Our vision for systemic economic change

The need for change:

There is increasing recognition that the prevailing economic model is a root cause of the web of social and environmental crises. Our economic system does not account for nature, is blind to distribution of resources, and gives little or no ‘value’ to many of the things that are essential for our human, social and environmental resilience.

Our vision for change:

Embedding a wellbeing economy approach can help transform local economies into ‘engines’ for social and environmental benefits. Policies and resources should focus on meeting human needs and ensuring the conditions for future generations to thrive.

Our part:

Centre for Thriving Places exists to support a widespread systemic shift to an economy that puts the wellbeing of people and planet centre stage. We provide a range of services to help make this possible and practical at a local level. We provide a coherent and accessible canvas for local co-creation of ‘disruptive innovations’ in policy and practice. 

Our approach

Why we need a wellbeing economy

There are four elements of the ‘economy’ as we know it: the Market (how we exchange many goods and services), the Government (how we provide for and fairly distribute essential services and support), the Household (where so much of our daily work is done including caring for the young, old and vulnerable), and the Commons (the essential role of communities, shared skills and resources and the shared natural resources of the planet).  Our current economic model places the Market as the ‘master’ to which all three other elements are merely servants – feeding, supporting or at the disposal of the market and its all important confidence and growth. 

By putting the market and its growth as our goal, and consumption based measures of progress such as GDP to the fore, our economic, financial and political systems do not measure, value, nurture or invest in the extraordinary wealth of the other three elements.  This system does not account for nature, is blind to distribution of resources, gives little or no ‘value’ to many of the things that are essential for our human, social and environmental resilience.

There are a wealth of vital projects and initiatives dealing with the symptoms of this economic model.  From tiny community projects to global initiatives, the work to deal with the fallout of our attitudes to people and the planet is everywhere.  Similar effort needs to be urgently turned to challenging and reversing the fundamental root cause.

We are seemingly a long way off major change in national government policy, directed at delivering a radically different and systemic new economic model.  At the same time the climate crisis is deepening, inequality is spiralling and the fundamental conditions for social and environmental flourishing are getting chipped away.  There is an urgent and growing need for change and we cannot afford to wait for national politicians and top down governments to make the shift for us.

What a wellbeing economy approach can offer

In a wellbeing economy model no longer is the ‘market’ the master, for whom the government, the household and the commons serve.  Here the household and commons, and their collective capacity to thrive become the goal.  The market and government are in service to this goal. So business can no longer blindly consume our planetary resources, nor ignore the immense value embedded in people and communities.  The market is still essential but it is about producing life giving and life improving products and services to help people and places to thrive. 

As Kate Raworth so eloquently describes – the world is ripe for this change of leadership away from market domination wherepeople can collaborate and work, whether paid a wage through the market, or work together to create free goods and services, or care for others, or are employed directly by the state. But we’ll need a shift in the balance between these four spaces”. Luckily, as she also points out,  “in the 21st century, how we produce energy, how we make things, how we communicate, and we create shared knowledge are asking to be distributive by design. So, you can go from a massive oil rig to a solar panel on the roof of every home; from production in a massive factory owned by corporations to desktop manufacturing with 3D printers; from a centralized switchboard to mobile phones in every pocket; from patents and copyright to Creative Commons licensing”

In a wellbeing economy government’s policies and resources are directed at ensuring that shared benefits of society (education, health, transport, a safety net for all), and the use of the natural and human commons are available to all, now and for generations to come.  Decisions in all sectors and at all levels of society are taken against these core principles.

There is an urgent need for the Centre for Thriving Places support for pioneering local leaders, across the economic system, to come together and choose this different path.  By demonstrating it’s possible and by sharing what works, understanding the barriers, and co-designing ways around them, the urgency for change and the path towards it, can be spread place by place across the UK and beyond.

This approach includes new forms of leadership, ways of thinking, and decision making.  Ones that help assess every choice, every investment, every allocation of resource, time, money, skills and creativity, on it’s value to people and planet now and for generations to come.  Moving away from short term thinking and narrow and privileged interest groups, and towards valuing the fundamental building blocks for our collective wellbeing.

It also requires new tools, new data, new delivery models and new ways to support them to become embedded.  How can data play a key role in delivering a sustainable shift in focus for local policy and action?  What support do leaders need to embed this approach at scale?  Can different tools or materials help those on the front line use this different compass for decision making?  Can this work help bridge entrenched divides, and allow silos to be broken down?  Can a current and future generations lens support policy that looks beyond short political cycles?  And what practical help do people delivering our services and systems need to work in this new and disruptive way?

With the right information, understanding and practical tools and support, the sorts of changes we are seeing at a national scale in New Zealand, Iceland, Scotland and elsewhere can be delivered in cities and regions across the UK.  Examples such as wellbeing budgets, wellbeing focused regional plans, social value procurement, community led social businesses and participatory democracy can be delivered at scale even within our highly centralised system.

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