This week at Rio+20 there has been an overwhelming recognition that we need a new paradigm that looks at a wider set of indicators than simply gross domestic product (GDP) to determine development and progress. For high GDP countries, we can no longer take it for granted that being rich is enough to ensure the well-being of your population. For poorer countries, we can no longer assume that improving the economy as a whole, will deliver real and positive change for poorer members of society. For many governments, it was a core belief that GDP was and is the most important indicator of growth. These firm held measurements have been called into question by the economic crisis and there has been consensus this week at Rio that we need a new model of growth performance: One that works for society and the environment and prioritises well-being and sustainability.
The beyond GDP agenda argues that we can’t merely focus on GDP for indictors of development; we need to look further to quality of life and well-being. The move towards an approach that measures well-being and other indicators has been led by Bhutan where, since the 1970s, they have prioritised GNH, or gross national happiness, over GDP. The focus of Bhutan’s growth and development efforts has been to implement policies aimed at accomplishing this goal and this week, their example, (whilst not perfect) has served as a catalyst for a broadened outlook on what development indicators should look like: Life expectancy, poverty rates, unemployment, disposable income, education levels, civil engagement, personal security and satisfaction are all suggested indicators that could be used to give a clearer indication of social progress.
If we move towards using both subjective and objective indicators to fully capture measures of progress it means that poverty eradication efforts should focus not just on delivering basic needs packages; they must set themselves higher goals to promote well-being as well.
So why is all this talk of well-being important to Sightsavers? This new paradigm could support Sightsavers’ work with disabled people in developing countries; not just to have their basic needs met to ensure their survival; but to have the opportunity to live the life that they choose.
Disabled people can face a myriad of challenges due to social, environmental and attitudinal barriers. They can be ostracised within their community due to their disability; for both disabled men and women it can affect their health, their ability to support themselves and even their marriage prospects.
A beyond GDP perspective would mean that as well as supporting disabled people to advocate for their basic needs, such as accessible and inclusive water and sanitation or secure food access it would also support on-going work to drive forward a framework that prioritises general satisfaction with life, adding a nuanced picture of health and assessing standards of individual and family life. It will support disabled people to be at the centre of their communities; to have a secure and fulfilling home-life; to have the opportunity to learn and train; to have choices about how they make a living and to break down any barriers that impede their access to these fundamental elements of life and society.
It has been said many times this week that Rio+20 must be about integration, implementation and coherence. Disabled people’s needs must be integrated into the sustainable development agenda; the implementation of that agenda must work with and for disabled people and this must be done coherently across all elements of sustainable development, especially inclusive growth. The rhetoric is great but it is here, on the final day of the conference that the hard work starts. We must have a clear picture of what this new paradigm will mean in practice, how it will support existing social inclusion work and most importantly; it must ensure that disabled people are at the centre of the process, driving it forward.
Please note that Sightsavers' blog posts are the opinions of the author and contributors, meant to encourage debate and discussion, and not Sightsavers' official policy positions, which can be found here.