2021 Progress Report: A Year of Positive Notes



Twenty-three of the advances we highlighted last year have transcended borders, including the launch of an Interpol app to identify stolen works of art and the establishment of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Persons of African descent.

North America

Communities across the United States are striving to create a better criminal justice system. This year, Maine joined with three other states in abolishing civil asset forfeiture, a bipartisan move that bars law enforcement from seizing private property before charging the owner with a crime, while that Philadelphia has become the largest city to ban low-level traffic stops that are disproportionately imposed. Black pilots.

Why we wrote this

Our weekly roundups covered 257 moments of progress in 2021, proof that humanity is capable of working together to advance a common good. Many of them were the culmination of years of hard work by members of their community.

The Denver Support Team Assisted Response Program, or STAR, has completed a six-month trial and is expanding its reach. He has shown that sending healthcare workers to respond to non-violent incidents keeps people away from prison and lightens the workload of the police. Colorado has seen effective efforts to reduce recidivism, such as the Aurora Second Chance Center, which helps people get out of jail, and the Eagle County problem-solving courts.

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Latin America

Fifteen percent of Latin America‘s progress points focused on legal gains for indigenous communities. Earlier this year, the Peruvian government took steps to establish a one-of-a-kind rainforest reserve for isolated indigenous peoples. The Culture Ministry approved plans for the 2.7 million acre Yavari Tapiche Indigenous Reserve, and Peru allocated 371,000 acres for a Kakataibo Indigenous Reserve a few months later.

Others strive to ensure that indigenous peoples know their rights. The Colombian Constitutional Court and the Amazon Conservation Team have partnered on the Land Rights project, which translates historic decisions into 26 indigenous languages. Meanwhile, a Brazilian court has ordered the government to apologize for the abuse and displacement of the indigenous Krenak people during the dictatorship era.

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Photos of civil rights activist and artist Joséphine Baker lead to the Pantheon monument in Paris on November 30, 2021, the day of her induction into the Mausoleum of Distinguished French Citizens. Baker is the first black woman and the first American to be recognized by French honor.


Europe has seen greater diversity in space, sports and story books. In its first recruitment campaign for astronauts in more than a decade, the European Space Agency explicitly sought out women and people with disabilities. ESA says it is the first space agency to accept applicants with physical disabilities. Also this year, Josephine Baker became the first black woman to be honored at the French Pantheon, and Irish rachael Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the Grand National horse race.

A recent report from the UK’s Center for Literacy in Primary Education found that the proportion of ethnic minority characters in books for ages 3 to 11 has almost quadrupled in recent years. The 2021 study also found that color characters had greater agency.

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Middle East

Efforts to preserve the history of the Middle East advanced in 2021. The Nahrein Network has funded dozens of Iraqi-led projects to document the country’s cultural heritage and support local communities. Iraq also received its largest repatriation of looted artifacts, with the return of 17,000 antiquities from the United States last summer. Most of the artefacts, which date back 4,000 years and were taken from Iraq in recent decades amid an ongoing conflict, were from the Bible Museum and Cornell University.

Recovered antiques are on display at the Foreign Ministry in Baghdad on August 3, 2021. Most of the 17,000 artefacts date back 4,000 years to ancient Mesopotamia.

Long underwater, a Greek burial area and a rare galley from the Ptolemaic era were discovered by marine archaeologists during their 2021 dive into the sunken remains of Thonis-Heracleion. Before collapsing into the sea, the Egyptian port city was a hub of international trade where Greek and Egyptian cultures merged.

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Uganda and Mozambique were among dozens of countries where small solar power projects have improved lives. Installing more than 100 solar street lights in Jinga, Uganda has helped businesses run after sunset and saved the city money. In the rural town of Mangunze in Mozambique, more than 200 people charge their phones at the “solar giraffe” each month. The shared hub allows residents to stay connected to each other and to the outside world.

Installing a solar panel is not possible for everyone. By renting portable solar batteries from a store in Lagos corner, Nigerian startup Reeddi is breaking down barriers to clean energy and helping to improve access to electricity in a country with frequent blackouts. Each capsule costs 50 cents per day and reduces the need for diesel generators.

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Asian scientists have made headlines for their discoveries and technological breakthroughs. In July, Indian researchers identified the world’s toughest self-healing material. Organic crystal is remarkable because most of the self-healing substances in use today are opaque and soft, which means this discovery could lay the groundwork for improved cell phone and TV screens. Across the continent, a team from the Institute of Basic Sciences in Seoul, South Korea created the world’s highest intensity laser, breaking a record in 2004 and creating new opportunities for understanding the universe.

Meanwhile, the Japanese company Astroscale launched the first commercial trial of space debris cleaning technology at the end of March. The ELSA-d space mission successfully completed its first test on August 25, proving that its magnetic capture mechanism is capable of capturing dead satellites and other space debris.

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The countries of Oceania have protected natural resources and wildlife through collaboration. Eight Pacific nations overcame a David v. Goliath situation by uniting to prevent overfishing and exploitation by foreign fishing fleets. The group’s Vessel Day Scheme has increased local fishing income by millions and stabilized tuna populations.

Dave Watts / NHPA / Photoshot / Newscom

Protecting small slanted nail-tailed wallabies from feral cats in Queensland Australia is essential to increasing the species’ population. Small wallabies were kept in a refuge until they were large enough to survive predation.

In Australia, researchers at the University of New South Wales drew on the work of reptile and amphibian biologists by applying the “ahead of time” conservation strategy to a terrestrial mammal for the first time. The intervention, raising small animals in a protected environment until they are large enough to survive predators, tripled Queensland’s wallaby population. French Polynesian pearl producers also serve as role models for the gemstone industry by developing sustainable agricultural practices.

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