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By Shaleen Porwal

At the start of this year, as I was navigating through the Regenerative Building Blocks of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll), I paused when I read, “People safe & healthy in their communities, rather than necessitating vast expenditures on treating, healing & fixing”. And in the definition of the health goal, it appropriately mentions, “both mental & physical.” 

Being a mental health advocate myself, this resonated so well with me. I am practising the science of Positive Psychology that focuses on what works well for people and how we can make it even better. This combination piqued my interest and paved my way to be able to contribute to the WEAll network.

The Wellbeing Economy talks about Mindsets that, “…economies should have human… wellbeing” and this encompasses the mental and emotional states besides physical safety, therefore the need permeates through all humans, irrespective of their trade and beliefs. This includes teachers.

I am focusing on teachers because they are an incredibly special group of employees who are empowered with the unique responsibility of shaping the future of a nation through their everyday interaction with young humans, who in turn will become into adults and will be taking up the responsibility of adding value to their nation, themselves, their family, and their community.

Every interaction that we have with another person, has the potential to bring about a notable change in our emotions. This change in emotions further leads to the development of thoughts and subsequently into action. Every day at a school, frequent communication channels are established between teachers and students, among teachers, and among student peers. These collaborations are vital for the functionality of performance and behaviour – students and teachers – for the continuity of “business as usual” i.e., a day in school. 

There are global reports on mental health that we have been made aware of and repercussions which we are observing in our local contexts as well, with a radical shift in the psychological state of children, teachers, and families, and that the World Health Organisation has fully acknowledged as follows: “…there has been increasing acknowledgement of the significant role mental health plays in achieving global development goals, as illustrated by the inclusion of mental health in the Sustainable Development Goals…”  

With the advent of the global pandemic – COVID-19 – Vulnerability, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (‘VUCA’) are adding fuel to fire. All of us, from a national level to an individual level, are struggling through it with our fair share of challenges currently. 

However, with a solution-focused approach, I want to see the silver lining of this dark ‘VUCA’ cloud.

We have surpassed the time where we put our resources to destigmatise psychological dysfunction and make efforts for it to be viewed in the light of normalcy. There are already examples of systems, companies, and collaborations that are disintegrating because they are unable to manage the emotional states of employees – after all, the organisation comprises of humans. According to a recent news report, “Mental and emotional well-being are now one of the most important topics in many companies”.

Considering a school as an employer for the teachers, most of the psychological challenges either for teachers or for students pertain to emotions and anxiety. These non-verbal cues need unique skills and methods to tackle and address and at initial stages as a proactive mechanism. We are not in a situation to imagine a scenario where we see attrition of teachers in a similar proportion and events of school dropouts due to the negligence of mental well-being.

Therefore, it calls for:

  1. Accepting this emotional ‘Vulnerability’,
  2. Creating an ‘Understanding’ for each other and the ecosystem, 
  3. All of us coming together for ‘Collaborative’ exercise with experts and within the system, and
  4. Doing what humans have historically always been best at – ‘Adaptability’, in the face of every adversity

Thereby creating a healthy and transparent environment where the teachers and students can freely speak about their psychological challenges to appropriate authorities – a psychologically safe ecosystem with the intent of finding solutions.

As a practitioner myself, below are few recommendations:

  1. Invitation by school management and principal, for teachers to participate in designing well-being policies and systems, in partnership with well-being service providers
  2. This will help in addressing the local pain points by customising the needs of the individual school cultures
  3. Create a transparent and permeable climate for open conversations around challenges in managing psychological distress – walking the talk
  4. Proactively recording and addressing instances of signs and observation by teachers of their students through this established well-being machinery
  5. Including vocabulary, integrating practices and interventions in school curriculum – this will have a double advantage, i.e., it will be an effective strategy to enhance the mental well-being of the current workforce, as well as it will equip today’s students (future workforce) with the skillset for managing well-being in their times of distress
  6. Working on changing definitions and popular beliefs around most widely misrepresented terms like success, failure, vulnerability, emotions, and the like. 
  7. Appreciating meaningful and bigger picture initiatives taken by teachers and students

We know that we are cognitive misers and implementation of a schooling system with a psychologically safe ambience might sound financially unwanted and time-consuming, the truth is that there is no quick fix to it. It will not only save time and effort in the long run but also create a healthy systemic effect for a Wellbeing Economy to function automatically with enhanced belonging to the organisation and finding deeper meaning in education – both for students and teachers – and to the nation.

As I connect the dots backwards, I figure out that this is exactly what Goal Number 3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 2030 talks about i.e., Target 3.4 “…promote mental health and well-being

About the author

Shaleen Porwal is a Positive Parenting and Education practitioner, based in Singapore. This blog forms part of the Faces of the Wellbeing Economy series, sharing expert opinions from across the WEAll network.

References

  1. American Psychological Association. Apa dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/cognitive-miser. 
  2. American Psychological Association. Apa dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/positive-psychology. 
  3. Brown Brené. (2019). Dare to lead: Brave work, tough conversations, whole hearts. Random House Large Print Publishing. 
  4. Chuan, W. P. (2021, July 16). Commentary: The coming resignation tsunami – why many may leave their jobs in a pandemic economy. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/resign-quit-new-job-office-remote-work-employer-hr-covid-19-2052156. 
  5. Edmondson, A. C. (2019). The fearless organization: Creating psychological safety in the workplace for learning, innovation, and growth. John Wiley & Sons. 
  6. Singer, T. & Ricard, M. (2015). Caring economics. Picador. 
  7. WEAll. (2021, March 18). Home. Wellbeing Economy Alliance. https://weall.org/
  8. What vuca really means for you. Harvard Business Review. (2014, August 1). https://hbr.org/2014/01/what-vuca-really-means-for-you. 
  9. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Mental health. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_1. 

Alongside our entire membership, WEAll has been learning and working to deepen our understanding of systemic racism – and the ways in which we can be actively anti-racist.

We came across this resource: The Anti-Racist Educators Network which is a grassroots movement holding individuals accountable for working to combat systemic racism in their communities.

The guiding principle of the Anti-Racist Educators Network is that by addressing the bias in our education system, we can educate the next generation to create a society that is open-minded and reflective.

We agree with their statement that “education is the greatest weapon we have to change the world.”

Here you can find a list of resources that the network has curated, from a Black History Resource Bank to a list of organisations that could use our support, to a virtual library and list of book corner classics.

Learning from resources such as these is a critical first step to becoming actively anti-racist and enacting much-needed change in our communities, work environments and beyond.

Do share with us your experiences as you move through this educational process. We’d love to support your learning! For more resources on how to support anti-racism efforts, please visit our BLM page.

By Sam Butler-Sloss, Co-Lead of WEAll Youth Scotland and Organiser at Economists for Future

I got involved in the Wellbeing Economy Alliance because the case for repurposing and redesigning the economy to deliver wellbeing for people and planet is overwhelming. Yet, as a student of economics, it is unclear to me to what extent the economics profession agrees with this. 

In my experience, most economists want to enhance the wellbeing of humanity through analytical contributions. Yet, in the past several decades, dominant economic theory and practice has made a number of consequential errors that have compromised the discipline’s ability to fulfil this goal. Chief among them is the de-prioritisation of the single greatest threat to the wellbeing of humanity in the 21st century – the climate and ecological crisis. 

 Across teaching, research and public and policy engagement, economists have failed to adequately engage in this issue. The most cited journal in economics has never published an article on climate change. The teaching of economics remains abstracted from ecological foundations. And even as other academic disciplines have become increasingly vocal on this issue, economists have remained too silent. 

Worse too, when economists do engage, they often distort the problem. To name a few examples, their models tend to leave out tipping points, catastrophic risks and treat all threats as ‘marginal’. As a result, many economists’ contributions have been used as evidence to scale back, rather than scale up, climate ambition. 

The economics profession’s insufficient response to the climate crisis puzzles me – it appears they are not even living up to their own standards.  

Firstly, over the last several decades, economists have tried to convince the world that they are ‘scientific’. But, if they pride themselves on being scientific, then they must take the most important science of our day seriously.

Secondly, if the purpose of economics is to further human prosperity, then in an era of environmental breakdown, the exclusion of the natural world is only undermining that very goal.

 Thirdly, the priorities of economists are often governed by cost-benefit analysis, but there is no scenario that is more expensive than unabated climate change. Even when using this dangerously narrow framework, the economic imperative for urgent action is clear. With the inclusion of harder-to-quantify aspects, such as distributional justice, this imperative for action is only amplified.  

You might ask, why focus on economists? Is the inaction not the fault of politicians? Is it not a lack of political will? Sure, political willpower is in serious shortfall. As COP comes to an end, all eyes are on the world leaders. Rightly so. They must show leadership: they must take decisive and ambitious action or step aside for those that will. But pressure groups must also dig one layer deeper and ask how policy-makers make their decisions. For better or worse, economics has a central role in this process. If we are going to radically ramp up the ambition of climate policy, we must change how it is designed. We must change economics. 

That is what motivated us, a group of students from across the world, to found Economists for Future. To arrest the climate crisis, economics must move from getting it wrong to making it right. 

At Economists for Future, we are critical optimists. We have a deep belief in the power of good economics to make the world a better and more humane place. But we believe that we are currently not living up to our responsibility to help create and communicate a policy framework that accelerates the transformation to a more sustainable, prosperous and fairer world. 

At this stage, failure to step up to this responsibility and to seize this opportunity is to let down the world. If economists cannot engage in this economic transformation the science requires—then who? If we do not raise our game now—then when? The likelihood is it will be too late. In which case, history has every right to judge us harshly. 

In our one-page open letter we lay out the case for economists to raise their game. 

We are encouraging everyone to sign and share it. 

 

By Kristín Vala  Ragnarsdóttir

6 December, 2019

Vala is a WEAll Ambassador, member of the WEAll Global Council and leader of WEAll Iceland. She is Professor of Sustainability Science at the University of Iceland.

 

 

During my summer vacation in 2018 in the Norwegian mountains I read the Nordic Secret by Lene Rachel Andersen from Denmark and Tomas Björkman from Sweden.  The subject of the book was an eye opener for me.  Despite being from a Nordic country (Iceland) I was not aware of the history and social development in the Nordic countries during the 19th century.

Andersen and Björkman demonstrate in the Nordic Secret that when enlightenment came to Copenhagen around 1850 (a century after enlightenment in central Europe) salons were held (mostly by women) and new ideas from Central Europe were discussed.

Unlike Central Europe where the ideas were discussed largely by the ‘intelligentsia’, in Denmark salons were held with a wide participation. Then „folk“ high schools were set up for the children of Danish farmers.  First only young men came to the schools, usually set up by men with their wives – where everyone lived together and discussed new ideas together.  Later young women were also welcomed.  In the „folk“ high schools they discussed new ideas pertaining to philosophy, farming, craft etc.  Everyone lived together, cooked and cleaned, did chores on the land.  No exams were held.

The young people stayed for 3-6 months and then went home to participate and later take over their parents farms – with new ideas in mind.  They were no longer only proud of being farmer children, they were proud of being Danish. This was the foundation of the farming industry in Denmark and the Scandinavian design which is to this day notable.  Later „folk“ high schools were opened up in Norway and Sweden and to a lesser extent in Finland.  By the end of the 19th century there were hundreds of „folk“ high schools in the four Nordic countries. Though no such schools were opened up in Iceland, some of the new ideas came to Iceland with men that had studied in Copenhagen. Of interest is that the „folk“ high schools were set up by clergy and the general public in Denmark, teachers in Norway, the intelligentsia in Sweden and women in Finland.

Once the young people were back on their parents’ farms they were instrumental in founding and supporting co-operatives.  The cooperatives were at the centre of each community, and fostered the building up of libraries and discussion groups.

What was different with the Central European enlightenment was that it largely only affected the intelligentsia.  In the Nordic countries it affected the whole population.  The „folk“ high schools were thus the foundation of the Nordic countries as they are today with their admirable and enviable (proclaimed by many) welfare- and social democratic societies with social justice, universal health care and education at the core.

What is suggested by Andersen and Björkman at the end of the Nordic Secret is that we need to continue with the ideology of the 19th century – where the Bildung of the Nordic population took place (the German word Bildung means more than education – it also is rooted in culture and aims at widening peoples’ horizons). They proposed that Bildung 1.0 occurred from 1850-1900.  Bildung 2.0 took place in the 20th century – and that we now need Bildung 3.0 – with the aim of raising everyone’s horizons to care for humanity as a whole, the Planet and future generations.

I wholly agree and therefore I started to have salons in my living room in November 2018.  Once or twice a month anyone interested can meet in my living room to discuss new ideas with the aim of raising everyone’s horizons.  We read books together and discuss their content.  So far we have gone in detail over the Nordic Secret, in addition (but in less detail) Spiral Dynamics (by Beck and Cowan) and Integral Meditation (by Ken Wilber).  The two latter books outline the evolutions of thinking (Beck and Coward) and the need for the simultaneous development of thinking and states of consciousness (Wilber).

The next book we will discuss is the latest book by Andri Snær Magnason (About Time and Water), which was published in Iceland in early October – but is currently being translated into more than 20 languages.  It is about the climate crisis – and why we find it so difficult to get our heads around the issues at hand.  I recommend that everyone look for this book when it comes out in their language. Magnason is a master in putting complicated issues into words that everyone can understand.

 

Guest blog by Henry Leveson-Gower, Promoting Economic Pluralism

As a follow-up to our blog for WEAll from last December, we wanted to invite you to join the online dialogue about an accreditation scheme for masters programmes taking a pluralist approach to economics. The dialogue is now open and live here.

We are currently debating what teaching pluralism in understanding the economy should be about. You can get a flavour of the debate so far here. Please join by going to the page linked above and have your say in this discussion.

We promise, the platform is set up so it won’t take up much of your time! Have a look at the short introductory video (<7mins; also on the page linked above) & find out how you can contribute your own ideas, vote on other people’s ideas or express your views about them in the form of points in favour or against them.

Some of you may not have the time to read the full blog above, but still want to get some more general information about this project first. In this case you can always go to our website to find out about why we think the co-creation of this scheme is crucial for the creation and enhancement of genuine wellbeing economies.

Don’t miss this opportunity to set common standards for pluralist economics education worthy of its name. We need your input so this scheme is truly co-created. So please join!

If you don’t have time right now, you can always sign up here to keep in touch with the debate and join later.