#PROGRESO SOCIAL PARAGUAY: REINVENTING THE FUTURE

On December 23, 2014 the President of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes, signed Decree 2794 presenting the 2030 National Development Plan that, when approved by Congress, will guide development in Paraguay for the next 15 years. “The goals are ambitious – aiming to achieve a truly competitive and inclusive country, free from extreme poverty, with equal opportunities for all and social development indicators among the highest in South America”, stated José Molinas Vega, Paraguay’s Minister of Planning.

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The plan outlines concrete steps and objectives to drive that country’s economic, social and international policy. A key feature of this plan for widespread reform is the innovative way the country will measure and monitor its development: the Social Progress Index. The Decree and the plan (translated from the original Spanish) both declare: “To monitor the efficiency of public spending and the effect that it is generating in the population, the methodology proposed by the Social Progress Index will be used. This methodology measures only results in social and environmental issues, in a multi-dimensional way, which will provide a comprehensive overview of social progress in the country and place it in a proper international context.” According to Raul Gauto, of Fundación Avina and a social progress champion in Paraguay, “we aim to evolve from being mere budget spenders to measure change in social progress that these investments generate in our population.”

This ambitious plan to use the Social Progress Index to formally guide a country’s social investments began in 2013, when a Social Progress Index Steering Committee was established in Paraguay acknowledging that while economic growth was an opportunity, it was not sufficient to deliver social progress. The plan arose from “a wide societal consensus about the vision of our country’s future,” according to Minister Molinas. It involved leaders from across the country including social activists, academics, entrepreneurs and politicians.

Only two years later, thanks to the work of #Progreso Social Paraguay and the commitment of two successive heads of state, the country’s national development plan contains specific and actionable social goals, including improving life expectancy and mental health, ensuring personal safety, reducing environmental hazards, broadening access to the Internet, protecting biodiversity, promoting women’s rights, securing inclusion of least one Paraguayan university in the world’s top 400, and increasing overall access to tertiary education. The country’s government and a broad coalition of actors from different sectors of society believe that these targets, along with a commitment to economic growth, will position Paraguay to be a regional leader by 2030.

The Government Budget for 2015 has been aligned with the 12 priorities identified by the National Development Plan 2030, and has already been discussed and approved in the National Congress. It includes, for example, important investments in the water sector (115 million USD to build three sewage treatment plants) and a sharp increase in funds allocated to reduce undernourishment in Paraguay (from 10 million USD in 2014 to 22 million in 2015 and hopefully 40 million in 2016).

Addressing nutrition, for example, will no longer be solely the focus of the government. #Progreso Social Paraguay has collaborated with the FAO to create new foods of high nutritional quality. Members of the network have convinced mayors and governors to designate storage facilities in rural areas so that the National Institute for Nutrition could safely store food closer to where it is consumed, reducing spoilage and cost, and making distribution possible even when heavy rains cut road access to remote areas.

To improve housing, the government will underwrite certain risks so that the private sector can finance housing for young married couples in both urban and rural areas. A working group on housing has met with the national union of architects and engineers to develop new models for social housing, to look for alternatives beyond traditional, slow, and expensive brick construction, which many in Paraguay have considered the only option for home construction and which has contributed to a lack of housing.

Thirty-four public and private organizations have been brought together to agree to an action plan through 2017 that details specific goals and initiatives to improve public works in water and sanitation. #Progreso Social Paraguay has also helped connect the ministry of public works with indigenous communities to plan the large Chaco Aqueduct, an infrastructure project backed by the Government of Spain and the Inter-American Development Bank to aid an area where 80 percent of the population does not have access to a stable water source. Previous failures to consult with local communities have led to instances of multiple water systems being built for one community while a neighboring community went without.

Referring to the National Development Plan as “a unique event in the history of our country,” President Cartes said. “2015 will be a big year for Paraguay.”