Designing Policies for a Wellbeing Economy

Mar 15, 2021

Amanda Janoo WEAll’s Knowledge & Policy Lead 

Around the world, people are losing faith in their governments. According to the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer  over half of the world now believes our current economic system is doing more harm than good and that democracy is being eroded. Policy makers are increasingly viewed as facilitators of the growing inequality, injustice and environmental destruction that afflict our world rather than protectors and champions of our wellbeing. 

It is easy to understand this growing distrust in government when you live in a country like mine. When the COVID pandemic first hit, our President, Donald Trump legitimized inaction by saying “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA…Stock Market looks very good to me!” His barometer for our national health was the stock market and his first concern was how this pandemic would affect our economy. As if forgetting that we are the economy and that there is no greater cost than life itself. This confusion begins to make some sense when we consider that we evaluate our national success by our level of economic growth (GDP) not by our level of wellbeing. 

Around the world however, from the local to the global, policy makers are flipping this script. Recognizing that we’ve confused means and ends for too long. That people and planet are not here to serve the economy, it is here to serve us. That the economy is just the way that we produce and provide for one another and that we can produce things in a way that regenerates our world and provide to one another in a way that ensures wellbeing now and for generations to come. 

We find hope and inspiration in the leaders of the Wellbeing Economy Governments, such as Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand who has said: “Capitalism has failed our people. If you have hundreds of thousands of children living in homes without enough to survive, that’s a blatant failure. What else could you describe it as?” The wellbeing economy movement is not just being driven by heads of state, at all levels of government there are visionary policy makers who recognize the failures of our current economic system and are working to build a more  just and sustainable world. 

The challenge of course is that our current economic thinking has not only determined our measures of progress but also our government structures, power dynamics and cultural narratives. Developing a Wellbeing Economy is therefore not only about different measures or policies but critically about changing our relationship to the economy and our approach to its management and governance. The transformation we seek requires all of us, because we are the economy. It requires us to expand our imagination regarding what the economy is and can be. It needs all of us, with each of our unique gifts to co-create policies that can realign our economic systems with our values and objectives. Such a transformation can feel daunting, but just because a path is not paved does not mean we should not strive forward. 

With this in mind, the WEAll membership came together to co-create a Wellbeing Economy Policy Design Guide, illustrating that we can expand our notion of value and progress and proactively build an economy that can deliver social justice on a healthy planet. 

This guide challenges one-size-fits-all economic thinking by celebrating a diversity of approaches and values. It embraces the complex and intangible and empowers all people to participate in this transformative project. It moves us beyond viewing governments as market enablers to proactive agents of change. It re-embeds the economy back into our society and environment and calls for an integrated, holistic and co-creative approach. And it makes all of these very radical shifts in how we design economic policies seem down-right practical.

This short guide is filled with an abundance of case studies, tools and tips from our members on how to design policies for a Wellbeing Economy. More specifically, you’ll find resources and ideas on how to:

  1. Understand what matters for wellbeing, and how to craft and communicate wellbeing visions and measurements 
  2. Identify the areas of economic life that are most important for wellbeing,  managing trade-offs and confronting power dynamics 
  3. Assess and co-create Wellbeing Economy policies through meaningful participation 
  4. Successfully implement Wellbeing Economy policies by empowering local stakeholders and communities to create, adapting and aligning these policies to their context 
  5. Evaluate wellbeing for learning, adaptation and success 

This guide is just the beginning, as the wellbeing economy is still young and there are many questions that remain unanswered, many tools still to be developed and many more experiences to learn from. This guide aims to be practical without being overly prescriptive so that you can align these policy design processes and ideas to your unique context. Our request is that you share your experience with us so that we can learn together how to transform this thing we call an economy through deliberative, inclusive and democractic processes. The process we use to get to the future is the future we will get. 

Now is the time to move beyond critique of our economic system & governments and proactively work to transform them in line with our values & objectives. Now is the time to experiment and consider radical new ways to mold and direct our economy to deliver social justice on a healthy planet. Together we can show the world that a Wellbeing Economy is not only possible but already underway. 

To learn more:

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