Posts

The entrenched nature of racism in our current economic system is abundantly clear. All over the world, there are cases where one race or class of people are discriminating against and exploiting the ‘other’. This trend is seen with the Rohingya in Myanmar, Africans residing in China, and globally reflected by the massive civil rights protests for #BlackLivesMatter. The discrimination against an ‘other’ is unfortunately a key tenet of how our global economy operates.

It goes without saying that in order to develop a new global economic system that delivers social justice on a healthy planet, we must ensure that these trends do not continue. It is vital that this emergent system is actively ‘antiracist’. 

What does it mean to be antiracist?

Before we can define antiracism, we must define racism. In his book, “How to be an Antiracist”, Ibram X. Kendi defines racism as, “a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalises racial inequities.” 

Racist ideas suggest that one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way. Racist policies come about when these ideas influence decision making on how to distribute opportunities and power, often unfairly and unequally As a result, we see racial inequity, when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximate or equal footing to access benefits from our collective systems, such as the financial system or the political system. 

These definitions show that racism goes beyond individuals having prejudices; it is about how those beliefs translate into power imbalances that perpetuate massively different life chances and life outcomes between two racial groups. 

For greater clarification – this is about inequity, not inequality. See the graphic below which illustrates the difference of these two phrases.

Artist: Angus Maguire

In contrast, Antiracism is “a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” 

We are not simply looking for equality, which is giving everyone the same opportunities, but does not consider everyone’s starting points. We are looking to remove the barriers and address the systemic factors that have disadvantaged certain groups, so that everyone ultimately ends up with the same standing. This is equity.

Simply put, antiracism promotes equity, and racism promotes inequity. 

This framing allows for a simple way to identify which policies are racist or antiracist. For example, do-nothing climate policy is racist since the non-white Global South is being victimised by climate change more than the whiter Global North. 

Transitioning away from policies that promote inequity, requires a shift in how we think about our economic system. 

Our current system – underpinned by capitalism [‘an economic system characterised by private ownership for the means of production, especially in the industrial sector’] latches onto existing hierarchies in a society – like gender or race – exploits and exacerbates them, and creates new hierarchies”. As Cedric Robinson states, “Without this ability to exploit existing divisions, the profit margins of the corporations that drive capitalism would be seriously undermined.”

This insight shares the reasoning behind building racial hierarchies in society; to build hierarchies of value. In the Open Democracy Podcast, “Is Capitalism Racist”, Dalia Gebria points out that upholding these hierarchies, where some people do the dirty work that keep others alive, means that “you have to differentiate people into more worthy and less worthy, more human and less human, and with particular characteristics that make them seem ‘naturally suited’ to this work, all while concealing the fact that this differentiation is socially constructed.” 

Continuing to uphold these hierarchies in society will perpetuate the capitalist system that is underpinned by racist policies. Kendi says, “Whoever creates the norm creates the hierarchy and positions their own race-class at the top of the hierarchy.” Meaning that, to dismantle these hierarchies of power and to ensure policies are not racist, policymaking must be inclusive of all the voices of communities. Building policies that are inherently collaborative, is the process needed to build a Wellbeing Economy

In a Wellbeing Economy, people and the planet are the priority. The focus is on building equity in societies all over the world. As Kendi writes, “Changing minds is not a movement. Critiquing racism is not activism. Changing minds is not activism. An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change.” 

This is why a core part of WEAll’s network is focused on convening and connecting stakeholders from different focus areas and geographies and bringing them into each other’s work thus catalysing new powerbases of people that can shift policy and structural change in our economic system. This is created through our place-based Hubs, [ScotlandCosta Rica, Iceland, Cymru- Wales, California, New Zealand], which advocate for policy change, and the establishment of the WEGo Partnership, which is the world’s only living lab testing Wellbeing Economy policies.

To transition towards a Wellbeing Economy, our future policies must stop thinking of transaction, value extraction, and accumulation, but rather begin to think about togetherness, survival, and repair. We are all on the same planet, in this complex system; as one.

Visit our anti-oppression page to learn more about how to incorporate antiracist decision making into your work. 

Our upcoming Wellbeing Economy Policy Design Guidebook will also outline the specific tools needed for policymaking that promotes equity. 

If you are interested in starting a WEAll Hub in your local area, see our Hub Guide.  

Written by Isabel Nuesse

Towards the end of the 2020, WEAll hosted a series of webinars through the WEAll Citizens platform in partnership with our members and fellow citizens. The 3-part series was designed to dive deep into the various aspects of narrative development, to support our ability to create narratives around a Wellbeing Economy that are feasible and desirable.

Our three brilliant hosts demonstrated just how complex narrative can get. The major takeaways for me were:

  1. Bring it back to the values. Values underpin our decision making, how we think, react, and communicate with each other. These values can underpin a society and therefore, underpin the way in which we communicate the change that we want to see in the world. 
  2. Narratives are constant. There is not A narrative. There are many narratives, which are developed and re-developed all of the time. The key is to allow for emergence of new stories that can speak to the overarching narrative you’re hoping to change.
  3. Don’t give up on people. People are hypocritical and stubborn and incredibly complex. As soon as we give up on supporting other people’s journeys to deeper understanding, we lose. We need to make sure that we are patient, kind, and understanding as perspectives transform and shift. Avoid shaming people into believing! 
  4. It’s here – we just need more of it. A Wellbeing Economy does exist. It starts with highlighting what already exists, and replicating these inittaives over and over again. This builds the powerbase that can then shift the real power at the top.  People are agile and able to create significant change swiftly and effectively, as we’ve seen with some of the response to COVID-19.  

Here’s a summary of each webinar in the Narratives series:

1. “How Narratives Facilitate Change” 

Rina Tsubaki from the European Forest Institute (EFI) hosted this launch session. The EFI are working on a digital media analysis project around the Amazon fires in 2019. Rina used this research to explore narratives, how they are spread around the world, and how they can be used to facilitate change. 

You can watch the event recap here

There were a few points that were particularly interesting about her research:

  • Hashtags. When a movement is being created, the use of hashtags is incredibly important. They shift and change and there is always an ‘end of life’ to the use and viral nature of these terms. To learn more, see (21:00).
  • Narratives evolve. This is shown when an initial issue is discussed (e.g. Amazon fires) and  connected to and used to restart the conversation on another issue that was dormant (e.g. Indegenous cultures fight for life). To learn more, see (26:00).
  • Influencers. Rina’s research showed that images that were most popular in the Amazon fires movement were popularised first by more famous accounts and influencers of the public. See her example of Emanuel Macron at (37:00). 

One of Rina’s most striking research insights was that the classic ‘Hero’s Journey’ (see image) story structure or template, no longer applies in today’s world. 

We now live in a world where there is no single structure that fits all narratives. This dramatically shifts the ways we communicate with each other. In our ever-changing society, it is no longer about sharing the ‘single most beautiful story’ but rather, focusing on the change that we want and mobilising around that vision. 

Rina asks us to imagine what our ultimate dream scenario for the future can be, then work backwards from there, rather than start with the immediate changes needed. See image below:

She also introduced the “Iceberg” model, which can also be useful to identify the change that is needed to build a Wellbeing Economy. We need to think closely about the substance underneath the surface of the story that we’re trying to share.

Lastly, Rina introduced a beautiful illustration of the ‘types’ of narratives that can exist in today’s world. There are three types of stories. 

  1. Story as a light: Which makes previous stories that were invisible, visible. 
  2. Story as glue: Which supports community building, creates movements, connects people, and introduces a shared language to create a shared understanding. 
  3. Story as a web: constructed with a diverse set of narratives based on common themes. They recognise the depths and interconnectedness of the movement as a whole. 

Rina’s presentation paved the way for  the second webinar in the Narratives series…

2. “How do We Shift Our Internal Narratives?” 

In November, Jackie Thoms from Fraendi shared research to help us better understand how we, as individuals, see the world, understand complexity, and shift our internal thinking and behaviour as a starting point to change society.

This webinar was particularly informative around human behavior, how we think, what appeals to us, and what the process is for transforming our internal thinking and perspectives (which is key to narrative formation). 

You can watch the recap here 

The main points Jackie touches on are the three dimensions of adult development that are integral to understanding how our worldviews are created.

At 15:00, Jackie dives deep into the social- emotional piece of adult development:

Social-Emotional: This aspect of human development is where we develop maturity and wisdom. It is how we take decisions and is often crisis-led. There are five stages to this.

Stage 1: Our social-emotional learning as we develop from birth.

Stage 2: A stage of cognitive development but with a low social and emotional capacity.This may be someone who is unwilling to go beyond themselves. 

Stage 3: Is the stage that most of society is at. This is mainly about belonging. Once someone sees that they may not align with a community, they shift to the next stage. This stage can feel risky as individuals are leaving the comfort of their family of origin. Or, they may be changing their relationships or community.

Stage 4: This stage is embodying the values that we hold dear and the principles that we want to lead our lives by. 

Stage 5: This final stage is where people begin to consider other people’s perspectives more critically. This is where people may begin to experience the ‘other’ and not see one perspective as particularly dominant. This is someone who can hold a very broad view of life.

Jackie then turns to discussing the cognitive part of adult development (27:30)

Cognitive: This aspect of human development supports us in moving into a wider scope of responsibility and building the capacity to hold many different perspectives and thoughts.

Jackie then ran us through an exercise to discuss these thought-forms in a real-time example. You can check that out at (45:46). 

Jackie wrote a recap blog here if you’re interested in learning more. 

3. “How to move from Understanding to Action” 

Mariana Mirabile hosted the final narratives webinar, a highly interactive session supporting the audience to understand how to move from understanding how narratives work, to developing narratives about a new economy in real life.

Watch the webinar here.

Mariana speaks to the importance of understanding the values that underpin the change that we want to see in the world from (from 2:15-15:00). She uses this graphic to explain how stories and narratives are generally created. 

In the exercise that Mariana ran, she encouraged us to each think of an initiative that we are a part of in our daily life (i.e. a coop grocery store, bike share program etc.) – to illustrate the what we do – and then relate the initiative to one of the 5 WEAll Needs: 

She was making the point that a Wellbeing Economy is happening every day. We are living certain aspects of it in our daily lives. And, to be able to change narrative, we need to understand what tangible initiatives we’re supporting that are already helping to build the world we want to create. As we continue to see and support these initiatives, it will transform our mental models and in turn, build a Wellbeing Economy. 

If you’re interested in continuing to work on narratives for a Wellbeing Economy, please reach out to Isabel

By: Isabel Nuesse

One of the most significant measurements in our economy is Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is a measurement of the total value of goods and services produced in a country. It measures the size of a nation’s economy but doesn’t reflect a nation’s wellbeing. While inherently flawed, GDP continues to dominate the space as the measurement to compare countries against one another, and more importantly influence global policymaking. 

In a Wellbeing Economy, we argue that it is time that we move beyond GDP and find a more holistic measurement that encapsulates both human and ecological wellbeing. 

In the podcast Citations Needed, Economic Anthropologist and WEAll Ambassador Jason Hickel breaks down the history of GDP, how it drives both the climate crisis and inequality, and what practical steps we can take to ensure thriving livelihoods for all. 

What’s the history?

GDP was initially developed as a war-time measure. Simon Kuznets, the economist that created the national income accounts which inspired the current GDP measurement, warned the US congress about using this as the measurement. 

“The [people’s] welfare can therefore scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined above.” 

Meaning, there is no determination of social progress or human welfare that can be derived from this metric. So why do we continue to use it?

Using GDP as the main measurement of economic success was solidified after WWII hit. Countries focused on the measure of economic production, as wartime was a race to military domination. Growth ruled supreme. Who could produce the most output, the fastest, and where did the highest capacity lie?

It was further solidified after the Bretton Woods conference in 1944 which had over 700 delegates from 44 nations and created big institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF). GDP then continued to dominate during the 1980s, when these institutions created structural adjustment programs (SAPs) – primary for countries in the global south- which move countries away from national development models and push for global development models that essentially only pursue economic growth. 

Luckily, these criticisms of GDP as the sole metric for economic success are coming to the forefront. It’s hard to ignore when the richest 1% of the human population pockets 22% or a quarter of total GDP 

As Jason says, “We’re plundering the earth to pay tribute to the global elite.” 

To further demonstrate this, Hickel says that if we took ⅓ of the income of the richest 1%, it would be enough to raise everyone in the world above a high poverty line of $7.40/day – eradicating poverty forever. If we took another fraction of that, we could provide high-quality universal public healthcare for the world. And, it would still leave the richest 1% with over $130,000/year per person forever. 

These numbers are striking. 

Where do we go from here?

Jason points out that once we admit that we don’t need more growth – we can focus on building an economy that can deliver high quality of life for all, and meet the ecological needs of the planet. 

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) model that outlines how to keep global warming to under 1.5 degrees celsius from pre-industrial levels, requires a reduction in material use and energy use in the global economy. Meaning, we must scale down – or reduce growth. 

If both material and energy use is reduced, GDP will likely crash, causing our economy to collapse as our entire system is underpinned by its health. In order to prevent that crash, we need to organise our economy in a way that will not deliver such a catastrophe. 

How can we develop policies that allow human flourishing, despite declining industrial activity?

What’s needed is a fair distribution of existing income and a redistribution of productivity gains to more people.  Jason suggests that one practical way of doing this is shortening the average working week to four days, increasing wages so they are living wages for workers despite fewer hours, and redistributing necessary labour amongst more people. 

He raises  an interesting point about how self-defeating we will be if we continue to pursue GDP growth. Yes, the world is switching to renewables at a rapid pace, which will reduce the carbon footprint of our globe. However, renewable development still requires extraction of raw materials. And, if we’re continuing to grow the economy, we need to transition the whole economy to renewable energy and do it three times over to maintain our current pace of growth. 

In order to give technology a chance to be effective in delivering goals of human and planetary flourishing, we need to remove the growth priority so that innovations that address some of the glaring problems of the world are elevated, not stunted, because of low growth trajectories. The more you require companies to ramp up supply to meet demand, the more pressure on those capacities and the less of a solution they become.

How does equity play a role? 

Equity and justice have to be at the core of this transition to a ‘post-growth’ economy. The vast majority of the causes of the ecological crisis come from excess consumption from high-income nations. If everyone in the world consumed at the level of the average person in the Global South, we would have no ecological crisis. If they consumed at the level of the high-income nations, we would be operating at over 4x capacity of the Earth

There needs to be a balance between necessary growth for lower-income nations and degrowth for higher-income nations. 

The other key point is that this transition must be de-colonial at its core. No longer can the Global North rely on the extraction from the Global South. Imagine the possibility of an economy that doesn’t rely on that kind of extractivism! 

Institutions such as the IMF can no longer link voting power to GDP metrics. This is actively exclusionary and continues to set the wealthiest nations up for success. As Jason notes, “it’s crazy to have a plutocracy1 at the heart of global economic governance.”  

1 Plutocracy: a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income

Jason presents another glaring statistic: “The poorest 60% of humanity only receive 5% of the income from global GDP growth”- proving that the theory that wealth at the top will “trickle down” to all levels of society does not hold true in the real world. 

Meaning, this idea that global aggregate economic growth is necessary in order to reduce poverty is untrue. The global south contributes the vast majority of both labour and resources and yet don’t reap the benefit of their output. 

We need a fair economy that allows the global south to claim their fair share of yields they produce. This will in turn eradicate much of the poverty in the world simply by distributing income more fairly. 

Jason concludes that once we build a more fair economic structure and shift to a post-growth economy we can more easily fight the climate crisis and tackle global poverty. 

The last point that Jason makes on the podcast is around the phrasing that, “humans are the virus” that is damaging the earth. He wants to completely shift that thinking. Humans are not the virus, capital is the virus.

Capital is programmed to replicate itself – everything it touches turns into more capital. Exactly like a virus that colonises the host to produce more of itself. 

The problem is that expansionary economic systems are organised around appropriation, plunder, and extrication. 

It’s time we changed the economic system, don’t you agree? 

By: Isabel Nuesse

COVID-19 has killed over 1.7M people and infected more than 77M globally. Just this last month, the promise of a vaccine seems to bring renewed hope that the days of isolation and struggle may soon come to an end. However, as the roll-out of these technologies begins, it’s not a coincidence that they are being deployed to the wealthier nations, first.

This trend is not new. 

Historically, lack of access to affordable health care medicines for the global population has been a recurrent concern – especially since the World Trade Organization (WTO) created the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”)  agreement. This agreement was created to strengthen the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRs). 

What is the significance of the TRIPS agreement today?

The COVID-19 vaccine is patented and many lower to mid-level income countries simply cannot afford it. The alternative is to create a generic version of the vaccine at a more affordable cost. This is only possible if IPRs on COVID-19 vaccines are eliminated.

India and South Africa have already requested a waiver to remove the IPRs on these medicines and technologies that prevent, contain, and treat COVID-19.

This proposal essentially calls for solidarity amongst governments around the globe to make access to the vaccine equitable and affordable, without the threat of sanctions or being found in violation of international trade rules. 

The waiver proposal has been extended from its initial December 31, 2020 expiration date. As of now, 9 countries oppose this waiver: the United States, Switzerland, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, Canada,  Australia, Brazil, and the European Union. These are seemingly countries that do not have to worry about affordability with the vaccine. Likely, they even house the multinational corporations that produce the vaccine. Therefore, they may stand to benefit from keeping the IRPs in the hands of the pharmaceutical companies.  

The significance of this waiver brings about an important point. As it stands, the TRIPS agreement places the goal of free trade above the needs of the people. At what point does the intellectual property of medicines and technologies take precedence over saving lives? 

Christian Felber recently gave a talk on the transitions that need to be made in order to support Ethical World Trade, a key component of a Wellbeing Economy. Mainly, trade cannot be the end, but rather, a means to the end. The goal of international trade should be to support human flourishing, not to support free trade. Read the recap of the event here.

One interesting example of when such a goal has been effectively pursued was with the WHO and the TRIPS agreement was during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 2000’s. The initial offer from the pharmaceutical provider of HIV/AIDS medication requested the Brazilian government pay $1.59 per pill. But, Brazil saw that it could get the medicines made from India for $0.45 per pill which would enable them to distribute the drug more widely. However, because of how the TRIPS treaty works, the pharmaceutical provider has monopoly rights over the distribution of the drug. This meant that Brazil had to pay the $1.59 to the pharmaceutical provider, even though the generic brand was available at a lower cost. TRIPS institutes the monopoly power for the pharmaceutical provider so that companies don’t lose out on the expensive research and development costs (even though much of this research is publicly funded). **to learn more about this see Mariana Mazzucato’s work on the public funding seeding investment for the private sector. Here is an article in Time Magazine as well. 

Brazil’s president stated that he was not willing to sacrifice the health of his country’s citizens for the sake of world trade. 

After this debate, international leaders met for the Doha Declaration in November of 2001 and formally established that the TRIPS agreement should be interpreted and implemented to promote public health.

The Compulsory Licensing Provision within the TRIPS agreement now allows developing countries to produce or buy generic versions of the patented medication, which inevitably reduces the cost of the medicine. Each country can determine the grounds on which the compulsory licencing may be granted. These could be on the grounds of national emergency, extreme poverty, public non-commercial use, and to remedy anti-competitive practices. 

The precedent that this case study set is of concern for many nations. Having strong IPRs over pharmaceuticals prevents people from low to middle income countries from having access to life-saving medication. So, it is important to allow generic manufacturers to override patent holder rights in certain situations. 

Where does this leave us, in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine?

The vote on whether to eliminate IPRs for the COVID-19 vaccines will take place in the next few months, and coalitions amongst countries are already being made. Luckily the WHO has a policy for one vote per country. 

If you’re interested in learning more about international trade issues, please check out the organizations below:

Regions Refocus

Third World Network

DAWN

SEATINI

Bretton Woods Project

Gender and Trade Coalition

By Isabel Nuesse 

This week, many American’s are gearing up for another Thanksgiving holiday. A holiday told to celebrate the harmony between the Pilgrims and Wampanoags – whose land expands from Southern Massachusetts, into Rhode Island.

Source: Wikipedia 

However, this narrative overlooks the genocide of the Native American peoples. It is said that between the 19th and 20th centuries, 75-90% of the Native American peoples were killed by the European Settlers

It is significant that the month of November, during which Thanksgiving takes place, has been named Native American Heritage month. Which was only officially recognized in 1990 by President George W. Bush. 

It has taken years to acknowledge the mass elimination of the Native American’s and the theft of their lands. Much of that acknowledgment is still missing. Though, understanding the true story of Thanksgiving is the first step in finding a better path forward for our society.

As we begin to plan how we ‘build back better’ in the face of the crises of COVID-19, inequality and climate change, this work is absolutely critical.

It feels obvious to say, but to address the crises we face and to build a Wellbeing Economy, we cannot use the same paradigm from which our current economic system was born.

We need alternatives. And, those alternatives exist. 

On this day, we consider the teachings of Native American communities and how these perspectives are necessary in building a more just and sustainable economy; both in the US and globally.  

WEAll members have collectively defined 5 universal human needs that a Wellbeing Economy must deliver upon, to truly be ‘better’ than our current system. The ‘WEAll Needs’ are: dignity for all, participation in decision making, access to and preservation and regeneration of nature, connection and fairness.

Indigenous value systems inherently already address each of these needs. 

In the book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks of ‘The Honorable Harvest’: Indigenous principles or rules that govern the exchange of life for life. She notes that while these ‘rules’ are not written, if they were, they would appear something like this: 

  • Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them
  • Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. 
  • Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
  • Never take the first. Never take the last. 
  • Take only what you need. 
  • Take only which is given.
  • Never take more than half. Leave some for others. 
  • Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share. 
  • Give thanks for what you have been given.
  • Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken. 
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever. 

These principles highlight an incredible act; giving, which is in direct contrast to our current extractive economy, which is very much focused on ‘taking’. This mindset validates the endless growth paradigm and centers profit ahead of the land on which we depend. 

Crucially, these Indigenous principles highlight the truth that the Earth is the source of life, not a limit to life. And that everything that comes after, is dependent on that source.

In learning more about this ancient wisdom, I ask myself,“Can we learn from these perspectives? Can we better honor the land and give more than we take?”

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin speaks to a salient point. She notes that the Indigenous communities in what we call America observed, “The problem with these new people is that they don’t have both feet on the shore. One is still on the boat. They don’t seem to know whether they’re staying or not.” 

This speaks to an investment, in our lives, in our Earth. Robin then asks, “Can Americans, a nation of immigrants, learn to live here as if we’re staying? With both feet on the shore?” 

What does a Wellbeing Economy look like from this point of view? How can we ensure that we’re building a system that requires that both feet are on the shore? One that centers the earth and grounds the Wellbeing Economy movement in our living systems?

There’s much more learning to be done. Today, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from this wisdom and to start to help right the wrongs of our past. 

To deepen our understanding, we’re looking into these Indigenous organisations and resources:

By: Isabel Nuesse

Founded on ideals of white superiority, rooted in colonial behavior, rich due to the exploitation and oppression of indigenous and black communities; this is the story of the US that has been avoided for the last 250 years. 

With the performative slogan, ‘United We Trust’, we endeavor to pursue unity without acknowledging the hurt of so many.

We are in need of deep repair and healing. And only through that repair, can we consider rebuilding to a Wellbeing Economy in the US.

In their episode, ‘Confrontation’, the hosts of the podcast, Invisibilia, explain that the first step is to air our grievances with each other, confronting the issues. We must allow people to speak their truths, without repercussions.

“There is a need for people to be in your face and hear the situation. We’ve got to be able to address it. But I think at the same time, there has to be a meaningful, and purposeful conversation behind it. If I’m just going to make you mad without doing the bonding and the education and growth, all I’ve done is make you mad.”

Invisibilia “Confrontation”, NPR

They emphasize that once the feelings are expressed, the repair can begin through meaningful conversation to support that bonding, education and growth. This starts with acknowledging what people are asking for. 

To build a Wellbeing Economy there must be belief that most humans want similar outcomes, that common ground can be found. 

A Wellbeing Economy is one that delivers social justice on a healthy planet by addressing five universal needs.

Katherine Trebeck speaks of this in a recent interview: “people around the world consider the same core issues important. Think fresh air, clean rivers, financial security, and strong relationships”

This idea is echoed in a quote from Theodore R. Johnson,

“Even amid all the division broadcast across traditional and social media, most of us want similar things from our society. We want to be treated equally. We want to be included and respected in our communities. We want our institutions and systems to be fair and just. And if the government derives its power from our consent, then we have the ability to make our country more unified if we are willing to focus on what we have in common so we can work through the areas where we differ.”

Theodore R. Johnson

If we can agree that we share common needs, we can begin to answer the how. How does a country, state, or town begin to deliver on those needs?

In a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation webinar, “Reimagined in America” Katherine Trebeck and Lisa Parson, a member of the Wellbeing Project in Santa Monica, California discuss a practical example of where in the US we are learning how to build a Wellbeing Economy. A part of Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Project is an open-source wellbeing survey, which provides a better understanding of who residents are, how they are doing, and their concerns. This provides inputs into a Wellbeing Index for the city.

Katherine explains why this is important,

“The conversations and the deliberative nature of that is important. To tell residents that their voices matter in this. Particularly for the most marginalized communities. These efforts take a long time, but if you just start, then things can happen.”

WEAll recently published a paper which sets out a path to rebuild to a Wellbeing Economy in the US. The paper stresses that the path to rebuild our economy is founded on the principles of economic freedom, security, resilience, justice and leadership – and that it can be done. The questions we must answer are; are willing to go there, to dig deep, to be vulnerable, to forgive, to repair, to heal and to ultimately change? 

The confrontations needed have just begun and we’re a long way away. But I have hope.

Building a Wellbeing Economy is a process which requires many steps. And as Lisa Parson, who is creating Santa Monica’s Wellbeing survey and Index, says: “You just have to start.”

By: Isabel Nuesse

well-be·​ing | \ ˈwel-ˈbē-iŋ  \

Definition of well-being : the state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous : WELFARE

It’s a tumultuous time in the United States. With an ever-divisive political arena, our sensitivities have the wheel and it’s much easier to stick to our corners, and talk amongst ourselves.The outcome of the upcoming federal election could further exacerbate political polarity. If this trend continues, I expect few will applaud the result. 

Writing this piece, I’m a little scared. I do not want to over-simplify, offer a blanket solution, cause offense or seem uninformed. I know I’m not alone in this. These worries are everywhere. Due to our lack of trust for the ‘other’, we’re losing our ability, or more specifically, our desire to communicate honestly with each other. 

Conversations on topical news stories can often end with the warning of, ‘don’t make this political’, because it’s almost guaranteed that one side will lash out at the other. Or, we spew ‘facts’ back and forth. But are we sitting with the complexity of these issues, thinking from other perspectives or challenging our own thinking? 

I see both the left and the right disengaging entirely. ‘You’re threatening to take away my abortion right?’ ‘You’re threatening to take away my guns?’ It’s a yes/no, a this/that, either/or. When in reality, it’s almost all grey. But are we willing to believe in the grey? It’s much easier to stick to our corners and hold a hard line.

A transition toward an economy centered on wellbeing may only be possible if people are willing to and capable of having patient conversations with one another. 

It’s true that sometimes patient conversations cannot be had, due to deep rooted histories of oppression. In this instance, my suggestion does not apply. 

I do believe however, many people are capable of having these conversations. But they’re hard, uncomfortable and can be extremely emotional. If we don’t start to shift more of the conversation to be inquiry-based, with a focus on the core issues, do we run a risk of escalated unrest?  

I found some hope in seeing this video the other day, of two candidates running for Governor in Utah.

It is not perfect. But, it’s somewhat refreshing to see the two sides trying to move beyond the hyperpolarization of our current political state. 

In my own life I’ve tried to facilitate some of these conversations. 7 months ago, I moved back in with my parents in a small town in  Massachusetts. Twice a week, I walk with a friend of my Mom’s: a ‘fiscally conservative’ voter, who is curious enough to engage me in conversations on current events. From police violence, racial justice, supreme court nominees, climate change and Jeff Bezos’ trillion dollar salary, we cover it all. 

We can agree that local community resilience is paramount, that wealth inequality is an issue, that police often act above the law, that women are the future and that nearly all political parties can act immorally. While these agreements are not revolutionary, they are telling. 

These topics are complex. I can see from her perspective and have been forced to ask myself questions that I would not have thought of before. It can be refreshing to chat with her, because she is so hopeful about the future that it can sometimes dampen my worry.

Most importantly, these conversations have solidified the fact that we do have similar visions for the future.

Meaning, we can likely find common ground to work together towards a country we’re both proud to live in. 


My vision for a Wellbeing Economy in the US starts with us. Compromise is not impossible. And having compassion is important. One way to transition toward a Wellbeing Economy is to start in the community to better understand our neighbors, and to be open to question our individual perspectives. We have to remind ourselves that the ‘other’ isn’t evil. We can co-create an economy that meets the needs of all people. And we don’t need to be filtering our conversation to do that.

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: wellbeing for all, in a flourishing natural world. Visions of a Wellbeing Economy is a series highlighting voices from the diverse WEAll global network on describing their visions of what a Wellbeing Economy might look like in the context of their countries and how the meaning of the words ‘wellbeing’ and a ‘Wellbeing Economy’ in their respective language impacts this vision.