Human development index — just numbers?

The Human Development Index started to be implemented a little more than a decade ago, only 10 years after its creation by economist Mahbub Ul Haq in 1990, and today extensively used by the United National Development Programme (UNDP). The ambition, and goal, is to shift the focus of development economics “from national income to people centred policies”, thus answering our global need to measure human development, and therefore provide policymakers and leaders with data and information to assess development taking into account not just economic progress, but also human wellbeing and the quality of life.

The Human Development Index, is, as the name suggests, an index, that results from calculations based on qualitative and quantitative criteria grounded on three major indicators: 

  1. Life Expectancy. 
  2. A number of years of schooling. 
  3. Gross National Income per capita, in order to assess life standards and quality. 

Since 2010 UNDP publishes an HDI report measuring human development country by country, where 1 to 66 are very high scores; 67–119 are a good score; 120–156 scores are regarded as average; 157–189 are the lowest scores. Providing a whole new viewpoint on development and the role of economics and policy when development is seen under the HDI glass. Another interesting tool out there is the HPI, the Human Poverty Index, with a focus on deprivations, inequalities in society, and low incomes, but this deserves an article on its own, and indeed both can serve the purpose of more informed decision-making and leadership.

Simply put, the Human Development Index measures the quality of life and what a person is able to do, be and accomplish, such as being healthy, working, receiving an education, taking part in decision making, participating in communities, having a complete diet, and freedom of choice is the keyword here. So, our understanding is that the HDI assessment and indicators set the ground for choices and policies that can put in motion economic, environmental and sustainability processes, necessary to overcome today’s obstacles and challenges to wellbeing.

Combining together the Human Development and Poverty Indexes we get a very interesting and fairly easy to use formula to calculate and observe realities and the wellbeing of its communities, UNDP uses it for its yearly country-assessment, however, the formulas of HDI and HPI can be applied at any territorial level, regions, cities, communities, even neighborhoods. In the future, it is likely that these models will be upgraded and expanded, as well as adapted to the emerging realities, and looking at today this has a very high potential to support responsible and sustainable decision-making grounds that aim at both well-being and wealth.

I will leave you with a little food for thought; there is a clear contrast visible when looking at the G7, which is the exclusive club of the richest and most powerful countries in the world; USA, China, Germany, France, UK, Italy, Japan, and Canada; None of them rank among the top seven countries with the highest score on the Human Development Index: Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Ireland, Denmark, and Sweden, although it is the G7 are the driving economic and political force on our planet. Interesting!

Published by Lorenzo Nava

Consultant, Trainer and Coach, on participatory learning processes, experiential learning dynamics, non formal education and NLP certified practitioner

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