The other 2020: 274 ways the world got better this year

Places where the world saw progress throughout the year for the Dec. 28, 2020 Monitor Weekly.

It’s more than good news. Points of progress are the moments when humanity takes another step forward. This year, we covered 274 concrete ways the world got better. That includes 29 moments the world shared together – scientific breakthroughs in outer space, heartening reports on reforestation efforts, and international commitments to defend human rights – and even more stories that were unique to specific regions, countries, or cities. In case you missed it, here’s a recap of some of the headlines that brought us hope this year.

North America

Racial justice was the top theme of progress observed in the United States this year, as communities worked to address past mistakes and combat racism today. Black Americans were appointed to higher roles in academia and the Catholic Church, and Black women in particular made gains in sports, politics, and the armed services. Symbolic gestures recognized individual Black Americans who were posthumously honored with a Pulitzer Prize, the naming of a new naval supercarrier, and the renaming of NASA headquarters in Washington.

Ian Bradshaw/UVA Law School
A. Benjamin Spencer now heads William & Mary Law School.

Why We Wrote This

This is more than feel-good news – it’s where the world is making concrete progress. A year’s worth of positive stories to inspire you.

Other marginalized groups saw progress, too. Record numbers of Native Americans, women, and LGBTQ people ran for office in 2020, and a survey by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that disability representation in media has improved since 2016. (The Christian Science Monitor, Center for American Women and Politics, NPR)


African countries achieved a wide variety of progress, from fostering peace and security to promoting sustainable agriculture. Angola’s National Demining Institute cleared about 5 acres of land mines in the first half of 2020, removing 9,982 explosive devices – relics of the decadeslong civil war – and paving the way for safer travel and development opportunities. In an international justice breakthrough, top Rwandan genocide suspect Félicien Kabuga was captured after years on the run. The urban farming movement is gaining momentum in Johannesburg, South Africa, where more than 40% of its population of 4.4 million is considered food insecure, and a new app is helping Zimbabwe’s farmers secure plots of land. (The Christian Science Monitor)

Latin America and the Caribbean

Of the 30 points we published on Latin America and the Caribbean, nearly a third dealt with the conservation of plants, insects, and animals. Marking the end of one of the world’s most successful captive reproduction programs, centenarian tortoise Diego finally returned to the Galápagos island of Española, where he will live out his retirement among hundreds of descendants. 

Galapagos National Park/AP/File
Diego, the centenarian species-saving giant tortoise, returned to his home island of Española after at least 80 years away.

In the South Atlantic Ocean, a new conservation effort is just beginning around the remote archipelago of Tristan da Cunha, where scientists are establishing the world’s fourth-largest marine sanctuary. Meanwhile, in Colombia, ex-combatants are training to help preserve the country’s biodiversity. (The Christian Science Monitor)


From Russia to Portugal, we saw communities in Europe tackling climate change with new vigor. Austria closed its last coal-fired power plant on April 17, joining a growing number of countries reducing their reliance on coal; Germany is banning single-use plastic in line with a European Union directive; and Lithuania is recycling at record levels thanks to a deposit-refund system introduced in 2016. Eco-friendly transit alternatives are emerging in the United Kingdom. Northern Scotland’s Orkney Islands became an unlikely leader in the renewable energy field by using their excess wind power to experiment with hydrogen fuel, and the U.K.’s first all-electric intercity bus route began carrying passengers between Edinburgh and Dundee this fall. (The Christian Science Monitor)


Asian countries made strides in public health, safety, and infrastructure this year. As Hong Kong’s government uses new transitional housing initiatives to help low-income families live with dignity in one of the world’s most expensive cities, The Salman Sufi Foundation in Karachi, Pakistan, established the nation’s first privately managed public restrooms.

Tyrone Siu/Reuters
These four-story modular homes in Hong Kong are made from prefabricated parts.

Even better, more kinds of people can access these services safely: In March, a court in Hong Kong ruled that married same-sex couples can apply for public housing. And the Karachi project’s coordinators says their focus is on the well-being of women, transgender residents, and the disabled community. (The Christian Science Monitor)


The global reckoning over racism has helped push Native rights and empowerment into the spotlight in Oceania. Guam launched its first publicly funded immersion program to preserve the indigenous Chamoru language in the Mariana Islands, which declined to near extinction during centuries of Spanish and American colonialism. In July, Australia appointed its first Indigenous consul-general. When Benson Saulo takes his post in the United States, he says he hopes to “connect with other Indigenous people and highlight ... the global Indigenous economy.” (The Christian Science Monitor)

Middle East

Legal reforms in the Middle East pushed countries closer to gender equality. In Afghanistan, mothers’ names will now be printed along with fathers’ on national identification cards, helping to normalize women’s presence in public life. At the same time, a growing #MeToo movement in Egypt has created online spaces for women to speak up about assault, and parliament recently approved a law granting automatic anonymity to sexual violence survivors.

Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File
A woman hands over her identification card while voting in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 20, 2009. Soon, national ID cards will include mothers’ names. Fathers’ names are already included.

Gender roles continue to expand in Saudi Arabia, as well. The kingdom’s first women’s soccer league made headlines in February, but officially kicked off in November after being delayed by the pandemic. Another change this year? Men, women, and children can now dine in the same section of a restaurant. (The Christian Science Monitor, BBC)

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