By Rabia Abrar, Communications Lead, Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll)
The Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll), a 10-year project, was created: to catalyse systems change toward the realisation of a Wellbeing Economy, by creating unprecedented cooperation between actors working in their own areas and layers of the system. WEAll is a broad ‘network of networks’, with the aim of building a movement across society that has the confidence, knowledge and connectivity needed to challenge the dominant economic paradigm. Today, WEAll has become the leading global collaboration working together to transform the economic system. Led by a core team of 7 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff, WEAll’s ambition is to remain a small core team.
The Context: A Failing Economic System and an Alternative
Our current economic system is driven by the “growth at all costs” mentality, as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Despite ‘economic growth’, we see widening economic inequalities, higher levels of insecurity, and indicators of despair and loneliness. For those whose lives it has improved, a focus on ‘growth’ has done so by working against the planet. Our home is on the brink of the 6th mass extinction, with the prospect of catastrophic climate breakdown getting closer and closer.
The crises our world is facing: the COVID-19 pandemic, rising inequality, accelerating climate breakdown, and rapid biodiversity loss are interconnected and stem from the same core problem: our economies are structured, governed, and measured to promote short-term gain over long-term stability. The good news is that the current economic system has been designed – and hence can be designed differently.
A “Wellbeing Economy” is an economy that delivers social justice on a healthy planet. It is designed with a different purpose: to serve people and communities, first and foremost. In a Wellbeing Economy, business, politics and economic activity would exist solely to deliver collective wellbeing. We would only pursue growth in those areas of the economy that contribute to collective wellbeing and shrink those areas of the economy that damage it. Economic success would be measured less in terms of the rates of growth; it would focus on the direction and composition of growth.
WEAll’s definition of a Wellbeing Economy, co-created by its members, is an economy that that delivers on five universal human needs for a good life:
Connection: A sense of belonging and institutions that serve the common good
Dignity: Everyone has enough to live in comfort, safety and happiness
Fairness: Justice in all its dimensions at the heart of economic systems, and the gap between the richest and poorest greatly reduced
Participation: Citizens are actively engaged in their communities and locally rooted economies
Nature: A restored and safe natural world for all life
These are the factors a Wellbeing Economy would grow, to be ‘successful’. At the same time, a Wellbeing Economy approach would reduce activities which often increase GDP but that damage collective wellbeing.
There is not one blueprint for a Wellbeing Economy; the shape, institutions and activities that get us there will look different in different contexts, both across countries and between different communities within countries. However, the high-level goals for a Wellbeing Economy are the same everywhere.
How to Deliver a Wellbeing Economy: WEAll’s Approach to Change
‘What is needed’ has been clear to many groups and academics, and to large numbers of citizens for some time. ‘How to make it happen’ is the key issue. While many of the component parts of a new economic system already exist, they are fragmented, under-resourced and fragile. Evidence from successful system change shows that individual policies and great exemplars are not enough. Cross-sectoral collaboration, on a long-term basis, is required. The challenge is to connect initiatives at all levels of society that are working towards a Wellbeing Economy, in order to shift policies and practices at a meaningful scale.
A key challenge in creating the critical mass needed, is overcoming the disconnectedness of existing groups or singular focuses on one part of the systems change required. Currently, cross-sector coordination is poor. WEAll approaches this challenge by acting as a supportive team of ‘Amplifiers’. The goal is to promote the Wellbeing Economy as the destination that all diverse efforts are working toward.
WEAll’s vision is that within a decade, the WEAll project is no longer needed, as it has catalysed economic system change in multiple countries towards a Wellbeing Economy. In this future, policy would be framed in terms of human and ecological wellbeing, not simply economic growth; businesses would provide dignified lives for their employees and exist to meet social needs and contribute to the regeneration of nature; and the rules of the economy would be shaped by collaboration between government, business, and civil society. This vision and model of change was born out of a number of pioneering local and global movements.
WEAll’s mission has three pillars.
1. Creating New Powerbases
WEAll creates spaces to convene and connect stakeholders from different focus areas and geographies, to bring them into each other’s work, thus catalysing new powerbases. Today, WEAll has over 170 organisational members from every continent, 20 high-profile leaders in the movement as WEAll Ambassadors, almost 2000 individual changemakers from around the world collaborating on WEAll’s Citizens online platform and 75 members of WEAll Youth, a collaboration of changemakers under 30 which participate as WEAll members. WEAll has created eight hubs, which are microcosms of the global Wellbeing Economy movement in a specific geography, in California, Canada, Costa Rica, Iceland, New Zealand, Scotland, Trinidad & Tobago and Wales. These hubs formulate, implement, test, and lobby for change strategies relevant to their locality’s need and potential, in partnership with relevant local, regional, and national partners.
WEAll also works to influencing existing movements and alliances to adopt a Wellbeing Economy approach, bringing Wellbeing Economy ideas and knowledge into spaces where change can happen, establishing strategic partnerships with some of these groups, and instigating groupings in sectors where none exist.
2. Building a Coherent Knowledge & Policy Evidence Base
In addition, knowledge gaps remain. WEAll works to synthesise and disseminate the disparate existing knowledge and evidence base on how a Wellbeing Economy might work and how to get there. This is urgently needed to help audiences understand and feel that it is achievable. WEAll has developed and published a range of knowledge outputs to support this goal, including a guide for businesses to Alternatives for Business as Usual, a “Build Business Back Better” Pledge, a series of briefing papers that synthesise various existing Wellbeing Economy analysis, policy papers on concrete, evidence-based Wellbeing Economy policy proposals, a policy design guidebook on how to advance the creation and implementation of Wellbeing Economy policies and a fiscal benefits analysis to clarify the fiscal impact of the current economic model.
3. Sharing New Positive and Empowering Narratives
At present, the current economy is seen as the only kind of economy that we can have; meanwhile, the idea of a Wellbeing Economy can feel abstract or irrelevant. WEAll works to shift the narrative beyond criticisms of the current system, towards one that establishes a Wellbeing Economy as a desirable and viable goal, thus inspiring action towards achieving this vision. The ultimate goal is to make a Wellbeing Economy common sense, the way the free-market economy is now. WEAll works with a diverse network of partners around the world to co-create and amplify new common narratives and existing solutions in forms that accelerate their influence and adoption by decision makers in government, business and civil society across the globe.
The Way Forward: Wellbeing Economic Policy
Building a Wellbeing Economy requires redesigning institutions, infrastructure and laws to incentivise a boost in activities that support the wellbeing of people and planet, and disincentivise those that undermine it. A major barrier to Wellbeing Economic policy making is the concentration of political and financial power, creates a power imbalance between policy makers, business and civil society. To tackle this, the state of the world’s governance – both within and between states – must be enhanced. Catalysed by WEAll, the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership was designed to address this issue. Today, WEGo is the only living laboratory at scale in the world today that is testing and implementing Wellbeing Economy policies. Its example can serve as inspiration for other policy makers worldwide.
The Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership
The WEGo partnership is a collaboration of national and regional governments, promoting sharing of expertise, best practice and transferable policy practices to advance a common ambition of building a Wellbeing Economy. WEGo currently comprises Iceland, New Zealand, Scotland, and Wales, with the Scottish Government’s Office of the Chief Economist providing secretariat support. WEGo’s annual Policy Labs create the space for civil servants and ministers to learn from, collaborate and challenge each other to implement and continuously improve on innovative, upstream, preventative economic policy making approaches to create Wellbeing Economies. This includes sharing what works and what doesn’t; progressing the SDGs through partnership and cooperation, in line with Goal 17; and addressing the pressing economic, social and environmental challenges of our time.
In addition to cooperating, WEGo governments promote wellbeing policies in their respective areas through a variety of processes. Both Iceland, Wales, Scotland and New Zealand have community-based wellbeing targets, and their implementation is monitored by a variable number of wellbeing indicators.
Policy models – such as New Zealand’s wellbeing budgeting – are also gradually being built around these objectives, through which welfare economic policies will be concretely strengthened. However, this work is still in its infancy and therefore intergovernmental cooperation in developing the structures of the Wellbeing Economy is very important.
We know what a Wellbeing Economy looks like, because we see it in microcosm across the world, especially in the work of WEAll members and the WEGo member countries. These examples demonstrate the feasibility and desirability of implementing Wellbeing Economic policy, as they show that traditional economic metrics, and moving towards greater wellbeing, can go hand in hand. The existence of the WEGo partnership is a subtle challenge to dominant economic policy making. It is promising that rather than being deprioritised during the global pandemic, WEGo has proved itself to be a valuable space for policy makers as they work on their responses. In these difficult times, when conventional approaches are being discredited, these countries embody the possibility of doing things differently. The focus should now be on cohering and scaling these approaches, and realigning policy regimes to be supportive of these approaches, rather than destructive.