#3. Colombia: a paradox and its progress

stories • Published October, 2021

Colombia’s rank on the Happy Planet Index in 2019: #3. Explore the data.

By: Eduardo Wills-Herrera

Colombia has a high score on the Happy Planet Index (HPI)- despite a decrease in the Ladder of Life wellbeing indicator for 2020, due mainly to the severe impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic. I believe Colombia performs quite well on the HPI due to a few  factors:

First, Colombia is a paradoxical country. It is the oldest democracy in South America and It is a country widely known for its macroeconomic stability. Its richness in nature, ecosystems, landscapes, people, and culture explains the creativity, joyfulness, and resilience of the Colombian people. This richness coexists with the country’s everlasting problems related to violence, poverty, violations of human rights, and a skewed income distribution between groups, which have increased during the Pandemic. 

Diversity is the hallmark of the country. Colombia has an amazing diversity in people (Mestizos, white, Indigenous people, and afro-Colombians), regions (Amazon and Orinoco Basin, Andean regions, Caribbean and Pacific coasts), and cultures (more than 47 languages). It is also the third most biodiverse country in the world, and therefore, it is becoming one of the most important places for ecotourism bird watching in the world. 

Our social networks are our strength. Despite prolonged social conflict, people in Colombia are highly resilient to adversities, and are creative and happy people. High levels of satisfaction with life have been explained by the strength of social networks, particularly those related to families and neighbours, both in rural areas and urban neighborhoods. Women play an important role in fostering these strong relationships.

Spirituality (a sense that there exists a purpose in life) is a key part of Colombian culture, and is also a crucial factor to explain satisfaction with life in the country. 

Positive social changes

There have been many positive social changes in the country. Women have rapidly increased their participation in society, and it is common to find today that they play a significant role in politics, education, and the financial sector, among others. Life expectancy of the country has also grown significantly in the last few years due to the increasing coverage of the health system. And young people, who are a majority in the country, have recently been highly involved in social movements, demanding a fairer society and more employment opportunities.  

Challenges facing the country

Colombia is set to face huge challenges imminently: 2022 will be an electoral year amidst a high political polarisation between right and left factions. The ongoing peace process that has ended the fight with the The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group, needs strengthening and the full support of civil society. 

A radical adjustment in the income distribution between subsets of the population as well as higher respect for human rights and freedom of speech are needed to guarantee less social conflict. 

Employment generation and a regeneration of its economic system are urgent. Despite its low ecological footprint, the economy, which is highly based on the export of fossil fuels, must transform to a service economy, with an emphasis on eco-tourism. The country needs to stop deforestation, particularly in the Amazon basin and a greener agriculture should be encouraged. 

About the author

Eduardo Wills-Herrera is a full professor at the Management School- Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. He earned a PhD in Organizational Behavior from Tulane University, New Orleans, USA and a Master in Development Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, ISS, The Hague, The Netherlands. He does research about subjective wellbeing as an indicator for development in societies and organizations. Has been the Director of the PhD Program at the Management School Uniandes.
He is a member of “Friends of the Mountain”, an NGO that cares for the preservation of the mountains surrounding Bogotá and is a board member of the Colombian Chapter of Transparency International and ISDRS ( International Sustainable Development Research Society).
You can reach Eduardo at ewills@uniandes.edu.co. 

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