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by: Sandra Waddock

There is a lot of talk today about bouncing ‘back’ or returning to what passed for normal before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world and everyone’s lives. But there is a huge problem with that idea. 

By the nature of complexity and wicked problems in social systems, complex systems simply cannot return to prior states once change has been triggered. 

Despite many calls to ‘bring back’ the system as it was, and efforts by governments and business leaders to do so, many economic, work, educational, and social systems have already changed in unpredictable ways that make a complete return to pre-pandemic conditions unlikely. 

Something else important is happening, too. The pandemic has raised awareness that the economic drivers that shaped the prior ‘normal’ have created many problems—including existential crises like climate change, species extinction, and inequality. Some observers have even laid the COVID-19 pandemic at the feet of overly aggressive exploitation of nature. 

So the real question is, what will our economic and social systems look like after the pandemic if we can indeed do what WEAll suggests and ‘build back better’ or ‘bounce beyond’ today’s economics? 

Today’s dominant economic drivers include beliefs, or what the late systems theorist Donella Meadows called mindsets, that form an economic paradigm. That paradigm— neoliberalism —has been used to justify growing inequality, ignorance of environmental impacts, and a drive towards ‘efficiency’ that justifies layoffs, abusive conditions in many companies’ global supply chains, and cutthroat competition. The most vocal proponent of this flawed set of beliefs was the late Milton Friedman

Neoliberalism claims that markets are and need to be ‘free’, that people are self-interested profit maximisers—and so are companies. That the best governments are the ones that exert the least regulatory or legal influence on the powers of business. That endless growth is the goal of economies and companies. That companies’ only social responsibility is to maximise profits for one group of stakeholders—the shareholders, as Friedman put it in a famous and influential, yet problematic, New York Times article in 1970

Neoliberalism’s flawed and problematic orthodoxy (a generally accepted theory, doctrine, or practice) remains deeply embedded in both business practice and governmental focus on flawed measures like GDP. The thing is, as my recent paper ‘Reframing and Transforming Economics around Life’ (published in Sustainability) argues, what the world really needs now is not another attempt at reforming the current framing, but a completely new economic orthodoxy.

The world needs an economics that favors life in all its aspects. One that fosters wellbeing for all humans, as well as non-humans. That economics needs to be built on powerful precepts— ‘memes’ or core building blocks of culture—that resonate broadly yet are considerably more holistic than those of neoliberalism.

Such memes support today’s new / next economies initiatives—such as Amsterdam’s recent adoption of Raworth’s ‘doughnut economics’and other wellbeing economies.

My paper argues for six synthesised precepts or building blocks, for Wellbeing Economics, drawn from a wide range of literatures. 

1. Stewardship of the Whole

Stewardship of the whole is foundational. Simply put, this means that leaders, governments, communities, businesses, and other institutions and, indeed, all of us, have shared responsibility for ensuring that the ‘whole’ system, including the planet itself, is healthy and supporting all of life for the foreseeable future. Living systems, including communities, organisations, and Earth itself, are healthy when all of their parts work together productively—when the ‘whole’ is considered, not just the parts. 

2. Co-creating Collective Value

Economic activity can be positive or negative (think the clear cutting of forests). This is why the focus of today’s economics on the growth of money as the sole way of assessing wellbeing is incredibly narrow-minded. Many other values, though perhaps not as readily measured as monetary outcomes, are important to humans, including health, relationships, community, meaningful work, and belonging, among others. Thus, another precept that underpins health, life, and wellbeing is co-creating collective value. Scholars Donaldson and Walsh argue that generating collective value should be the core purpose of businesses. Many important societal values that lend ‘life’ to human systems can be included in such a metric, as the Genuine Progress Indicator demonstrates. 

3. Cosmopolitan-localist Governance

Another core precept is cosmopolitan-localist governance. Given today’s technologically connected world, it is possible to create local governance systems in which citizens can have voice, input, and impact, and connect those to the global system. Cosmo-local governance, as it is sometimes called, relies on this connectivity, while decentralising decision making as much as possible, and allowing for communities to create and share ideas, knowledge, skills, technology, culture, and ecologically sustainable resources. 

4. Regeneration, Reciprocity, and Circularity

Cosmo-localism is complimented by an approach to production of goods and services that emphasises regeneration, reciprocity, and circularity. The idea here is to produce goods and services in alignment with the natural environment’s capacity to regenerate them, to operate in accord with nature’s own principles, in which exchanges are reciprocally balanced as inputs and outputs, and avoid toxic by-products (or products). Circularity avoids the take-make-waste approach too often used today, and instead adopts the idea of ‘waste equals food’, as some ecologists put it— which suggests that what is waste for one part of the system, needs to be reused as ‘food’ (inputs) in another part. 

5. Relationship and Connectedness

In contrast to neoliberalism’s strong bent towards individualism and individual responsibility, economics for all of liferecognises the idea of relationship and connectedness as foundational to what it means to be human—and what it means to exist in a complex world where physicists tell us, everything is connected. Human beings thrive in the context of relationship—and indeed, cannot survive on their own. The South African principle of Ubuntu, the idea that ‘I am because we are’, and the Lakota principle of Mitikuye Oyasin, or the idea that ‘all are related’ (sometimes translated as ‘All my relations’) reflect the core principle of relationships and connectedness. 

6. Equitable Markets and Trade

Since we are all connected, equitable markets and trade needs to replace the flawed idea of free markets and trade—because how we treat each other in markets and trading situations matters. Equitable or fair markets/trade offer fair and fully costed products and services, with all costs internalised, because otherwise, they are absorbed by and harm societies and the natural environment. It also means producing goods and services that are actually needed by customers and recognising the importance of good—and participative—governance over their fairness. 

There’s much more that could be said about each of these principles. 

The key idea here is that to make progress towards a Wellbeing Economy, many more progressive initiatives need to come to agreement about what the core ideas are, that would drive such an economy. 

My paper is intended as a start on that conversation, though by no means is it the end point. 

Dr. Sandra Waddock is the Galligan Chair of Strategy, Carroll School Scholar of Corporate Responsibility and Professor of Management at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. Sandra has published well over 100 articles on corporate citizenship, sustainable enterprise, difference making, wisdom, stewardship of the future, responsibility management systems, corporate responsibility, management education, and related topics. Her research interests are in the area of macro-system change, intellectual shamanism, stewardship of the future, wisdom, corporate responsibility, management education, and multi-sector collaboration. 

Connect with Sandra on her website, blog and on Twitter: @SandraWaddock and @IntellectShaman

Faces of the Wellbeing Economy Movement is a series highlighting the many informed voices from different specialisms, sectors, demographics, and geographies in the Wellbeing Economy movement. This series will share diverse insights into why a Wellbeing Economy is a desirable and viable goal and the new ways of addressing societal issues, to show us how to get there. This supports WEAll’s mission to move beyond criticisms of the current economic system, towards purposeful action to build a Wellbeing Economy.

By Arhum Amer

Urdu is spoken as a first language by nearly 70 million people and as a second language by more than 100 million people, predominantly in Pakistan[i]. Urdu is a language full of beauty and grace, a language that seems to have been custom-built for literature, a language that adds meaning to prose and charm to poetry.

In this language, the literal translation of ‘wellbeing’ would be خیریت ‘khair-iyat’.

A ‘Wellbeing Economy’ would be referred to as خوشحال معیشت ‘khush-haal maeeshat’

Pakistan is a country with 212 million resilient citizens, 64% of whom are under the age of 30[ii][iii]. Our founding father, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision for a khush-haal maeeshat is echoed by our current Prime Minister, H.E Imran Khan’s platform for a “Naya Pakistan” (meaning “New Pakistan”): a welfare country based on democratic principles, freedom and respect for every religion and ethnicity, equality between poor and rich, safety for minority groups and the accountability of public office holders.       

To understand what a Wellbeing Economy, or khush-haal maeeshat, in Pakistan would look like, it is important that we understand the environment and challenges that grip Pakistan. Being a developing country, the reforms that we dream of may seem minuscule to a citizen of the West. However, I believe every state in the world is encountering similar or comparable issues, with varying intensities; each must be addressed to truly deliver khair-iyat, for all people.

Inequality

A high level of inequality prevails in the country, with around 24% of Pakistanis living below the poverty line[iv]. Many of the country’s financial challenges stem from recently overcoming a ‘War on Terror’, which resulted in $126B USD worth of losses over 17 years and from corruption, which remains Pakistan’s biggest systemic challenge.       

The Government’s Ehsaas Kafaalat programme will provide monthly cash stipends of Rs. 2,000 and bank accounts to Pakistan’s poorest women, as well as better access to smartphones, as a step towards digital inclusion. Such programmes must be expanded to all corners of Pakistan. No country can truly progress with such a large chunk of its population living under the poverty line.    

Education

Pakistan’s constitution obligates the state to provide free education to all children until the age of 16. However, due to the low standards of Government Institutes and the prevalence of child labour, students prefer private schools or choose to stay out of school. This has led to Pakistan having the second largest out-of-school youth population in the world[v]. I believe the students of the country deserve a forward-looking curriculum with compulsory extra-curricular activities. A Wellbeing Economy in Pakistan would encompass high quality state education and enrolment of girls in schools, in areas where they are deprived of education. 

Healthcare

In Pakistan, the double burden of malnutrition is becoming increasingly apparent, with almost one in three children underweight (28.9%), while 9.5% in the same age group are overweight[vi]. Meanwhile, overcrowded cities, unsafe drinking water, inadequate sanitation, poor socioeconomic conditions, low health awareness and inadequate vaccination coverage have led to the rapid spread of communicable diseases, adding strain to the already overstretched medical facilities in the country.

Several government initiatives are underway to address these issues. For instance, the Poverty Alleviation Programme called Ehsaas Nashonuma, is a health and nutrition conditional cash transfer programme which aims to address stunting in children under 23 months of age as a pilot project in nine districts of the country. 

Pakistan has recently rolled out universal health insurance in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with plans to expand it to Punjab, the country’s most populous province. I believe that access to the same medical facilities, for the rich and poor, would be the height of healthcare reform in the country. 

Urban Development

With its urban population growing three percent per year, Pakistanis are flocking to cities faster than any other country in South Asia[vii]. Urbanisation has inflated Pakistan’s biggest cities so rapidly that they struggle to deliver public services and create productive jobs. A disparity exists in the development of Pakistani cities: a few having 21st century facilities, others lacking basic necessities. Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, got its first metro train line just a couple of weeks ago, in addition to its existing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.

The newly functional Orange Line Metro in Lahore, 250,000 people are expected to travel on it everyday. Wikimedia Commons

However, Karachi which is the country’s financial hub and largest city, has no public transit system or Emergency Response System. The city, with an estimated nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $164 billion USD[viii], was brought to its knees in the recent monsoon rains, due to the lack of a drainage system and planned development. 

Approximately 3 feet of water can be seen on the roads of Karachi’s most expensive residential area, after torrential rains paralysed the city.

In my opinion, the way forward has to involve empowering local governments, so they can collect taxes and spend it on the specific needs of the city. Sustainable expansion of cities should be based on long-term master plans and urban development projects should focus on supporting pedestrians and cyclists, rather than only facilitating car transport. The Clean Green City Index is a helpful tool to support this development.

Climate Resilience 

Pakistan is the fifth most climate-vulnerable nation in the world[ix]. Over the past 20 years, Pakistan is estimated to have lost nearly 10,000 lives and $4 billion USD in financial losses due to climate-related disasters[x]. My vision of a Wellbeing Economy in Pakistan involves one where the country is not constantly at risk from climate catastrophes. 

Pakistan has recently launched several initiatives to create a ‘green Pakistan’ and protect our national parks and forest reserves, including “Clean Green Pakistan” and the “Protected Areas Initiative”. The “10 Billion Tree Tsunami” initiative aims to plant billions of trees across the country over the next three years, in addition to the one billion trees already planted in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The use of plastic bags has also been banned in major cities (the implementation of this ban is a different story…). 

In addition to its progress to date, my vision for a climate-friendly and climate resilient Pakistan is one that moves toward affordable and clean energy, builds green cities and emphasises recycling, water conservation, responsible consumption and production models. An important step towards this vision involves a public awareness campaign about the possible catastrophic impacts of climate change on our glaciers and water tables – and how this would impact Pakistani lives. Climate change is not just an environmental challenge, but an issue impacting our economy, human health, agriculture, and ecosystem. 

Justice

While millions of legal cases remain pending in the courts of Pakistan, religious intolerance, lack of human rights and women’s safety have become a cause for concern. My vision for a Wellbeing Economy is in line with Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision:

“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you.”

“You are free. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed—that has nothing to do with the business of the state.”

I believe that a khush-haal maeeshat in Pakistan would see policies being made to protect the vulnerable, to create an environment that supports accountability and merit, and to serve the common person instead of a handful of the wealthy. No one would be above the law. To deliver on this vision and improve law-and-order in the country, better policing, use of forensic sciences, and accountability of public office holders is needed. Punishments for harassment and rape cases must be stricter and proper prosecution of such cases must be carried out to restore safety of women in the country. An entry test along the lines of the LSATs should be introduced to ensure that our legal community consists of the brightest minds in the country. The introduction of a Witness Protection Program is also critical, especially in criminal cases, in line with the model of the U.S Witness Security Program (WITSEC). 

The Way Forward

Pakistan faces challenges on multiple fronts, from the economy to governance and education to health services. Yet, there are plenty of things I love about my country and my hope for Pakistan’s bright future, despite its problems, never dies out.  

The fact that the WHO has praised Pakistan for its brilliant handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and that Pakistan has achieved its SDG 13 (Climate Action) goal a decade ahead of the deadline, are testaments to the fact that, no matter how mammoth the challenge, having competent public office holders making decisions for the khair-iyat of the people, can be done – and pays off.  

While we may seem off course in some ways:

“With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that [we] cannot achieve.”

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah

Arhum is a student of Chartered Accountancy and currently works as an audit associate at PwC Pakistan. His long-term goals include working for the betterment of the country.

References

by: Xola Keswa

Impilo econo kuqala kwesimosomnoto – Wellbeing economy 

Zulu

South Africa is a country that many greats, including Nelson Mandela, Elon Musk, Mark Shuttleworth, Steve Biko, Mariam Makeba, Trevor Noah, and Mahatma Gandhi, have called home.

People will tell very different stories of their experiences in our beautiful country, depending on when they were born and which time period they lived through. As is no secret, the country wasn’t always like it is today. South Africa comes out of a difficult time of suffering and pain: apartheid, a legal form of discrimination, loomed on our streets for about fifty years, following 300 years of colonisation. These hard times ushered in new visions of what South Africa could be, if given the opportunity. 

The Rainbow Nation

The new vision was one of equality before the law and the upholding of human rights: the right to life, right to dignity and the right to freedoms that any person can be all which they desire.

In our African traditions and customs, we call this word humanity (the foundation for wellbeing) in a different way. We call it by the name “Ubuntu”, meaning “I am because we are”.

Desmond Tutu was one of the first people to mention Ubuntu at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which then further introduced it to the world. After his release from prison, South Africa began to embrace a spirit of togetherness inspired by Nelson Mandela, the father of our nation and its democracy. After he was elected as the first president of our democratic South Africa, Madiba, as many call him, chose peace and reconciliation instead of bloodshed and civil war, which could have easily been the story of South Africa, like many of our African countries which experienced a similar situation.

Inspired by these leaders, the spirit of Ubuntu and togetherness have shaped our new vision and narrative of a post-apartheid South Africa: the Rainbow Nation

Visions of Wellbeing from the ‘Born Frees’

At the age of 26, I’d say I’m one year short of being what we call ‘a born free’. In South Africa, children who were born in 1994, who are about 25 years or younger, are referred to as ‘born frees’. They did not experience apartheid; they have only heard about it in the news or in their history books or in the stories told by their parents or grandparents.

These are the young ones who belong to the united, post-apartheid South Africa, which we have come call our Rainbow Nation.

It is this Rainbow Nation and the spirit of Ubuntu that I’d like to focus on, as a gateway to an economy of togetherness as opposed to separateness. 

The Time of COVID-19: Ubuntu in Action

In 2020, the country was faced with a challenge some thought was on too big a scale for South Africa to tackle, given our young democracy. 

As COVID-19 approached us, many feared for the worst to happen, as people were pushed to the brink of survival. Many people who were already on the breadline saw that same bread disappear at the table. Many people lost their jobs as the country geared for lockdown level 5 (meaning nobody could be walking around in the streets): everyone was told to stay home. What was our country to do, as 30% of youth were unemployed and those who did have a job lost them? Many people left cities and towns to get away to the countryside, fearing an insurrection.

This country did no such thing; instead people and government came together and thought of exactly the opposite.

The country responded as if they asked themselves, ‘What Madiba would do?’

In March, our government started a new foundation called the ‘Solidarity Fund’, intended to support communities with food aid, medical and financial relief, as well as to support the country with the spirit of togetherness during these difficult times. It is also investing funds into wellbeing, health and ending gender-based violence. In response to the crisis, all the major South African business firms and wealthy families in South Africa started donating to this Solidarity Fund. 

At the same time, citizens also took action as lockdown rules tightened and the need for basic food and shelter became apparent. In Cape Town, a local initiative was created by a group of Captonians’ who saw a need for solidarity instead of segregation, from a Facebook group called ‘Cape Town’. A self-organising system of community action networks were created in every major town or suburb in the city of Cape Town metropolitan area. Each community organised its own volunteers from the neighbourhood, to help in fundraising for the less fortunate in the cities’ peripheries. 

As the world knows, South Africa is the most unequal society in the world, where the rich live like those in Europe and the US, while the majority, the indigenous people, can barely afford to stay above the poverty line.

Through these community action networks in Cape Town, we witnessed a major redistribution of resources from the ‘haves’ to the ‘have nots’.

Like a wave of a magic wand, people began distributing food aid and blankets for the homeless and assisting in finding shelters in churches etc. What stood out for me, by far, was the partnering of affluent suburbs and townships called the ‘Cape Flats’. As the nation started to form an understanding of a common threat to us all, we put our differences aside to deal with the virus together. 

I have seen the vision of building towards a Wellbeing Economy being put into practice – slowly though, as negative minds still exist and push back against the current communal wave. For example, many municipalities went against their rate payers by calling them out for engaging in community action networks. But this hasn’t stopped the spirit of togetherness spreading into the country to major cities like Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth city in the Eastern Cape. 

For the first time in my life (aside from winning the Rugby World Cup, of course), I felt proudly South African. I am actually seeing my country, our Rainbow Nation, put aside the past and “build back better” through the idea of solidarity – Ubuntu.

My Vision of a Wellbeing Economy

The idea of solidarity as a response to the COVID-19 is definitely part of my vision for a new economy. Putting human beings and communities first, before anything else and actually mobilising funds and resources to do so via the Solidarity Fund. 

To me it is obvious that whenever our country is pushed into a corner, we will return to the spirit of togetherness inspired by our past leaders and Desmond Tutu’s philosophy of Ubuntu. It helped to end apartheid and it is building our strength in the face of the coronavirus. 

This spirit of finding strength in diversity and bringing together different resources and skills, is South Africa’s best hope of coming out of any mess we find ourselves in and fostering the wellbeing of all people, regardless of colour or creed.

The cooperation around South Africa’s progressive Solidarity Fund demonstrate this spirit – and can be the foundation for a Wellbeing Economy in South Africa.