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Last month, Katherine Trebeck went on a virtual tour in Holland. With over 15 gigs and several media interviews, it was a busy week of influencing stakeholders to transition to a Wellbeing Economy. 

While speaking of the urgent need to build an economy that prioritises environmental and social wellbeing, she stressed the why, how and what of the transition.

“We have all this growth, but people aren’t satisfied with their lives. We’re in an unsafe, unevenly shared economic system that is doing so much damage.” 

Katherine explains the dangers of ‘growth’ as the predominant driver of our economic thinking. While growth-based initiatives in the past have encouraged greater social progress, we are now seeing diminishing returns from growth. In her book, Economics of Arrival, she points that many countries have in fact arrived. What these countries have is enough. Now those countries must re-focus: less on growing, and more on providing decent livelihoods for all of their people.

On a broader level, Katherine asked, 

“What kind of growth do we need?”

She asked her audiences to think about what an economy may need more or less of. 

For example, we need more community gardens, renewable energy, worker-owned cooperatives and less oil tankers, and jobs that overwork and underpay their employees. 

As she put it, 

“We urgently need to have a more sophisticated conversation about what we need more of less of and what goals we have for our economy.”

Instead of growing for growth’s sake, we need to look closer at the indicators that increase human and ecological wellbeing. To replace GDP as the indicator, and instead, find a suite of measures of success that come from conversations with communities to reflect their needs.

How do we transition to a wellbeing economy?” 

For the answer, Katherine suggested stakeholders first look around at where they see these initiatives in action – and to learn from them, replicate them and use them to illustrate to governments that transitioning to a Wellbeing Economy is possible.

She pointed to: 

  • The Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership offers examples of countries that are developing new indicators and looking beyond GDP as measures of economic success. 
  • Businesses that are redirecting investment toward businesses beyond just the financial bottom line, who are pushing for employee ownership and are redefining their purpose to better reflect their values. This includes examples highlighted in WEAll’s Business of Wellbeing Guide, like the Dutch chocolate brand, Tony’s Chocolonely, which is working to make 100% slave free the norm in chocolate.
  • The pioneering implementation of Kate Raworth’s Doughnut framework at the city level in Amsterdam

These are existing solutions and answers to replace the existing economic system. 

Ultimately, her talks in Holland addressed the many stakeholders that need to be involved in the transition toward a Wellbeing Economy. It will take all of us to make this transition – and must be driven by a new idea for the purpose of the economy. 

We should not be in service to the economy. The economy should be in service to us; to life, to the environment. 

To learn more from Katherine Trebeck, watch her talks here: 

Follow Katherine on her website and on Twitter.

Active travel, green space, connected communities … these are not new ideas! 

Katherine Trebeck recently delivered the Sir Patrick Geddes Commemorative Lecture, for the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) on the role of place and planning in creating a wellbeing economy.

She urged us to learn from planning pioneers, like Sir Patrick Geddes, and to find real life examples of planning that is bringing wellbeing economy to life at the local level.

Who was Sir Patrick Geddes?

Sir Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) was a designer widely regarded as the founder of modern town planning, ecological planning and design and bioregionalism.

He believed the role of the designer was to:

  1. Ensure that the material development of the places that people inhabited, reflected their specific needs and;
  2. To transform culture through education

Sir Patrick Geddes’ Map of how to conceive of and relate to ‘place’

(From ‘Cities in Evolution’, Source)

He understood that we need to have knowledge of the ecological, social and cultural factors of a place, in order to plan that place to meet peoples’ needs: dignity, nature, connection, fairness and participation.

During the lecture, Katherine shared ‘7 Tips for Designing a Wellbeing Economy’ that Sir Patrick Geddes would have shared himself, if he were alive today:

  1. “See the whole”

“We need to look upstream… [to] see how things fit together… It’s about understanding the whole picture

2. Beyond the era of “squirrel millionaires”

3. Local Context Matters

4. Community Involvement. Always.

“A wellbeing economy is about people feeling connected and in control.” – Katherine Trebeck

5. Beyond examinations: better measures

6. “Magnificent failures” are necessary boldness

7. Follow your heart – and live life in line with your passions

How can we use these tips to plan a wellbeing economy?

Katherine pointed to signs of hope in participatory processes that involve the community in ‘building back better’. One such model is the doughnut economics model introduced by Kate Raworth.

During her recent talk on the ‘Wellbeing Economy and Doughnuts’ with the Scottish Communities Climate Action Network, Katherine introduced the Doughnut Economics Model, developed and popularised by Oxford economist (and WEAll Ambassador) Kate Raworth.

‘The Doughnut’ … Have you heard of it?

The ‘doughnut’ is a way of thinking about economics based on the priorities set out by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – and balancing the needs of people and the environment.

The key aim is to ensure no one falls short on the essentials of life (in the doughnut’s hole) while also living with within ecological boundaries that aim to preserve the Earth’s resources (represented by the outside circle of the doughnut). 

The doughnut shape left in-between those two circles is the sweet spot – where everyone on the planet has a good social foundation and the Earth’s resources aren’t being overexploited.

Striking this balance is key to ‘building back better’ from the COVID-19 pandemic.

(City) Life and the Doughnut

“Life is the underlying process that connects culture to nature.” – Sir Patrick Geddes

The Amsterdam City Doughnut takes the global concept of the Doughnut and turns it into a tool for transformative action, on the ground, in the city of Amsterdam. The tool asks:

Katherine discussed 4 interdependent questions used in the Amsterdam City Doughnut to help answer this question, to guide city planning:

Inspired by those who came before us and frameworks like the Doughnut, we have the tools to plan an economy that is designed to deliver social justice on a healthy planet – starting right at the community or city level.

Learn more about the Amsterdam City Doughnut, Amsterdam’s long-term vision and policymaking, the Amsterdam Donut Coalition and other global initiatives putting the Doughnut model into action: the Lake Erhai catchment in China, for the nations of South AfricaWales and the UK, and for a comparison of 150 countries.

You can learn more about Katherine’s work on her website and find her on Twitter.