South Africa’s social progress ranking

 ·3 Apr 2014
South Africa map

New Zealand tops a new list of 132 countries when judged on social and environmental performance including basic human needs, foundations of well-being, and opportunity.

South Africa, is ranked 69th, and trails Mauritius (34th) and Botswana (57th) in Africa, Tunisia and Namibia closes out the top five countries on the African continent.

The report, compiled by US-based non-profit organisation, the Social Progress Imperative, finds that economic growth does not always result in social progress.

The SPI was created by a team led by Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School and rates 132 countries on more than 50 indicators, including health, sanitation, shelter, personal safety, access to information, sustainability, tolerance and inclusion and access to education.

New Zealand is followed by Switzerland, and Iceland and have closely grouped scores of 88.24, 88.19, and 88.07 out of 100, respectively.

The remainder of the top ten includes a group of Northern European nations (Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark), Canada and Australia. These countries are closely bunched, with scores of between 86 and 88.

Perhaps surprisingly, the US ranks 16th behind Canada (7th) and the UK (13th), with Germany 12th, while Russia ranked 80th in the Index.

Chad ranked last, below Central African Republic, Burundi, Guinea, Sudan, Angola, Niger, Yemen, Pakistan and Nigeria.

South Africa

SA is ranked 58th for GDP (PPP) at $9,860 per capita. PPP GDP is gross domestic product converted to international dollars using purchasing power parity rates.

The country has a Social Progress Index score of 62.96 (69th overall).

South Africa scores particularly well on Opportunity (61.19, 40th), but ranks poorly on Foundations of Well-being (67.49, 71st), and even lower on Basic Human Needs (60.20 94th). For Personal Safety, SA ranks at its lowest, 128th, with a score of 30.90.

The report says that South Africa does best in areas including Nutrition and Basic Medical Care and has the greatest opportunity to improve human well-being by focusing more on Personal Safety.

It finds that South Africa excels at providing building blocks for people’s lives such as access to basic knowledge, but would benefit from greater investment in ecosystem sustainability.

“Of issues covered by the opportunity dimension, South Africa outperforms in providing opportunities for people to improve their position in society and scores highly in personal rights, yet falls short in access to advanced education,” it said.


Brazil is the top of the BRICS, followed by South Africa, Russia, China, and India.

Apart from Brazil, the BRICs are all significant under-performers on social progress, suggesting that, for China and India in particular, rapid economic growth is not yet being converted into better lives for their citizens, the report said.

Only Brazil (46th) ranks better on social progress than it does on GDP per capita (57th). Russia has a higher GDP than Brazil (39th) yet ranks lower on the Social Progress Index (80th).

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa scores the lowest of all the regions on average Social Progress Index score.

It ranks lowest on Basic Human Needs and Foundations of Well-being. However, Sub-Saharan Africa scores slightly better than the Middle East & North Africa region on Opportunity.

The most challenging component within this dimension is shelter, averaging only 31.62 across the region, with five countries scoring under 15 points.

Nutrition and basic medical care is the top performing component, averaging 61.43, the report found.

With Foundations of Well-being the average score is 55.78. On the region’s most challenging component being Access to information and communications, averaging 42.34, due to a of low percentage of internet users.

“Sub-Saharan Africa’s lowest scores are in the opportunity dimension. The region’s most challenging component is access to advanced education, averaging 17.67, where South Africa (40.66, 71st) and Mauritius (35.24, 80th) stand out in the region,” SPI said.

More on South Africa

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South Africa’s most violent city

The “selfiest” city in South Africa

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