Thoughts on Measuring Progress

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What does progress mean these days? For countries, it could be a higher Gross Domestic Product per capita (GDP per capita) or a fancy new mall down the capitol’s road. For ordinary joes, it could be a promotion or 100 on an exam. As humans, we obsess over numbers and indicators to tell us that country A is doing better than country B. I would argue that the most famous of all numbers are income numbers. We are hypnotized to believe that the more zeroes you have the better and more powerful you are. In a way the global economy revolves around the power of green pieces of paper and plastic cards.

I still believe that there is a part of the economy that exist beyond the realm of monetary value. More specifically, it exists in the relationships that human beings have with one another. It exists in exchanges and in selfless acts of kindness. It is easy to forget the very social aspects that can still operate within the system.  How families, friends and communities can contribute to your growth as a human being without ever asking for anything in return.

Constraining ourselves to money measures will only get us so far.  Lower-income countries obsess over funding and aid, which often times seem like challenges that can’t be overcome. However, problems can be solved too by looking in as much as we find the need to look out. Tapping the communities that exist should be seen as a solution more than it is seen as a problem. This reminded me of a short discussion that I had with my fellow interns on Maternal Health. Sweden in the 1900s had significantly cut their maternal mortality rates by simply training local midwives. At the time, Sweden was relatively poor than other industrial countries like the USA and UK yet they were able to cut more than half of the mortality rates.

So how do we measure progress? Progress should not be measured by numbers alone. World leaders should probably spend a little more time in making sure that their own communities are co-existing peacefully together. Our obsession with number can go a long way but more importantly fostering a sense of genuine community and togetherness will be the even greater challenge of this decade.

Written by Melissa De la Cruz, a current intern at the WYA Headquarters from Cebu, Philippines.