What The World Needs Now: The Digital Survey That’s Changing Our Understanding of Global Priorities

By Marta Maretich

Impact investing is all about meeting needs. It places capital in businesses that provide human essentials such as water, power, food, education and healthcare. At the same time, it helps meet the needs of the planet and its non-human inhabitants by fostering business approaches that protect ecosystems and conserve natural resources.

Keeping a close eye on need; and the perception of need; is one of the keys to successful impact investing. Now a digital survey is shining new light on what people around the world think they need to have a better future.

Launched by the UN in 2012, My World is an ongoing global survey and data aggregation project. It lets users choose from a list of sixteen issues derived from research and polling exercises with poor populations, as well as the Millennium Development Goals with additional issues of sustainability, security, governance and transparency. Users rank the issues that they think “would make the most difference to their lives” and the results are aggregated into a live online database of results.

Taking the online survey is free and fun and it offers users an opportunity to set out personal priorities. But the real point of My World is to provide UN policymakers with grist for their mill. The project is set to run until 2015, the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals. It’s hoped that the results will help strengthen and focus policy development post-2015.

In the meantime, we can all log on, take the survey, and check out how the results are shaping up. Colorful graphs show the findings so far, with a breakdown of respondents by age and gender. The HDI, or Human Development Index, ranking of users; countries is also captured. A shaded world map shows how many responses have come from each country. A more detailed analysis can be found here.

At this writing, the data set is still far from complete. Yet the results already provide some food for thought for impact investors.

What is remarkable at first glance is the consistency of the responses. “A good education” is number one on the list of priorities for respondents of every age group, gender and development level with the exception of the over 55s. “Better healthcare” comes second in most categories. “Action taken on climate change” comes close to the bottom of the list for most respondents regardless of age, gender or country. “Protecting forests, rivers and oceans” ranks bottom for respondents from low-HDI countries and much higher for those from high-HDI countries. “An honest and responsive government” comes mid-list for most respondents, far above issues such as “reliable energy in the home” or “equality between the sexes”. (Note: These observations were accurate at the time of writing.)

For impact investors, as for UN policymakers, these responses could have practical implications. For example, it’s useful to know that much of the world hungers for education and better healthcare but isn’t that concerned (at least for the moment) with habitat conservation or climate change. This suggests that impact businesses focusing on healthcare and education will have more traction in more parts of the world than those targeting climate stabilization or conservation. Their business models may prove easier to scale and replicate across more countries because citizens are hungry for the goods and services they provide.

The jury is still out on the value of the My World project. It’s not yet clear whether the data it collects will prove conclusive or useful; much depends on how it is analyzed and applied. What is clear is that My World provides a taste of how technology is bringing clients and businesses, beneficiaries and development agencies, much closer together. Impact investors may be able to learn lessons from My World’s findings; and they can certainly follow its lead when it comes to using technology to find new ways to identify, and meet, global needs.

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Read the My World blog

Image credit: studiom1 / 123RF Stock Photo

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