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“Humanity is just a work in progress”. Tennessee Williams, Playwright

In 2026 the global human population is expected to reach 8 billion. Now more than ever before, issues related to population density, poverty, peace, and security are on the minds of some of the planet’s top thinkers. This Katerva category covers all initiatives related to maintaining and improving the quality of life for all people despite the growing population.

As we understand human development to be about the capability for us humans to have a long and healthy life, this category touches on many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It is not one alone but successfully addressing all of them, simultaneously that we will be able to create  a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for all people, and our planet: from 'no poverty' and 'zero hunger', to 'good health and wellbeing' and 'quality education', to 'reduced inequalities' and peace, justice and strong institutions'.  And not to forget 'climate action', life below water' and 'life on land'.  Without a healthy planet’s healthful the above is for naught.

How do we define and measure human development?

As mentioned in last month’s reflection on our Economy category, GDP remains the dominant measure of improvements of standards of living. Yet visionaries such as the 4th King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, and Robert Kennedy already highlighted shortcomings of GDP in the late 1960s and early 1970s respectively, namely that it fails to account for non-material aspects such as relationships, freedom, and happiness.   

Disgruntlement with GDP as the sole measure of human welfare grew from there, leading to the development of the Human Development Index (HDI) in 1990. The HDI came out of the work of the United Nations, led by Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and Indian economist Amartya Sen.  While GDP considers human development from a purely economic perspctie,  the HDI adds a Life Expectancy Index and an Education Index to the mix. 

The HDI has been used by the United Nations Development Program and fundamentally changed our understanding of what is meant by countries becoming “more developed.”

One of the originators of the HDI, Amartya Sen, has received the Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences in 1998 for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory and for his interest in the problems of society's poorest members. His particular view on what constituted human development is “Development as Freedom”, which is also the title of his seminal book published in 1998. He equates human development with a set of freedoms, namely,

  • political freedoms and transparency in relations between people
  • freedom of opportunity, including freedom to access credit; and
  • economic protection from abject poverty, including through income supplements and unemployment relief.

Arguing that all of us are entitled to have a good life and enjoy things equally, he states that human development is not about focusing on what people lack (modernisation or goods), but whether they have the freedom to live the way they choose. The “unfreedoms” that prevent lifestyle choices include market inequalities, a lack of education opportunities, state violence, malnutrition, discrimination and natural hazards.

The recognition that inequality also leads to a loss in human development has led to further evolution of the HDI: the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) which was instituted in 2010.  To arrive at the IHDI a country’s average achievements in health, education and income are combined with how those achievements are distributed among country’s population, “discounting” each dimension’s average value according to its level of inequality (UNDP).  

The importance of this cannot be underestimated. Political and environmental activist, George Monbiot claims that we have an “Economic crisis of patrimonial wealth”, which distorts the economy. Rather than trickling down, wealth is accumulated by the rich and while the rich get richer, the poor poorer - as he elaborates eloquently in his lecture at Falmouth University, UK of Mach 2018 (see below).

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Taking it another step further is Michael Green’s Social Progress Index, introduced in 2014. It measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens, combining data on 54 domains. Green argues that if we prioritise human development above GDP, we can make a lot more social progress. He shows that economic growth actually isn’t helping towards the global goals. Some countries, like Costa Rica, are not achieving high levels of GDP but are achieving a high level of social progress – with prioritised education, health and environmental recovery. The essence of his thinking is capture in his 2015 TED talk.

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While the HDI, IDHI and SDI are already great improvements over the traditional GDP, one critical aspects is still conspicuously underrepresented: the environment. Increasingly, thinkers such as George Monbiot are flagging the necessity to bring the planet into the conversation as a healthy  ecosystem is essential for mankind to thrive. George Monbiot says “We have to overthrow this system that is eating the planet. Since when was GDP a sensible measure of human welfare?” 

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In his book, “The Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis”, he points out that the ecological cleansing of land and sea by the food industry is the biggest crisis humanity is facing; due to soil erosion we may have just sixty years of food production left.

This view is echoed in the One Planet Living Framework, developed in 2002 by Bioregional; the framework emphasises a vision of the world in which people enjoy happy, healthy lives within their fair share of the earth’s resources, leaving space for wildlife and wilderness.

Kate Raworth, already introduced in the Economy newsletter, has brought the environmental constraints and social aspirations together in her pioneering concept: Doughnut Economics. Her new economic model measures the performance of an economy by the extent to which the needs of people are met without overshooting Earth’s ecological ceiling. In her book of the same title, Kate explains how many economists and political leaders to whom she had presented her framework said they had always viewed the world in this way, but hadn’t seen it presented in a model they could get on board with (now they no longer have this excuse….). 

Kate’s doughnut shaped diagram below pictures her model, whereby the lower boundary, Social Foundation, describing the minimum access to life's essentials for everyone: healthcare, education, equity, etc.; while the outer boundary, Ecological Ceiling, represents the ecological constraints, also referred to as planetary boundary, which we  must not overshot if we want to survive in the long run.

There are nine of these ecological ceilings and twelve social foundations to be met, only then can an economy be called prosperous and humanity adequately served. This situation is represented by the area between the two rings: 'the safe and just space for humanity'.


By the way, there is also a concept called ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ which is the day in a year on which  we humans have used up more of Earth's resources than it can regenerate within one year.  In 2018 it was the 1st August, meaning that from the 2ndAugust 2018 we were borrowing from our future.   

Katerva nominees collectively address Kate’s social foundations and factors which threaten our natural world and resources. Starting with education, which is critical to enable people to thrive because it leads to social, economic and intellectual development Katerva Finalist in the Behaviour Change category in 2018, Kiron Open Higher Education, enables access to higher education for refugees worldwide through digital innovation and strategic partnerships. Unlike most other online services for refugees, Kiron negotiates learning agreements for the recognition of prior learning with partner universities, who can then award up to 60 credits for completed Kiron modules according to the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS). Kiron overall ambition is to create cohesion between host communities and refugees.Some groups in the world are particularly excluded from receiving a good enough education, particularly refugees. Global conflicts have forced over 65 million people worldwide into exile, and less than 1% have access to higher education.


The brave young Pakistani activist and co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai, who stood up to the Taliban and fought for the right for all girls to receive an education, is a beacon of hope for young girls everywhere, and reminds us of the inequality of access to education that still remains in the world. Katerva nominees are seeking to rebalance this by empowering underserved girls. One example, Girls Going Global - 2019 Gender Equality category Finalist, is an organisation that provides tools, mentorship and education to girls aged 13-17. Martice Suttton, who founded Girls Going Global, is one of the many Katerva nominees who have creatively generated projects as a conequence of their own life experiences. Martice founded Girls Going Global after recognising how her travels to different countries had affected her. When asked of how she got to where she is today, she replied,  "I credit my mother. My mother did a good job allowing me to be. If I came to her with an idea, nine times out of 10 she was supportive. If I said I wanted to do drama, she would sign me up for drama camp. When I was interested in modelling, she found a modeling class. When I told her I was going to study abroad in Barcelona, she was, like, what? I think many times she would think, what is this girl up to now? But she never tried to discourage me." Through her social enterprise Martice wants to support and enable other girls in the same way.

There is also unfair access to technology amongst children around the world and there are still millions of young kids around the world being taught the way their grandparents were. Roybi, 2019 Behavior Change category Finalist, is an AI-powered companion robot for kids 3-7 years old in early childhood education and language development. As they state on their website, "Getting children to engage with educational robots early provides educational, social, and emotional fulfilment that lasts until adulthood."

Another critical aspect of human development is health and wellbeing. Better health is central to human happiness and wellbeing. It also makes, according to the World Health Organisation, an important contribution to economic progress: healthy populations live longer, are more productive, and save more. Some breakthroughs have been made by Katerva nominees. Standardized laboratory testing fails, up to 75% of the time, to identify pathogens that cause infection. Human Development category Finalist 2019 Aperiomics has develop a test that identifies every bacteria, virus, fungus & parasite in one single step through next-generation sequencing of DNA/RNA from blood, swab, urine, fecal, tissue or other samples.

A growing field in healthcare is personalized medicine, the tailoring of medical treatment to the individual characteristics  and genetic make-up of each individual patient. The approach relies on scientific breakthroughs in our understanding of how a person's unique molecular and genetic profile makes them susceptible to certain diseases. Molecular Fingerprint (mPrint) enables personalized medicine through predictive analytics and biomarker discovery. mPrint are another of our  Human Development category Finalist in 2019.

Access to food is essential to optimal development and function in children and adults. Food insecurity, and hunger persist as problems in all countries and affects billions of people. Collectively humankind must also plan for a growing global population in the face of a reduction in arable land due to soil erosion and lack of biodiversity. Amartya Sen memorably describes in his book “Development as Freedom” that famine is rarely due to lack of food but rather access to it. Indeed,  close to one third of the world's food production is wasted every year, accounting for roughly 1.3 billion tons and nearly $990 billion dollars. 

Political upheaval is another factor impacting food security. Agricultural livelihoods are often deeply disrupted by regional conflicts which both undermines the livelihood of farmers, and prevents goods from reaching markets in traditional ways. Conflictfood, 2019 Economy category Finalist, identifies traditional agricultural products in conflict-stricken countries around the world, such as Afghanistan, Myanmar or Yemen. Establishing relationships with local farmers, they create a sustainable value chain for the farmers' products, ensuring both a more steady income stream, and a distribution of their produce. 

One final example, which addresses a key driver of many of the factors preventing equal and sustainable human development, corruption, is Integrity Idol. Indeed, corruption costs over $2 trillion a year- and perpetuates poverty, inequality and insecurity in every country around the world. The World Bank estimates that it leads directly well over 3 million deaths a year, and indirectly to tens of millions more. Rather than 'naming & shaming', they focus on 'naming and faming'.  

Let's end how we started: ultimately all aspects of the sustainable development are interconnected and contribute towards human development. This is why Katerva does not focus on one particular aspect or any one Sustainable Development Goal. Our ten categories are constructed in a way that each and every projects that helps to accelerate our path towards sustainability can find its home. People cannot grow, live well and be happy unless all aspects of sustainability are addressed. We therefore love projects that address all three aspects of the 3 'Ps' of the triple bottom line equally: profit, people and planet. Ideally our nominees also address the most critical aspect in it all, the fourth 'P': the (individual) person. If GDP remains the one and only measure of human progress, entrepreneurs and organisation such as our nominees have to innovate against the system, rather than being supported and encourage by it.   

Please do keep an eye out for any projects that help to move the needle for creating a sustainable future for all of us, and if you come across any, please send them our way!

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