By Jose R. Molinas Vega, Ph.D, Minister-Secretary of Planning for Economic and Social Development. Republic of Paraguay
Last December the Paraguayan Government agreed on a national development plan, Paraguay 2030, outlining concrete steps and objectives to drive our country’s economic, social and international policy. A key feature that makes our ambitious plan for widespread reform innovative is the way we plan to measure and monitor these changes – using the Social Progress Index as our benchmark of advances.
Arising from a wide societal consensus about the vision of our country’s future, the plan was initiated by the administration of President Horacio Cartes, involving leaders from across the country including social activists, academics, entrepreneurs and political leaders. It has evolved into nothing short of a wide societal consensus about the vision of our country’s future. The goals are ambitious – aiming to achieve a truly competitive and inclusive country, free from extreme poverty, with equal opportunities for all and social development indicators among the highest in South America, while striving towards a knowledge-based economy.
But why is this approach to driving social progress so innovative? Because by using the Social Progress Index as our barometer of success it’s an acknowledgement that GDP and economic measures alone no longer offer an adequate assessment of a society’s well-being.
A Social Progress Index Steering Committee was established in Paraguay in 2013 which reviewed our country’s results in the 2013 Social Progress Index Report and decided that the scores for indicators such as Undernourishment, Water and Sanitation, or Shelter were not acceptable. The result was that the Executive branch of our Government officially adopted the Social Progress Index as a measure of the country’s social well-being and as a way to measure the impact of social investment. The seriousness with which this concept was taken by the Paraguayan Government is evidenced by the fact that the Secretary of Planning for Social and Economic Development was charged with leading this initiative.
The plan contains specific and actionable social goals: defeating poverty, increasing life expectancy and mental health, ensuring personal safety as well as safe shelter and transport, reducing environmental hazards, broadening access to the internet, protecting biodiversity, promoting women’s rights, securing inclusion of least one Paraguayan university in the world’s top 400 while increasing overall access to tertiary education. But this is not just about Government finding solutions to these problems. From the very start stakeholders from across society have been engaged in this process. Why? Because we believe that change has to come from civil society, academia and business as well as national and local government – collaboration is the key.
By using the Social Progress Index methodology we can consistently compare Paraguay’s advances to those of other countries. Much like GDP is used as a scorecard for economic advance, we are encouraging Paraguayan stakeholders to focus on those areas of need highlighted by the Index so that we can prove to the world that our country takes social issues as seriously as economic issues. Indeed, the 1992 Constitution of Paraguay enshrines the use of development plans to promote social and cultural as well as economic development.
The approved Government Budget for 2015 has already been aligned with the 12 priorities identified by the National Development Plan 2030. It includes important investments in the water and sanitation sector (aiming at building sewage treatment plants that will expand coverage to an additional half the population) and a sharp increase in funds allocated to reduce undernourishment figures in Paraguay (more than 30% increase from previous year).
Paraguay 2030 is the country’s first such plan in a quarter of a century. It provides Paraguayans with a focussed and credible roadmap to social development. We hope that this trailblazing effort will encourage other countries to focus their energies on driving social progress in the same way and adopt the Social Progress Index as their formal measure of monitoring and evaluation.