Being no.1 at what counts – building a better Australia

The Social Progress Imperative has launched the 2016 Social Progress Index with support from Deloitte and its strategic partners.

As a nation, we Australians are a competitive people. The Olympic fever that gripped us in August, the excitement around  the September grand finals in AFL and NRL, the now-annual despondency over our Bledisloe Cup defeats in rugby, remind us that we like to come first; we value the sportspeople who can deliver wins for Australia.

This green-and-gold competitive spirit also comes to the fore when we top any list, as we frequently do. In various annual rankings, Australian cities are the most liveable, attractions the most scenic, our universities are great and quality of life is excellent.

So when the Social Progress Index  has issued in previous years, there has almost been an expectation that Australia would feature towards the top of it.  This year is no different. We are ranked fourth on the Index, meaning in a global comparison of the outcomes that matter most to people – basic human needs, wellbeing and opportunity – we have an almost perfect score.

social progress index


The 2016 Index measures what really matters to citizens — health care, infrastructure, civil liberties – the very characteristics that are the foundation for sustainable societies. Deloitte and SPI are working together to get a global view of people’s quality of life, independent of wealth.

As can be seen in the excerpt from the SPI above, Australia’s doing very well on most indicators – only Finland, Canada and Denmark rank higher.

But really, should we expect anything less than this? Australia has enjoyed 25 straight years of uninterrupted economic growth.  We have undoubtedly leveraged some of this growth to improve on the performance of the social indicators for our population, where others have not (for example the US – 19th on the SPI this year. Despite its huge GDP, social outcomes for US citizens are average). But maybe this year, in the third year of the SPI, it’s time to move on from congratulating ourselves for how well we’re doing and take a real look at what  it means to be in this position and what we can do with it.

Australia’s high ranking reflects our ability to resolve many of the issues that other countries continue to face. Problems such as clean water, access to education etc. are relatively straight forward to resolve once you have the resources and the resolve to solve them. But what about the stubborn issues left unresolved? Developing a truly inclusive society, improving outcomes for the disadvantaged, managing complex social reforms (e.g. NDIS), and solving domestic violence are some of the serious issues that seem to be very difficult to get movement on in this country.

Why is this? These are certainly complex issues, but I believe our main problem has been in trying to tackle them as separate entities. Complex issues require complex solutions – no one actor can solve them on their own. Government, private sector, NGOs, academia, philanthropists and social enterprises all need to work together to take on this next phase of problem solving for Australia, this phase two.

Often the most challenging part of the process is not finding the actual solutions, but learning how to bring together different actors, understanding what their roles are and identifying win-win outcomes. As the world faces these increasingly complex social challenges, the Index acts as a road map to guide policy makers’ investments, resources and collaborations. It can help businesses identify the areas where urgent social progress is needed and how they can contribute.

The Social Impact Consulting team that I lead facilitates the coming together of government, business and the not-for-profit sector to take on these complex social challenges. We have worked with a variety of government, private and not-for-profit (NFP) organisations, helping them to forge partnerships and build relationships where none have existed. One of our recent projects involved helping a federal government organisation develop its engagement strategy with the private sector. With our knowledge of the ultimate outcomes that the organisation wanted to achieve, and our familiarity with the right actors in the not-for- profit and business sector, we were able to develop a strategy based on consultation and information from the right sources which established a new partnership model from the start.

In my work with disability providers, the NFP sector, business, and government departments, I see firsthand the advantages that cooperation and relationships across sectors brings.  If we can come together to truly collaborate, I believe Australia could take the lead on solving issues that have been problems for generations.

So let’s work together to top another list – first country in the world to find a solution to an ‘unsolvable’ problem. Wouldn’t that be a position to aspire to?

Want to stay up-to-date?

Stay on trend and in the know when you sign up for our latest content