WeALL: Toward a Wellbeing Economy

New economy, green economy, great transition, human economy, regenerative economy, circular economy, common good economy, the commons, solidarity economy, doughnut economy, collaborative consumption, post-growth…and more. The movements for economic system change have many names.

Building on the efforts and achievements of this dynamic and ever-growing movement, The Wellbeing Economy Alliance (or WEAll) is a new initiative that aims to unite, support and amplify this work already being done, in all its diversity, in order to ensure and hasten the systemic shift to a wellbeing economy.

Since the 2008 financial crisis, there is growing recognition that the economy of today serves the few at great costs to communities and through collateral damage to the environment. In contrast to the current extractive, polluting, alienating economic model we currently have, a wellbeing economy is one in which nobody is left behind. It is an economy that meets the needs of all, rather than the wants of a few. And the time for this new economy is now.

WEAll is working with leading networks, movements and organisations from across the globe (including the Presencing Institute), as well as mobilizing individual citizens wherever they are in the world, to jointly develop a world-wide wellbeing economy movement that will help build a new economic system, one for people and planet.

Over the past few months WEAll has been busy welcoming new members, planning its work, building its website, creating the initial sectoral clusters that will work together to push for change, and using every opportunity to tell the world about its ideas and intentions. Below, we’ll share more about our vision and how you – as a citizen, organization or existing wellbeing economy movement, can get involved. But before that, let us explore some of the key aspects of a wellbeing economy.

Fundamental Principles

To transition to a wellbeing economy, we believe the following fundamental principles are necessary:

  • All institutions, businesses and society focused on delivering shared wellbeing on a healthy planet.
  • A major transformation, away from the growth orientated development paradigm, towards the purpose of a wellbeing economy.
  • Being rooted in nature and place and supporting people to preserve their cultural heritage.
  • Markets that operate in a fair and just way.
  • Celebration of entrepreneurism and creativity.
  • Institutions and decision-making characterised by openness and transparency.
  • Progress measurements and conceptions of success aligned with wellbeing, rather than GDP or short-term profit.

How we work together as a movement of movements also matters significantly. This principle of amplification is so central to the DNA of WEAll that the core staff team (which would ordinarily have been called a Secretariat or delivery team) is called the Amplification Team. As one of WEAll’s founding members, Bob Costanza of the Australian National University, put it:

What WEAll is trying to do is really to make it clear that there are a huge number of people and organisations in the world that are thinking along these lines, that really do want to create a wellbeing economy rather than one that is simply a growth economy, that recognise that we’re headed in the wrong direction and want to put that right. We all need to create a better world, and we can only create it together as a coordinated group.

The breadth of this Alliance is set to be groundbreaking, containing not only organisations and academics already working on this agenda, but also businesses and business groups, innovators working within global institutions, and sitting governments.

WEAll’s Theory of Change

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

Efforts for change are necessary on many levels – the micro level of individual organisations and projects; the middle level of policy and rules; and the macro landscape level which is the terrain (literally and in terms of ideas, science, and knowledge) on which the other levels operate and are influenced. These levels interact – actors in the micro level, for example, can change the policy regime by demonstrating feasibility and desirability of a new course of action: hence policy makers are not stepping into the unknown when creating a conducive policy regime. Similarly, change in the landscape level shifts options and demand for policy changes. And these in turn open up or shut down scope for action at the micro. Each is thus an enabler of the other and activation of one can spark or accelerate change in other areas.

Working to change the landscape level entails creating spaces to ask big questions, challenging what has come to be seen as normal, bringing new ideas into play, showcasing alternatives, spreading them and eventually normalising the notion of a new economic system.

Given all that needs to be done, WEAll is taking a three-pronged approach:

  1. framing and amplifying new narratives;
  2. working with movements, theorists, and practitioners to create a new power base to push for structural reform, and;
  3. building alternatives.

New narratives

The current economy is dominated by a certain paradigm, which the Presencing Institute refers to it as an ego-system economy. In other words, what people believe to be the ‘common sense’ [1]. This points to the fact that paradigms have an especially powerful influence over our behaviour when we are not consciously aware of them. Harvard Psychologist Robert Kegan argues [2] that in order to change, we need to transform paradigms of thought that we are subject to into objects that we can name and identify, and subsequently transcend. A paradigm of economic thought generates socio-economic and socio-political and cultural norms, it informs how people think about and deliver education, and it shapes rules and laws. This ego-system economy paradigm is the cognitive cement locking in the current economic system.

To create a wellbeing economy, we not only need to weaken the old story that underpins the current economic system, but also create a new paradigm. This will happen when people’s frames of reference are transformed and when their sense of the possible is disrupted. When this happens, we will see new questions being asked and in different ways; we’ll see different things being noted and results interpreted in new ways; and it will open up new perspectives on what is possible.

Structural reform

Working to change the economic system at a systems level requires creating new coalitions and movements and developing shared strategies. It means supporting campaigners and activists and also those advocating for policies more conducive to a wellbeing economy. It needs to involve shining a light (by championing and disseminating) on pioneering projects so policy makers see them as feasible and desirable [3]. To get policies recognised and accepted, there is a need to persuade, educate and mobilise the public so the ‘window of public acceptance’ expands to include those policies. WEAll is thus seeking to catalyse the formation of a global Wellbeing Economy movement.

There is no need for this to be an all-encompassing movement – critical mass is more important. This means working with people who are ready for change and building from there to a tipping point (estimated to be around a quarter of a population) [4]. This applies to activating the values critical to a wellbeing economy just as much as it applies to working with policy makers or practitioners.

Theory and its dissemination also matter – 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, and need to ensure it reflects the lived reality, wishes, and fundamental human needs of all. It’s vital to ensure this wellbeing economy knowledge base not only shapes policy decisions, but also feeds into the very teaching of economics to policy makers of the future.

Building Alternatives

Developing prototypes at the micro level effectively begins to build the new system while the old one is still here [5]. This has an educational and ideological function since it spreads both awareness and points to new values (those that underpin a new economic system). 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. Working to change the economic system here, at the micro level, entails providing support for innovators and connecting them (for example, via communities of practice) so they encourage others to replicate their practice – ‘scaling across’, if you like.

Join us

WEAll is truly global and welcomes everybody, any organization, and any institution committed to creating a wellbeing economy. Together, through collaboration and cross-pollination, we will be greater than the sum of our parts. A critical mass to change the system already exists, but will only succeed when people, organisations and ideas within it are connected as a movement and their voices amplified. WEAll has been created to enable those connections and amplify those voices.

Lisa Hough-Stewart and Katherine Trebeck are members of the WeALL Amplification Team.

Over the coming months the Transforming Capitalism Lab team will update you on the ways in which you can support, engage and join in the WeALL movement. For further updates and information, you can register for updates at wellbeingeconomy.org

[1] Anderson, P. (1976). The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci. New Left Review, 1.

[2] Kegan, Robert 2001 The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development. Harvard University Press.

[3] Gopel, Maja 2016 The Great Mindshift: How a New Economic Paradigm and Sustainability Transformations go Hand in Hand, Springer Open and Wuppertal Institut, Berlin

[4] Gopel, Maja 2016 The Great Mindshift: How a New Economic Paradigm and Sustainability Transformations go Hand in Hand, Springer Open and Wuppertal Institut, Berlin

[5] Raworth, K. (2017) Doughnut Economics: Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist, London: Penguin Random House.