Teaming up to transform the economy


In September a new organisation announced to the world it was here and that it has big ambitions. Handing out free money on Wall Street and encouraging the recipients to share one of the dollar bills was just the beginning. A few days later leading thinkers from academia, business, policy and activism explained how a new economic model could be built by all sectors working together.

Before this foray onto the public stage, this new organisation – the Wellbeing Economy Alliance – held regular meetings, some online, some in person, to plan the strategy and work plan of an entity determined to drive economic transformation.

But transform into what?

It is no coincidence that the Wellbeing Economy Alliance – ‘WEAll’ for short – has been created by organisations and people frustrated that our current economy is misaligned with what people and planet really need. It is ten years since the financial crash and ten years of pushing down on the accelerator of business as usual.

But look beyond the short termist agenda flowing from focusing Gross Domestic Product and extractive profit and a vision underpinning something profoundly different comes into view.

You see it, if you look at brain scans or reflect on the findings of psychologists and epidemiologists about human stress and flourishing. You hear it, if you take the time to listen to what people identify as most important in their lives. You read it, in certain texts of the world’s religions, development scholarship, and academic literature from all corners of university corridors.

Essentially, the picture that is being painted is a ‘wellbeing economy’: an economy in service of human and ecological wellbeing. It is about meeting the needs of all. It recognises that the economy is embedded in society and the rest of nature rather than nature and society being in service of the economy. A wellbeing economy is about more than tweaking and fixing the harm caused by the current model.

Transformation tactics

A nice vision perhaps, but changing an economic system is extraordinarily challenging.

Fortunately, many are rolling up their sleeves and creating projects, policies, and programmes that illustrate a wellbeing economy: from businesses with a social or environmental mission to new ways of local decision making; from pushing for policies that seek to open up space for experimentation to projects that epitomise – even in microcosm – that things can be done differently.

But how can all these initiatives add up to sometime more systemic? Can they ever be more than the sum of their parts?

Evidence of previous system shifts show that systems can change when enough people, across all walks of life, team up to demand it; when the story is positive about how we can live a different life; and when it is solidly based on theory that not only makes sense, but also reflects what makes us innately human.

WEAll was established to translate these lessons into action that helps build a wellbeing economy.

Its mission is to support those who are active in bringing about a new economic system so that their efforts are more powerful and more effective. It is being joined by a range of organisations and individuals. Its growing membership includes those working within the system to change it from the inside and those building from the outside. It includes academics, businesses, governments, cities, community organisation, NGOs, and think tanks.

Making transformation tangible

Free money to spur a debate about the economy was just the beginning. WEAll’s key tasks are to amplify and connect, to build and to promote.

WEAll will work to create new coalitions and movements and to develop shared strategies. This means supporting campaigners and activists and also those advocating for policies more conducive to a wellbeing economy. WEAll will get creative with communications techniques and advocacy activities to shine a light on pioneering projects, so policy makers see them as feasible and desirable.

To get policies recognised and accepted, WEAll will work to persuade, educate and mobilise the public so the ‘window of public acceptance’ expands to include policies conducive to a wellbeing economy. It is planning a platform to connect the growing numbers of individuals who are already creating a more humane economy in their communities and are ready to connect with others doing something similar.

Theory and its dissemination also matters – think tanks, academics, and publications all play a role in either constraining or opening and enabling the discussion and creation of a new economic system. So WEAll will work to synthesise a wellbeing economy knowledge base so it not only shapes policy decisions, but also feeds into the very teaching of economics to policy makers of the future.

Pioneering projects (be they community level, businesses or others) that disrupt the current system can also encourage others to replicate them. Eventually new norms will emerge and a critical mass will be reached. WEAll’s work to change the economic system here, at the niche level, entails providing support for innovators and connecting them (for example, via communities of practice) so they encourage others to replicate their practice.

It its core, WEAll is about bringing people together – people who believe that we can have an economy in service of what people and planet really need and who have faith that by joining up we all just might be able to achieve something extraordinary.

If you are someone or an organisation who wants to collaborate for system change, then you are welcome in WEAll – join the conversation and get involved at: 

Katherine Trebeck is Research Director at WE All; she was formerly Senior Researcher at Oxfam.

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