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Creating a community-led, grassroots vision of prosperity

There are two main problems with the GDP approach to measuring prosperity. Firstly, it is only material. We have explored the problem with this in great detail. We do need some idea of whether society has enough material wealth to provide for people, but after a certain point this is no longer useful. The second problem with GDP is the fact that it tries to apply a universal idea of success to the whole planet. Having one measurement as the main measurement of human progress is too crude, as it cannot come to terms with the intricate ways people live their lives, and the specific circumstances of billions of peoples pathway to prosperity.

Introducing non-economic measures of progress solves one of these problems. They capture other elements of progress that are not material. For example, the Social Progress Index explicitly does not measure anything economic. It measures social progress in three dimensions: Basic Human Needs, Foundations of Wellbeing, and Opportunity. This successfully accounts for the main shortcoming of the GDP approach.

But there is no perfect set of measurements. In the same way GDP cannot provide one formula of success for billions of people, a set of indices selected to provide a more wholesome image of success still isn’t perfect. Alienation and disillusionment doesn’t only come from the misdirection of our economic life. It also comes from the complete lack of control people have over that direction.

We can create new pathways to prosperity by rejecting the idea of an international framework that works for all countries, and start looking to involve local people in their own decisions and their own future. Co-designing prosperity can create a vision of prosperity that stays true to local complexities, whilst still upholding the international goal of flourishing and thriving for everyone.

The IGP is developing methods and tools we believe will enable people to define prosperity for themselves, in their own local context. This will develop local understandings of the ideas of a good life in the area, and the specific obstacles to thriving. Once this is achieved, policymakers, businesses and communities can make more informed efforts to move towards global prosperity.

We are in the early stages of building this tool and in the next steps you’ll get an idea of how it’s being applied. But before we do, what do you think would make this kind of approach effective? What are some potential obstacles?

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This article is from the free online course:

Global Prosperity Beyond GDP

UCL (University College London)