Written by Caroline Whyte, WEAll Ireland Hub

High levels of enthusiasm and readiness for change were expressed in the course of this participatory event, with emphasis placed on a need for fundamental economic transformation to bring about greater community empowerment and increase overall societal wellbeing. 

The participants – 45-50 – came from many backgrounds with a wide range and depth of experience, from all over Ireland and a few from beyond. They joined us to explore the principles of a wellbeing economy, identify the range and depth of existing activities on the island and establish how we might catalyse change together. 

At the event we considered these questions:

How might we work together to change the economic system and create a wellbeing economy?

How can the Wellbeing Economy Alliance add value to the existing work we are all doing?

Event Outline

Co-hosts Davie Philip of Cultivate, Caroline Whyte of Feasta, Seán Ó Conláin of Feasta and EHFF, Colette Bennett of Social Justice Ireland, David Somekh of EHFF and Peter Doran of QUB School of Law welcomed the participants and provided some background context on WEAll and the situation of Ireland. Participants verbally introduced themselves in breakout room pairs, and to the plenary via the meeting’s chat. 

Following feedback from the breakouts, a final plenary took place.

We were delighted to have some live music from Belfast-based flamenco guitarist Paddy Anderson at the beginning of the event, and from songwriter Conor Lawlor at the end.

Here’s some of what emerged from the groups and the discussions:

Q1. What has already been done [on wellbeing in Ireland] and Q.2. What is being worked on?

Public Participation Networks (PPNs)

Many PPNs, including Clare, Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Westmeath and Wicklow, have created bottom-up wellbeing vision statements to be used by the local authority, with powerful local engagement.  There is an opportunity to build on this interest in wellbeing arising from this work.

Local development

Collaboration for Change has initiated an online mapping project of local groups throughout Ireland. 42 local/community development organisations currently cover the Republic at local level; their focus includes marginalised groups and contributing to a climate of care. Community Wealth Building (CWB) is being actively promoted by civil society in both jurisdictions, including the Development Trust Northern Ireland.

Doughnut concepts are being very actively explored in a local context, with support from the Irish Doughnut Economics network (IDEN). 

A holistic Gaeltacht initiative is working with people in Gaoth Dobhair (Gweedore) on a development plan for the community.

Business

The event included representatives from a large Northern-based community cooperative in the North owned by 250 people, a network of pop-up repair cafés, rural microenterprise, Community Supported Agriculture schemes, and startups in the blockchain space. Participants explained how their work is helping to generate sustainable diversity in local economies throughout Ireland. 

Government/EU

The Governments both North and South have committed to producing Wellbeing Outcomes. In the North, work on a wellbeing framework is well advanced, and includes the NI Wellbeing Roundtable. In the South, a wide-ranging report from NESC is helping to prepare the ground for the planned government programme based on the OECD wellbeing framework.  

At a local government level, Local Authorities in the North have a duty since 2015 to promote wellbeing; Carnegie UK Trust has been working to support this. Meanwhile, in the South, meetings have taken place with Cork City Council on the adoption of Doughnut Economic principles.

More broadly, work is also being carried out exploring financial system reform through organisations such as Positive Money; there is a constitutional campaign in the South on the ‘right to housing’ and the ‘right to food’; and a civil society campaign is focussing on improving diet and making food more sustainable. At EU level, Irish MEP Grace O Sullivan is working on a legislative initiative which is intended to steer the EU towards a wellbeing economy, with six key objectives. 

Qs 3 and 4. What would be the seeds for change – what might catalyse a wellbeing economy? AND How we might catalyse change together?

Vision and narrative: We need an appealing, positive counter-narrative to the dominant one on the economy. It should use clear language, have a localised, participatory focus, embrace commons development as an alternative to State or private ownership, use an ‘investment’ frame rather than a ‘cost’ one, build on lessons from COVID-19, and be free of GDP-growth dependency. It should avoid the use of binary, ‘us’ and ‘them’ language, focussing instead on breaking down silos at national and local government level and in the media. 

Governance and objectives: We need to encourage longer-term thinking by politicians, ensure that the younger generation is well-informed and involved in the decision-making process, embed principles such as those of Community Wealth Building into government approaches, advocate legislation to de-emphasise GDP-based metrics in favour of other measurements, challenge the dominant role played by consumerism and advertising, and advocate for much stronger government support of participatory community work.

Q5: How could a WEAll hub support your work? – Next Steps

Research and advocacy

By connecting the dots between the global, national, regional and local – i.e. developing a way to bring together top-down and bottom-up action on wellbeing throughout Ireland, while working to reverse the trend of commercialisation of community development. There is a need to distill ideas down while avoiding over-simplifying; this ties into the work on narrative change and communication mentioned above.

Communication and Network-building

• By organising regular meetings and conversations of people from across the spectrum, including for example members of the groups within the PPNs.

• By creating a dedicated online space where people can continue to have e-conversations. 

• By creating a dedicated website for people to easily find information on the WEAll Ireland Hub, with clear visuals on what wellbeing economy means, and concrete examples.

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We would like to thank all of the participants once again for their time and very valuable contributions.

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