Moving beyond rhetoric to reality: creating enabling wellbeing economies

January 30, 2020

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by Hannah Ormston, Policy and Development Officer, Carnegie UK Trust

Imagine a life that is beyond just economic growth: where participation, connection and the environment are all valued and seen as appropriate ways to measure a nation’s performance, its commitment to its citizens. This was the opening scenario posed by Katherine Trebeck at the Wealth of Nations 2.0 conference last week.

The idea of a wellbeing economy – that GDP should not and cannot be the only measure of a nation’s success – is starting to take root. It’s something that has been at the front of Carnegie colleagues’ minds and focus for over a decade, and which we believe is central to improving the wellbeing of people across the UK and Ireland. For the Carnegie UK Trust, a thriving society – or wellbeing economy – is one where citizens feel inspired, empowered and are enabled to work together, to participate, and to coproduce solutions that are specific to the circumstances of an individual or a community.

Scotland has taken a lead role. From the formation of Wellbeing Economy Governments (WeGo), an alliance between Scotland, New Zealand and Iceland, to Cop 26, the UN Climate Change conference taking place in Glasgow later this year, as a nation, it is challenging thinking about what exactly ‘progress’ means. How do we best measure it, and how can we protect the interests of future generations to come?

And it does all sound impressive. But as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon highlighted in her keynote speech, we now need utilise this energy, to move beyond rhetoric to reality for those who need it most. We should not assume that this case has been won.

There are many positive examples from across a range of sectors, from business, finance, and within communities themselves. And though one perspective may be that ‘some sectors understand it better than others’, what is more important is for these sectors to move past comparisons, to focus on collective leadership and to work together to facilitate the paradigm shift required.

Our recent report highlights some examples of these local economies across the UK doing just that. From Morecambe, to West Kilbride, Cardigan to Portrush, they are shaping change by focusing on shared assets, uniting around a vision or catalyst and with improving wellbeing a key focus.

Defining ‘progress’ and measuring wellbeing is not a linear or straightforward process. If it was easy, it perhaps would not be so hotly debated. But no one can deny the importance of wellbeing for society, and with the commitment of governments and leaders, alongside new partnerships across and between the sectors, it might be possible to make a wellbeing economy a reality.