellites,” added panelist Ray O. Johnson, senior vice president and chief technology officer of Lockheed Martin.

“We are users of this technology especially for disaster relief,” said panelist Julien Anfruns, director-general, International Council of Museums. He showed images of war zones, where leaders can ensure that areas of cultural importance have not been damaged—or track whether they have been. Weeden noted the technology also has been used for war prevention in Sudan.

Along with the benefits come challenges, however. Growing services mean there are some 1,000 active satellites—and 21,000 pieces of debris bigger than 10 centimeter, with a much more vast number smaller than that (and still potentially dangerous). Other challenges include crowded communication bands, just as skyrocketing cellphone use creates crowding here on Earth, and even potential intentional signal jamming. Externally, solar storms, where the sun releases bursts of electromagnetic energy, could cause service disruptions on satellites, electrical power grids and mission launches.

The challenges are not only technological. Other areas of concern include finding good models for governance of this global common and updating legal frameworks, with are relicts of the Cold War. Eric Anderson, chairman and cofounder of Space Adventures, mentioned, for instance, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. (See Anderson’s summary post of the session for the WEF blog here ).

At the end of the session, I asked each panelist what one thing he would like to see happen.

Read more . . . 

via Scientific American – Mariette DiChristina

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HTML Pioneer Tim Berners-Lee Calls For More Online Innovation To Break Down Cultural Barriers And Build New Business Models

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the hyperlinked World Wide Web, isn’t entirely happy with what he has helped create

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the hyperlinked World Wide Web, isn’t entirely happy with what he has helped create — and has thrown down the gauntlet to web developers to come up with more disruptive forms of online communication that can break down cultural not just geographical barriers.

Talking about the web as it is today, rather than the “collaborative tool” he originally designed, he said: ”World peace has not miraculously occurred. People still mainly talk to their neighbours, people still mainly talk to the people who have the same religion, and the same culture, so for all its breaking down geographical boundaries in principle it hasn’t really broken down cultural boundaries. Can we develop systems on the web which will actually help solve that sort of  challenge?”

Berners-Lee was speaking in an interview at the World Economic Forum today, entitled ‘what’s wrong with social networking?’ but he joked the title had been cooked up merely to draw in the crowds.

“As a universal platform the web wasn’t supposed to dictate what you did with it,” he told his audience in Davos. “The world wide web is a platform and humanity does what it can with it… There’s lots of people who think we could do more. What do we really want to get out of this web thing? What do we really want to get out of human communication?”

While it began as a collaborative tool, the web subsequently took off as a publishing medium — or it did to a “certain extent”, said Berners-Lee, pointing to the fact that publishing online remains a relatively elite activity and therefore, again, does not live up to his original collaborative vision for a truly global web.

“We’ve got wikis, we’ve got blogs, but still most people… aren’t publishing on the web. And actually when you go to most places you’re not in a position where you can take place in the conversation very much. Sometimes you can comment but actually the comment tends to be at a second level,” he said.

Asked about the erosion of online openness threatened by walled garden social networks, Berners-Lee said the networks both help humanity by providing the data that enables computers to help people but also highlighted how there is “a lot of frustration, from a lot of people” that they can’t connect up the personal data they have entered into different services in all the ways they might like to.

“Each of these social network systems is a silo so there is a frustration that I’ve told it all my data but I don’t have access to that,” he said.

Despite yearning for more openness and fewer shackles stifling the free flow of online data, Berners-Lee was careful to say he was not calling for an online data free-for-all. There do need to be “reasonable boundaries”, he accepted — whether it’s sensitive personal or government or military data. “The web isn’t about just sharing everything, destroying privacy… [but] if I want to share something with you it shouldn’t be the technology that gets in the way.”

Turning to the economic argument, Berners-Lee conceded there is a problem with current online business models — especially when it comes to finding ways to pay musicians. The web should be “about spreading culture, music and getting payment back to musicians”, he said. ” We’ve got to find new ways of doing that.”

Specifically he called for new protocols to be developed to support online payments. “We need to find a whole lot of new business models — I think we should develop new payment protocols so that when you’re using a web browser it’s a lot easier to pay for things.”

He also argued for the economic value in opening up data that is unnecessarily locked away, pointing to a U.K. initiative to open up government data so that the citizens who have paid for the data to be created in the first place can have the benefit of using it — and use it to create new businesses. “You’re making a great common good, that’s making the world run more efficiently,” he argued.

Likewise, he argued that the benefit to humanity of opening up scientific data — to “scientists everywhere” — would be “huge”. ”It’s a question of unlocking this potential that we really already have — it’s getting huge benefit for very little cost,” he said.

Read more . . .

via TechCrunch – Natasha Lomas

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It’s Time For Breakthrough Capitalism

Instead of slow, incremental change from the business community, we need to fundamentally reorder the entire system.

And right now may be the only opportunity.

There are periods of creative destruction when an old, dying order comes apart at the seams, opening up the space for a new order currently struggling to be born. That’s what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpetertold us, mapping the cycles. And now here we go again.A decade or two from now, the “long year” straddling 2011 and 2012 will likely be seen as one of those pivotal transitions, like when the development of “breakthrough” steam engines fueled the Industrial Revolution. The question is whether our incrementalist mindsets (think of the disappointingly weak outcomes of the this year’s Rio+20 summit) will trigger a vicious downward spiral toward breakdown–as seems possible in the Eurozone crisis or with oceanic fisheries–or whether the crisis will spark a positive spiral of innovation which delivers breakthrough business solutions and, ultimately, true system change.

But where is all of this on business radar screens? Still often just winking at the edges, it seems. When Accenture and the UN Global Compact polled 766 CEOs a couple of years back, we were delighted to see 93% saying that they understood that the “sustainability” agenda would be key for their businesses in future, encouraged to see 88% saying they understood new requirements and specifications had to be pushed through their value chains, and outraged to see 81% reporting they had already “embedded” the new agenda in their businesses.

Whatever it is that they think they have embedded, it definitely isn’t system change. It’s now blindingly clear that the global C-suite mindset needs rebooting. So that’s what we set out to do late last year, shifting the focus from what we dub Change-as-Usual approaches–typified by old models of citizenship, CSR and philanthropy–to genuinely breakthrough strategies.

The B-word is used often, but for us Breakthrough is about making the sort of bets that got astronauts to the Moon in 1969, or that created the Internet. Now in its fifth year, Volans took its own, smaller gamble late in 2011, betting heavily on the need to convene unusual suspects to work on ways to break out of the trap we have created for ourselves and in May 2012 we held a Breakthrough Capitalism Forumin London. The language derives from three scenarios informing our work:

  1. Breakdown is the unremittingly bleak scenario, a world in which early experiments and enthusiasm fade in the face of wider incomprehension and resistance to change. Our businesses, cities and economies overshoot ecological limits, bringing the planetary roof down on our heads.
  2. Change-as-Usual is the scenario where change does happen, but political leaders, investors, and the global C-suite proceed at a dangerously relaxed, incremental pace. There are plenty of projects designed to boost efficiency and effectiveness, to satisfy and even exceed customer needs and wants; but the need for system change is largely ignored.
  3. The Breakthrough scenario, by contrast, assumes that with the usual ups and downs and ins and outs, the trajectory of our societies and economies is pointed toward a very different set of outcomes–in fields as disparate, but still intimately interlinked, as population growth, pandemics, poverty, pollution, and evolution of new forms of global governance.

The epic nature of the challenges we face are outlined by two Volans co-founders,John Elkington (one of the co-authors) and Pamela Hartigan. A former managing director of the World Economic Forum and now director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, Hartigan underscores the power of narrative, of effective storytelling. In that spirit, she characterizes our current task as taking a “Humpty-Dumpty economy” that can’t be put back together in the old way–and rendering it fit for purpose in a world of nine to 10 billion people.

Read more . . .

via FastCoExist – 


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