Next-gen metrics for inclusive growth

Earlier this month at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, I joined political, civic, and business leaders in a panel discussion about lifting the health of the Americas. We are developing solutions as the Partnership for Central America (PCA), the largest public-private-academic partnership ever assembled for international development.

In just one year, the PCA has mobilized more than $3.2 billion in investment and enabled 2 million people across El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala to access an expanded range of opportunities, including new jobs, digital skills, access to formal banking, and more.

As leader of the PCA metrics pillar, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has teamed up with leaders in analytics and data science to support this initiative by developing an exciting Impact Metrics Dashboard for Northern Central America.

The Dashboard offers an unmatched window into living conditions and attitudes at the neighborhood level. It allows — for the first time ever — analysis of the social fabric. In each individual community, Dashboard users can see how many adults intend to migrate, how many trust the government and how many retain hope for the future. They can then correlate these data with dozens of other localized metrics, such as employment status, educational attainment, exposure to violence — even access to high-quality childcare, internet, banks and health clinics.

We believe the Dashboard can become a game-changer if used well. In a recent op-ed, I join our co-creators of the Dashboard in arguing that it’s vital we raise the standard of living for broad swaths of the population across the Americas through an intentional and determined focus on creating inclusive growth.

Inclusive growth requires discarding the notion that the absolute number of jobs is the only, or most important, metric to track in a program of economic growth. It requires breaking through silos and bringing together multiple sectors to build a web of interrelated programs, from extending internet access and telehealth in remote communities to offering childcare to support women entering the workforce. Inclusive growth is a surround-sound approach to nurturing a better quality of life — the difference between a lone musician banging on a bass drum and a well-orchestrated symphony.

Inclusive growth is not a novel concept. Regional development banks have been promoting the approach for years. But many countries in the Americas have struggled to put the idea into practice because their civic institutions are weak and their social fabric is frayed. Citizens don’t trust their leaders to govern fairly or transparently; they don’t expect public works or social services to benefit them; they don’t see a point in starting a business or developing a new idea because they know corruption and crime will undermine their venture. This all adds up to a loss of hope — and, too often, spurs citizens’ determination to flee their home country at any cost.

Jobs alone won’t solve the overlapping crises of migration, inflation and vast societal inequities that exist in many pockets of the Americas, much less the continued challenges of climate change and pandemic response.

It’s imperative we combine economic opportunity with a bold job creation strategy that focuses on inclusive growth. Only then can we rekindle hope in a region where optimism for the future has long been in short supply. If the Dashboard’s precision approach to driving inclusive growth takes root, we may succeed in lifting the health of communities across the Americas now and for years to come.