Cabrero Commune

Original Article was written by me to Social Progress Imperative. You can see it in the following link:

The Cabrero commune, located in the Bio Bio region in Chile, will celebrate its 90th birthday as an independent commune in 2017. Over its history, it has achieved important social advances for its now almost thirty thousand inhabitants, but life still falls short of the standards set by the Sustainable Development Goals.

The commune knows that what gets measured gets managed. As improving the population’s wellbeing is a crucial goal, the Social Progress Index has become an essential tool to go beyond the traditional purely economic approach to measure success relying on standard measurements of economic growth like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.

True to the original model developed to measure the wellbeing of entire nations, the Social Progress Index for the Cabrero Commune focuses on measuring the non-economic dimensions of wellbeing and assesses results instead of inputs. It includes three large dimensions: satisfaction of Basic Human Needs which covers basic medical care, nutrition, access to water and sanitation, shelter and personal safety. The second dimension refers to the characteristics of the surrounding environment as Foundations of Wellbeing, and it groups indicators on access to knowledge, information and communications, health results, and environmental quality. Finally, the index incorporates an Opportunity dimension, which focuses on personal rights, civil liberties, tolerance and inclusion. The Cabrero Index also includes indicators that are particularly relevant to the commune and that are not a part of the model used to assess countries. These locally relevant indicators were incorporated into each dimension after a participatory process in the commune involving local government, academia, civil society, and the private sector. These indicators guarantee that the Index speaks to the concerns of the people in the commune.

Findings and solutions

This section aims to present a few examples of how to move from the creation of a Social Progress Index and the analysis of its results to action. (For an exhaustive account of the findings of this Social Progress Index, or of the actions that have been coordinated around it since the official results were presented on December 13, 2016, please see the complete Technical Report in Spanish).

One important subject in the Basic Human Needs dimension is access to piped water. Even though the commune achieves a good overall score (84.44/100), the rural part of the commune only manages a 67.72/100, with 25% of homes lacking access to piped water in the household. The rural population is both scattered and remotely situated, which makes conventional solutions like centralized pipes economically nonfeasible.

Summary results of the 2016 Social Progress Index for the Cabrero Commune

So the Social Progress Committee (the group of stakeholders who manage the creation of the Index and the interventions guided by it [see more below]) decided to focus on improving access to piped water by installing small decentralized systems. As a member of the Social Progress Committee, the nonprofit Fundación Avina is promoting an initiative so that Cabrero may be one of the communes that benefits from the installation of an innovative water purification system developed by the company AIC-Rotoplast [1]. They are working to get money from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) for this purpose.

The score for the Health & Wellness component was 78.75/100. This score reflected the findings that:

  • 28.57% of people interviewed claimed that they never engage in physical activity.
  • 24.73% are reported to be overweight, with a higher incidence in young adults (31% among those 26 to 40 years of age) and middle aged people (30% among those 41 to 65 years).
  • relatively few people engage in recreational activities (58.9%).

To advance health and wellness in the commune, the local company and Social Progress Committee member MASISA is working with the Municipality to design a local recreational and cultural program to provide resources for education on physical health and nutrition.

As to education, even though 93.8% of the people in the commune can read and write, there is a sharp difference in the education level between the urban and rural populations. Access to higher education is low and scores only 54.92/100 points. The people in the commune have shared that they have low expectations for their ability to attain a higher education.

The digital divide is wide:

  • 44% of households in Cabrero don’t know how to use a computer.
  • A surprising 14% of young adults aged 26-40 years have no knowledge of computers.
  • 60% of households don’t have access to the Internet.

Masisa decided that the best option to address the digital divide was to strengthen the Remedial Education Program for Groups with Lower Education at San Isidro Foundation. MASISA is also evaluating the possibility of investing in a digital literacy lab for its own foundation, in collaboration with the Municipality.

The commune achieved a score of 62.53/100 in the Personal Safety component. The population is very concerned with a rising rate of crime:

  • 57% of households see safety in the commune as normal, bad, or very bad, with highest concern in the rural sector.

In response, the Municipality is designing measures to improve personal safety by implementing programs to prevent violence in schools (considered alarming by 99.1% of people interviewed), increasing police surveillance (necessary according to 56.4% of the population), and creating training and education opportunities for young people (necessary according to 40.5% of people interviewed).

The score for Ecosystem Sustainability is 58.03/100; 79% of households believe that the state of the environment is normal, deteriorated, or very deteriorated, and that green spaces are in bad condition. MASISA plans to integrate an environmental education program including a plan to improve green spaces, to support work being done by the Municipality on this front.

The Tolerance and Inclusion component, with a score of 64.7/100, requires a lot of work.

  • 19.2% of respondents believe that discrimination towards senior citizens is high or very high.
  • 34% believe that people with disabilities are being excluded.
  • Gender discrimination is even more pronounced.
  • 42% believe that there is discrimination against homosexuals.
  • 48.8% believe that there is discrimination against the transgender population.

People experience a high degree of discrimination when searching for a job or at the work place (54.1%) and when using public services (51.2%). As a first step to tackle this, the Social Progress Committee discussed the possibility of coordinating long-term programs in three-year cycles to raise awareness and train social leaders and officials on this subject.

These examples show that this Index is more than an index; it is a network of actors committed to social change.

Index development process

The experience in Cabrero shows that the process of developing the Index is as important as the information it reveals. Robust methods and solid statistical work may guarantee reliable results, but communities need to trust and care about those results for them to guide partnerships or investments in social progress. A good Index development process enables dialogue between the different actors early on and creates opportunities for strategic and joint actions to be carried out across the territory.

One of the challenges to develop the Cabrero Index was to move from informal observations about successes and challenges in the community to formal but practical indicators. An important decision was whether to use information already gathered, or to develop new information, or use a combination of both. Using existing information would accelerate the index development process, but it would also limit the scope of the investigation to available data, and would not present the desired breadth of topics.

For this reason, it was decided to conduct a survey, and for that survey to reflect community input, such as as using locally popular place names. Perceptions of legitimacy for the whole process were critical in an environment where a variety of unmet social demands leads the community to be skeptical of the municipal government and the area’s most prominent company, MASISA [2]. The risk of public and private investments being scattered non-strategically in response to uncoordinated local demands was very real.

A collaborative space for private and public actors to achieve consensus was created in the form of a Social Progress Committee. Participants from the public and private sectors, as well as civil society and academia, met in this forum to discuss the variables that were most important for the commune’s wellbeing, select the most useful, gather information to calculate the indicators that would be part of the index, and analyze the results and possible actions to establish a joint agenda to advance social progress.

The committee established a clear set of rules at the outset. For example, it was decided that only people with the ability to make binding decisions for the organizations they represented would be able to participate. They also had to commit enough time to make the collaboration work. Transparency in the data collection process was identified as important to preserve legitimacy and credibility. Schedules were also set specifically to allow the participation of municipal officials and the representatives of civil society organizations.

Members of the Social Progress Committee

The role played by each member of the Social Progress Committee was important. The University of Concepción led the technical development of the Index. Its academic prestige and great commitment by its students—many of them from the “Talentos UdeC” program [3]—not only allowed for good data collection and analysis but it meant that the credibility of the results would not be questioned by the population, who might be inclined to believe that the Municipality or the company MASISA were influencing results.

Development of a subnational Index benefits from the participation of a prestigious academic institution perceived to be without any conflicts of interest when it comes to making technical or procedural decisions and decisions regarding human processes. The good relationship with the community—which was willing to share their time and information—was in part a result of the trust they bestow upon the University of Concepción. Previous to the development process, the Municipality of Cabrero and the company MASISA informed the population about the objectives of the survey, familiarizing the community with the process and promoting the Index.

The overall process to create the Index meant that the Social Progress Committee members were not limited to the specific role that they might be assumed to play, but were instead able to play more open and collaborative roles. Commune representatives, for example, did not just express demands, and company and Municipality officials were able to tackle matters of substance. The Municipality and the company MASISA addressed sensitive subjects and took risks, exposing themselves to the public in order to improve the quality of their collaborations.

The population didn’t limit themselves to questioning local authorities and company representatives; they actively prioritized actions and created solutions. Fundación Avina played a fundamental role in securing citizen participation by facilitating interaction between the different actors and catalyzing collaborative processes [4]. As the process moved forward, the members of the Committee started to take ownership of the tool, generating a series of commitments that resulted in the first subnational Social Progress Index in Chile. This Index offers a diagnosis of the main variables that matter for the community’s wellbeing and increases the possibility of strategically mobilizing social investment.

12/13/16. Official presentation of the Social Progress Index for the Cabrero Commune.

[1] AIC-Rotoplas developed the Plasma Water Sanitation System (PWSS) technology, which is an innovative water treatment technology, capable of eliminating 100% of virus and bacteria through the transformation of a continuous flow of contaminated water into plasma. Treated water transforms into a biphasic liquid-gas current that is then put into a specific electric field that can ionize water particles, generating a stable state of plasma; which is finally recombined and condensed to obtain drinking water.

[2] MASISA is a company that specializes in fabricating and marketing wooden boards for furniture and interior design in Latin America, with strong presence in Chile. They also have a business unit dedicated to lumbering that operates in three regions in the country, including the region where the Cabrero commune is found.

[3] Talentos UdeC is a program that offers excellent education opportunities for children and young people with remarkable intellectual capacities. Learn more here:

[4] Approximately 60% of the Social progress Committee representatives are part of civil society: members of neighborhood groups, of the Red Cross, of community units, the former president of the student center, people who run training workshops and recreational activities.

For news about the launch of the Index on December 13, 2016, please the following links:

  • 12/14/16. Portal Bío Bío. Cabrero is the first city in the country to apply a Social Progress Index.
  • 12/14/16. Diario Concepción. Unprecedented IPS-UdeC method applied to measure social progress.
  • 12/14/16. Fundación Avina. Chile: First commune presents its Social Progress index.

Read the Executive Summary of the Social Progress Index for the Cabrero Commune.

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