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By: Isabel Nuesse

How do you bring people into the conversation about economic systems change? How do you make it relevant? Interesting? Or, as we called it at our event yesterday, “cool”? 

Our hypothesis was that by creating metaphors about our economic system, we could hopefully open up the conversation to a wide range of audiences- inviting more people to think critically about our current economic system and empowering them to take action to change it. 

During the 90-minute session, we crafted a few compelling metaphors for our economic system.

  1. Humanity is an organism. Right now we belong to this organism, but it’s sick. There is no solidarity, communication or support within the organism. And in order for it to move so we can flourish together, we need a new organism where every cell is cooperating with and sustaining each other. 
  2. The economy is like a game with many players involved. However some players are running in sandals, or barefeet, while others are running in Nike’s. It’s not a level playing field for all – and therefore the odds are stacked against those that don’t have Nike running sneakers. 
  3. It is typical for aliens to arrive on planets, ravage the resources of the planet and move onto the next one. We haven’t learned their technique. Instead, we ravage our planet, take all it’s resources, and still believe we can survive on it. We’re locked where we are. Unless you’re a mega-millionaire who can afford to leave the planet – and the damage behind. 
  4. The economy is like glass that is made from sand. Each sand particle represents all lives (animal, human and ecological). You can use the glass that we have now, but it’s fragile and broken. The edges are sharp and people are getting hurt drinking from it. We need to re-shape the glass from the sand, and ensure that the glass will work properly for all lives.  We need to make sure the glass is clear, and has smooth edges so everyone can sip from it. We need a glass that can be passed on for generations to come; one that is resilient. 

It was beautiful to see the many different metaphors that came from each group- and the vast differences in each of them. One participant made a comment, however, that broad metaphors lack a stickiness that’s needed. 

This shifted the conversation toward identifying what exactly is needed. Many agreed that a major obstacle to ensuring the Wellbeing Economy flourishes, is shifting the stuck thinking of “well that’s just how the world works.” Many people are attached to the ‘normal’ so much so, that they cannot possibly imagine an alternative way of being. 

So how can we ensure that our metaphors inspire audiences to think bigger, whilst also disentangling them from the current narrative that is so pervasive?

One key element here is to make sure that our metaphors are contextualized locally. We don’t need to universalize our metaphors – but rather create targeted metaphors for specific locations – that speak directly to the audiences they’re intended to resonate with.  This emphasizes the importance of the audience, most importantly those that don’t have the conscious space to think of these things as more pressing issues take priority, such as putting food on the table. 

Next time we run this session, we hope to invite artists and other visual thinkers that can illustrate our verbal metaphors into pieces of art that can visually convey the messages. We hope you’ll stay tuned for the next session – as this last session was such a fantastic way for our network to co-create something together. 

Lastly, at the end of the session, we asked the participants to share one of their key takeaways, you can read the list below. 

  • Metaphors can open up possibilities for individual engagement & action
  • We haven’t asked what metaphors ‘ordinary people  might use 
  • We need to break out of old toxic paradigms 
  • We need more events like this with many many artists to be in them!!!  🙂
  • Community is important to create a healthy earth system
  • It is hard to keep a metaphor inclusive 
  • The big interest in thinking about the economy
  • The economy can be many things, depending on whom you ask 
  • The power of a metaphor is one thing, but to discuss metaphors in a group is even more inspiring than I thought…
  • The economy surrounds us
  • Some people are playing to play and some are playing to survive
  • We had a very wide-ranging conversion which was quite free-wheeling and creative. That was a good reminder of the value of multiple viewpoints from all around the world. 
  • There’s so many different ways you can spin a metaphor- a great group helps with that!
  • I’m thinking lots on how to get ourselves out of the spaceships and land and connect with the planet and the rest of humanity 
  • We have become aliens living in spaceships and need to land on earth and become human again
  • The economy is a metaphor itself for the way all beings relate
  • TO keep taking the metaphor economy to the next generation
  • Cultural context matters! We’re often too biased. 
  • We are the economy

Written by: Isabel Nuesse 

This week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report titled: “Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis”. Quick recap? Our planet is in a ‘code red’ situation and if we don’t act quickly, human survival on earth is questionable. 

It states: “Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5°C and 2°C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.”

So, we need to act now. 

It’s entirely overwhelming. What does doing more look like? 

First and foremost, we cannot continue to live in an economic system where GDP growth remains the only goal of our economic system. 

What does that mean for governments? That means actively working with their citizens to re-identify the purpose of the economic system. If our purpose is to promote better lives for people, we need to develop real objectives such as improving quality of life, reducing inequality, generating meaningful jobs and restoring our natural environment. We need to create policies that reflect the needs of the people. Check out our Policy Design Guide to learn how to begin this process. 

What does that mean for business? It means creating ownership structures where employees are prioritised ahead of shareholders. No longer can we create businesses that are focused on short-term, profit-focused objectives. In a Wellbeing Economy, finance would serve and incentivise the economy which then serves society – and the environment- as part of its intrinsic purpose. Learn more in our Wellbeing Business Guide for how your business can begin to make these changes. 

Second, we cannot continue to blame the consumer for the problems of global industry. 

Are we going to hold mulit-national corporations (MNCs) responsible for their impact on our environment? In our 7 Ideas for the G7 paper, we suggest two things to harness control of the MNC’s that have grown to levels that are politically sustainable and ethically unacceptable. 

  1. Create a Binding Code of Conduct for MNCs that can create space for upholding democratig governance of economics, but also ensure more ethical production practices worldwide. 
  2. Global Competition Regulation which would ensure that no single corporation could control more than a small percentage of global production and exchange. 

Lastly, we need to be sharing success stories of what is working in our world to ensure that we’re inspiring each other to continue to push for drastic change to our economic system. 

As the Stories for LIfe tells us, it’s time to drop the horror stories and carry the #lovestories

This emphasises the importance of hope over fear – in a week where the IPCC report is generating necessary fear, I find hope in the fact that so many amazing organisations and people are already doing the work to build a Wellbeing Economy. If you haven’t seen our member list, check it out here. And if you’re interested in joining our membership you can apply here

  • A few #lovestories that I’d like to share with you today, to spread some of that hope, are: End Overshoot Day just launched this incredible initiative that offers over 100 days solutions that share how we can use existing technology to displace business as usual practices we can no longer afford. 
  • Pure Element 5 has been creating a number of incredibly creative Youtube videos that offer small insights, lessons and trends for anyone interested in building brighter futures. 
  • Common Future is launching a $800,000 character-based lending fund (CBL) that was designed from the ground up, by and for underfunded BIPOC businesses and ecosystems. 
  • The European Environmental Bureau  wrote a whole report on building a Wellbeing Economy “Towards a Wellbeing Economy that serves people and nature

The IPCC report is right: our situation is desperate and it is urgent that we act. There is hope. The action has begun – it needs to be scaled up. It will require each of us to do what we can and to continue to feel like the future is bright. If you’re looking to get involved, join our WEAll Citizens platform, become a WEAll Member, or consider developing a WEAll Hub in your community. We’re here to support the transition to a Wellbeing Economy.

By Isabel Nuesse

Over the last week, massive protests have  broken out in South Africa. It began with calls against the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma. He was sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment for contempt of court after an inquiry looking to a wide-range of allegations of corruption during his 9-year tenure from 2009 to 2018. 

Zuma faces 16 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering related to the 1999 purchase of fighter jets, patrol boats and military gear from five European arms firms when he was president. Supporters of Zuma vehemently oppose his imprisonment and have taken to the streets to protest his arrest. However, events have quickly escalated to encapsulate greater issues of poverty and inequality,.  People are frustrated, and demanding government action. 

What is unfolding in South Africa is not unique, however. The ongoing insurgence in Nigeria, the ethnic-based calls for self-determination in Myanmar, the assassination of the state president in Haiti, and recent anti-government strikes in Cuba– social unrest is sparking all over the world.

What’s the root of this?

A call for democracy? Social equity?

I spoke with two WEAll members Xola Keswa and Lebohang Liepollo Pheko about their thoughts and experiences as South Africans during this time. I wanted to understand how this current disruption speaks to the larger picture of social unrest globally.

Xola explained that the uprisings initially began when supporters of former president Zuma began protesting his indictment. But as the citizen action grew, so did the scope of the frustrations. South Africans began to speak to issues stemming from COVID-19 restrictions, vaccination roll out, foreign investment deals, healthcare access, food shortages and general economic insecurity. 

As it stands, more than half of the South African population lives in poverty. Unemployment is more than 32%– and South Africa holds the classification of being the most unequal country in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 63. As Liepollo said: “The dye and stitching branding South Africa as a rainbow nation is coming apart.” She adds: “This is about the crisis within the crisis.”

On the ground, people are desperate. Xola shared the urgency of what he’s seeing: 

“What’s happening in South Africa is becoming a free for all. People are looting because they don’t know when they’re going to get their next meal. They were already hungry.” 

“Once the food they looted is out, it won’t be replaced again.” 

The chaos is resurfacing the undertones of apartheid. Since Nelson Mandela was elected in 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) has remained in power. However, while in power, their policies have not really dismantled the oppressive economic structures of apartheid. “The ANC has a lot to answer for. There is always room to renegotiate. Always room to say no,” Liepollo said. The theory stands that if you have enough foreign direct investment, control currencies and interest rates, and do the things meant to constrict state involvement in the economy, the market will function and redistribute the wealth itself. However, these  things are not true. Yet transnational corporations and subscription to the ‘trickle down theory’ is still pervasive in South African politics. Liepollo urges the government to stop accepting this as the status  quo. When these deals continue to perpetuate inequality in South Africa it leaves a total lack of accountability and erodes the faith in South African democracy.

As a result, people are taking to the streets. They feel that the ANC has not adequately delivered on the promises that they’ve made over the last 24 years. South Africans are tired. 

And as Liepollo mentioned: “There is a much deeper narrative with how states behave when they are deemed to have power over people. While South Africa is run by African people, there is an inherent radicalized disdain for black bodies.”

Which further perpetuates the historical context of racism and white power in South Africa.

 “Race is the red herring,” Liepollo said,  “We need to stop treating this as a civil rights issue. It diminishes the toxicity of white supremacy. It’s been 350 years of white supremacy. It’s ongoing.” People are looking for accountability and support from the government in South Africa, but little action has been shown.

How and why is this relevant for wherever you are in the world?

Social unrest is bubbling up in many places around the world. Power dynamics are shifting. Brexit illustrates this change. Trump’s presidency also illustrates this change. Western centralized power is weakening. The unrest in South Africa isn’t unrelated to what played out  in the United States last year following the death of George Floyd.

From the convoluted language defining ‘protests’ vs. ‘riots’ to the excessive force of military intervention, parallels can be made. Liepollo pointed out: “It’s regrettable and reprehensible that more people in the US aren’t making these connections. There are many more links to be made.”

Xola stressed: “We need to become real. The situation is real. Right now the eyes are on South Africa, but just a couple of months ago we were looking at Israel.” He continues: “We need to act as if the world is collapsing, even if it’s peaceful where you are. Act as if we’re in a state of emergency because the problem isn’t what we think it is.”

Until there are major shifts in power, resources, and land, social upheaval will continue to take place. Until the world begins to make links between economic success and social and emotional wellbeing, this will continue to happen. These things can no longer be divorced from one another. As Liepollo warns: “We have to be very careful – particularly the global north. These sorts of insurrections and fault lines will continue to manifest.”

Written by: Isabel Nuesse

The dogma of our current economy has seeped all across our world- even in the smallest of spaces. 

Living in Nairobi, the extent of this dogma cannot be ignored. It glares every worker in the face on a daily basis. 

For example, the security guard business is one of the largest employers in Kenya. Known as Ascaris – originally derived from the word ‘soldier’ – they typically work 12-hour shifts, 7-days a week, with 4 days off a month. The actual work they do consists of opening and closing gates and ‘guarding’ the property. Nearly every building, mall, home and apartment complex in Nairobi employs at least one ascari full time. With unemployment reaching nearly 30%, these guards are easily replaceable and therefore have little to no say in their working conditions or salaries. 

The typical wage of these guards is $150 a month. This is wholly unlivable in Nairobi. These low wages ensure that the ascaris live in informal housing settlements, with little to no opportunity to ‘move up’ in society. 

One of the ascaris who works in the housing complex where I live, Nellie, is a woman that I’ve befriended over the last few months. 

She invited me to her home in Kibera – one of the largest informal housing settlements in Nairobi-  one Sunday for chai. (For context, I speak Swahili and therefore am able to communicate quite easily with Nellie). She welcomed me to her single room home – housing Nellie and her four kids – and we spoke about her dreams and opportunities in life. 

Essentially, Nellie is stuck. She wakes up at 4:30am each day, walks 1.5 hours to work (because spending $0.20/ride on transit each way adds up), works 6:30am to 6:30pm, walks home- arrives at 8:00pm, cooks a quick dinner for her children and heads to sleep to do the entire routine again the following day. 

She has no life. She works. 

This is typical for many Kenyans living in Nairobi. It’s so common to work in this way it’s common for people to reference their ‘hustle’– or second job. People have single or multiple ‘side hustles’ to supplement their incomes as the city is expensive and one job is not enough. 

On one hand, this makes this city incredibly vibrant. Never have I lived somewhere where innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity are so alive. The city is truly booming. On the flip side, it creates a culture of constant work, where value is heavily placed on how busy you are. Threading through this culture is the mantra that wealth is king. 

This brings me back to Nellie and my visit to her home. Nellie, her neighbour and I were speaking of life, making ends meet and the challenges of the present day economy. I noticed that inserted into their Swahili, they started to speak of the need for ‘capital’ – not money, capital. This is the jargon, the language and narrative that is eroding its way into Kibera. The residents are taught the value of having capital – to start their enterprise – to send their kids to school, to make ends meet.  

It was this moment where I felt the pervasiveness of the economic system. Nellie and her neighbour(s) are essentially slaves to a system that entraps them. Their entire lifestyle is centered around work – in upholding the system of extraction. It’s now seeped into their language and the way they express themselves. Using the jargon of the system, to make them believe that is the solution out of the system. “If only I had access to capital.” 

While there is nothing I can do to change the ascari system in Kenya, getting to know Nellie has reaffirmed for me the desperate need for an alternative economic system. This is most urgent in spaces where the dominant extractive system is beginning to wrap its cold hands around the population.

Maybe one day we can envisage a world where the ascari system in Kenya is run on a cooperative model – where the workers make their hours. Or maybe the security guard business becomes obsolete? Maybe the word capital is replaced by words of abundance and opportunity? 

It certainly makes me feel powerless – and pushes me to continue to fight for an economic model for those that don’t have the agency to do so. 

Around the world, there are a plethora of activities that blend environmental benefits with health benefits. This co-beneficial approach is outlined in our recently published paper, 5 Pathways to Health and Environment in a Wellbeing Economy

The paper showcases a number of these case studies that marry these two ideas – proving that we don’t have to choose between just focusing on environmental benefits or only focusing on health benefits. ather, there are ways in which we can develop policies that support both of these objectives simultaneously. 

On June 28th, WEAll hosted with the authors of this paper, a panel that brought together speakers from around the world implementing these practices in their local communities. 

The case studies show that multiple objectives can be achieved if thought of holistically. Social cooperation, food security, health, climate change – all of these can be tackled simultaneously to build a Wellbeing Economy. 

The first case study was Emma Whitman from Moo Foods. Based in the Scottish Highlands, Moo Food works to build community resilience by bringing people together to grow food, knowledge and confidence. 

“Everything we do at MOO Food is based on these three words; Growing Our Future.”

Emma Whitman

They do this by supporting a multitude of agriculture projects in their community. From planting orchards to building growing spaces, to instigating school partnerships, Moo Foods reaches a  wide range of the community –  all centering around food security. This method of practice centers food security while also strengthening  community. 

The webinar then learns from Piedad Viteri from Johannes Kepler school in Ecuador. This school integrates regenerative design into all aspects of their curriculum. They’ve taken the  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the framework to further develop their strategy. They even went as far to declare their school as an ‘SDG Territory’. 

“We have to get together, in order to change things, in order to also regenerate.”

Piedad Viteri

One of the highlights of their program was the decision to move all the classrooms outside. This furthered the education of the students at their school to not only understand the core pieces of their curriculum, but also foster a deeper connection to the earth and to each other. 

Lastly, the webinar introduced Zeenath Hasan who works at Rude Foods in Malmo, Sweden. In Sweden there is an activist culture around food rescue. Rude Foods saw this and thought they could make food rescue a part of the mainstream. 

“Most of the economic activities that are hidden, is mainly what makes up the economy.”

Zeenath Hasan

With this in mind, they’ve built a strategy to rescue food and resell it to the community. This practice they refer to  as a ‘food rescuing catering service’. In this practice, they’re able to reduce food waste and blur the lines between the eater as an activist or the activist as someone who is food insecure. 

These case studies show the creativity involved to develop co-beneficial approaches to achieving both health and environment objectives. If you’re curious to learn more, please read the paper here.

Written by Isabel Nuesse

Simplifying complexity is one of the greatest challenges in understanding the practical implementation of a Wellbeing. Economy. Luckily, there are media producers, such as Broaden who champion the initiative. With their 11-minute video interviewing Simon Mair, an Ecological Economist, the video simplifies the complex nature of discussing the topic of economic systems change.

On June 2, WEAll hosted a Q&A discussion with Broaden (Bryony Simcox & George Webster), Simon Mair and Lukas Hardt around ecological economics, narratives, and the Wellbeing Economy.

The hour-long webinar first premiered the video with the audience, then opened the conversation up for discussion. You can watch the recording here:

One question that erose during the conversation was “How do you make a living in a way that embodies your ideals if they conflict with the dominant system?” Simon spoke of the power of the current economy in that it forces each of us to choose between meeting our basic needs – i.e. participating in the system – or choosing to make decisions that are more in line with our  values.  Noting the success of the current system to nearly  require us to participate in it. 

He carries on to say, “find a way to participate in the market, but find a way to do it to engage with the things that shift the balance of power within a workplace or a community.”

Bryony adds, “models and frameworks help us but we don’t have to adopt a single one. We are working toward the same goals with a slightly different framework and a slightly different model. We’re trying to erode the system, as opposed to completely overthrowing it.” 

 Later, Lukas spoke to frameworks and models and added, “There are  lots of different models and we don’t have to choose one. I think it’s very  encouraging  that a diversity of models are being taken up. And hopefully at some point it can lead to change at a higher level.”

This event was a beautiful collaboration of the WEAll Network supporting each others initiatives. If  you’re interested in hosting a session on your work, please reach out to Isabel <isabel@weall.org> to learn more.

By: Isabel Nuesse

On Thursday April 8, I spoke with a passionate group of Californians about developing a new narrative for the Wellbeing Economy in California. After a short presentation including WEAll’s own story of narrative development and lessons learnt, we had a group discussion and indicated a few initial thoughts on the values that could underpin a Wellbeing Economy in California. 

For some context, developing a ‘narrative’ or story around a new economic vision is one of the most difficult tasks for WEAll. While a core pillar to our work, it’s without a doubt, the one that is most contentious amongst our membership and the most challenging to articulate and come to consensus on. 

Our first step in the process has been to develop the values that shape a Wellbeing Economy – we refer to them as the 5 ‘WEAll Needs’. These needs (depicted below) are the core tenants that underpin our vision for a Wellbeing Economy. These values will change from context to context-  but from the highest level – when we speak to a Wellbeing Economy, these are the needs that must exist in order for the vision to be felt. 

I also introduced some of the lessons learnt from our work on narratives which are below:

  1. Narratives are ever-evolving
  2. There isn’t ONE narrative  
  3. Don’t counterbalance the current narrative with the opposite narrative 
  4. Focus on a positive vision
  5. All narratives have value to bring
  6. Create a simple story that resonates widely
  7. Doing the work is building the narrative

During the session, there was discussion amongst the audience around the practicalities of implementing such a narrative. One attendee asked, “How do you speak to someone about a Wellbeing Economy if they are staunch capitalists? How do you begin to unseat such strong power structures?” 

I wish I had the answer. The best ‘solution’ is to have counterexamples of other systems that could work to replace the current system. For example, instead of investing in the S&P 500 find initiatives like Boston Ujima Project who are building community-led investment opportunities. Or look to cooperatives as alternative models to replace the current extractive business models. 

We discussed issues around the word ‘freedom’ and what that word currently connotes verses what it could connote in a wellbeing context. 

Towards the end of the discussion, we spoke about what the difference is between what the current progressive left is pushing verses what the Wellbeing Economy agenda is pushing. The word we circled around was interconnection. In a Wellbeing Economy, we are no longer going to work in silos but rather, see the whole, and encourage the system to operate and function within that space. Meaning, seeing that homelessness is related to healthcare which is related to our food system which is related to land pricing etc. It’s all connected and we can no longer operate in a system that doesn’t account for those interconnections.

As an interactive portion of the discussion, we brainstormed some values that could bring definition to what a Wellbeing Economy in California could become. Below is the list of values that the group created.


We will build from the values generated during this workshop as we begin to think about how values and narratives align with policy change during our next webinar. You can sign up to join the California hub on May 18 for a one hour discussion of wellbeing policy design with Amanda Janoo here. Additionally, if you’d like to become a WEAll Member, join us here and also check out our WEAll Citizens Platform.

WEAll California’s Starter List of Values

  • Accountability+1
  • Access to Nature
  • Artistic Thinking
  • Beauty
  • Belief in a living wage
  • Belonging
  • Care for others +1
  • Compassion
  • Connection +2  (Deep Connection)
  • Creativity+3
  • Design Thinking
  • Embracing differences
  • Equity+2
  • Environmental sustainability+4
  • Freedom+1
  • From Wealth to Health
  • From Growth to Wellbeing
  • From Money to Life
  • From Exploitation to Empowerment
  • Harmony
  • Hope
  • Human flourishing+3
  • Inclusion+2
  • Incubation, testing, research to action (higher public education)
  • Innovation (California prides itself on this)+3
  • International (pacific rim) +1
  • Intersection of natural and built environment +1
  • Interrelation +1
  • Integrity +1
  • Kindness+1
  • Justice
  • Local
  • Loyalty to the whole+2
  • Material sufficiency
  • Possibility and transformation
  • Purpose
  • Systemic Thinking
  • Uniqueness

Written by Anna Haw & Isabel Nuesse

Reposted from 36×36.org

This image which sparked memes all over the internet this last month may compel more people to rethink our consumer-driven habits and current state of our economy….or so we hope. 

As consumers, we rarely give much thought to how the multitude of things we buy make their way across the planet and into our homes. That is, until the Ever Given (400m long packed with up to 18,000 containers) stopped $9.6 billion dollars’ worth of products each day that it was stalled in the Suez Canal. That’s $6.7 million a minute.  This debacle reveals the true scale of our global supply chains, and broader global economic system.

How is it that one ship can have such an impact? That so many goods depend on a single waterway, and that 6 days of disruption can amount to over $50 billion in losses? 

With so much money being lost, resources were swiftly mobilised to solve the frantic halt of the Suez Canal. It’s remarkable really, that our dependence on this consumer culture and our need to keep trading goods catalyzed a global upheaval. 

The focus on incessant GDP growth has necessitated a relentless drive to create and trade goods, no matter the cost to the environment or human wellbeing. 

This shipping fiasco serves as a clear metaphor of our current economic system. We have an economy that lacks resilience, makes little practical sense and is so heavy that changing direction is almost impossible, despite obvious imminent danger. 

The comparatively tiny tug boats and bulldozers working together to dislodge the massive ship are akin to the many initiatives that are working to dislodge the current economic system. What’s needed to uproot the current economic system is a rising tide to provide much-needed support and create an enabling environment to the many profoundly positive new economic initiatives that are desperately trying to change the course of our damaging economy. 

We can create this rising tide.

It will take incredible mobilization, bold action, risk and ultimately embracing long-term goals. 

There was support and media attention at all angles covering the crisis of Ever Given. Yet our current economic framework is a part and parcel of causing these crises. Rather than applying a band-aid at vast expense, or incessantly reporting on how many billions of dollars are being lost, let’s focus on the root of the problem. Are we throwing resources at a framework that is too centralized, single-minded and outdated?

What if a potentially catastrophic  global trade event can be viewed instead as an opportunity to give our  system a re-think? Do we need to keep purchasing goods at the current rate that we are? Can consumers buy less, share more and redistribute our wealth to support initiatives working towards achieving social justice on a healthy planet?  

As the Ever Given moves forward towards its destination with hundreds of other laden ships in its wake, let us not miss the opportunity to think about what our society’s priorities are, and where we’re mobilising our resources. We do have the capacity to catalyse, dramatically shift and re-route our economic system, so what’s stopping us?

Reposted from 36×36 Website

By Isabel Nuesse, WEAll Engagement and Content lead and member of 36×36 project team

Have you been curious about the #36×36 project? We’ve engaged an incredible cohort of womxn in a programme to design the architecture of a new economic future for the world. While inevitably a very tough ask, these womxn have dove right in. 

During an early “meet and greet” call where the womxn were getting to know each other – we asked the question, “If you were an economy tsarista, what policy would you put in place?” Below are some of the ideas that came up in our discussion. From gender parity, to binding codes of conduct for Multi-National Corporations – the visions of these womxn are vast, radical and with enough power, entirely possible.  

Gender

  • Pay adequate wages for care labor and data labor in order to reduce inequality 
  • Reinforce the mechanisms that ensure gender parity in decision making

Education

  • Invest a larger portion of money into transforming education systems to incorporate topics such as climate change and gender equality 

Financials 

  • Institute Universal Basic Income (UBI) 
  • Defund militarism and redirect funds towards other more impactful sectors such as education, health and agriculture 
  • Change our metrics of prosperity from GDP to Gross Ecosystem Product (GEP)
  • Greater transparency of financial flows to see what’s happening so countries can align actions with values – and put participatory budgeting at all levels 
  • Global debt jubilee for the Global South
  • Get rid of taxes as a whole – and find more creative ways to make up for it – i.e. using non-profit models.
  • Close down tax havens. Make sure the taxes are spent in local areas where they were created.  
  •  Write off all the loans that are owed to the World Bank 

Process/ Collaboration

  • Facilitate a global dialogue around the world to discuss and collaborate on our collective wants and needs 
  • Fewer bureaucratic processes to ensure greater efficiency when dealing with paperwork 
  • Create a structure that supports grassroots community initiatives

Production of Resources

  • Binding code of conduct for multi-national corporation (MNCs) 
  • Make prices reflect the true costs of products and services  to actually reflect the environmental and social externalities 
  • Withdraw subsidies and tax cuts from the largest transnational corporations and use that money for seed funding for not-for-profit businesses

Wellbeing 

  • Take care of wellbeing surrounding the self- and allow that to ripple out across the world. Meaning, the energy of wellbeing to transform from person to person. 
  • Make indigenous wisdom the default
  • Ask the question of what behaviours do we want to encourage?

These  ambitious ideas are some of the seeds from which the 36×36 network will grow. The womxn are now participating in learning modules, thematic exchanges and peer-led sessions to deepen their collaboration. We are so excited to be on this journey with them.

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The entrenched nature of racism in our current economic system is abundantly clear. All over the world, there are cases where one race or class of people are discriminating against and exploiting the ‘other’. This trend is seen with the Rohingya in Myanmar, Africans residing in China, and globally reflected by the massive civil rights protests for #BlackLivesMatter. The discrimination against an ‘other’ is unfortunately a key tenet of how our global economy operates.

It goes without saying that in order to develop a new global economic system that delivers social justice on a healthy planet, we must ensure that these trends do not continue. It is vital that this emergent system is actively ‘antiracist’. 

What does it mean to be antiracist?

Before we can define antiracism, we must define racism. In his book, “How to be an Antiracist”, Ibram X. Kendi defines racism as, “a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalises racial inequities.” 

Racist ideas suggest that one racial group is inferior or superior to another racial group in any way. Racist policies come about when these ideas influence decision making on how to distribute opportunities and power, often unfairly and unequally As a result, we see racial inequity, when two or more racial groups are not standing on approximate or equal footing to access benefits from our collective systems, such as the financial system or the political system. 

These definitions show that racism goes beyond individuals having prejudices; it is about how those beliefs translate into power imbalances that perpetuate massively different life chances and life outcomes between two racial groups. 

For greater clarification – this is about inequity, not inequality. See the graphic below which illustrates the difference of these two phrases.

Artist: Angus Maguire

In contrast, Antiracism is “a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” 

We are not simply looking for equality, which is giving everyone the same opportunities, but does not consider everyone’s starting points. We are looking to remove the barriers and address the systemic factors that have disadvantaged certain groups, so that everyone ultimately ends up with the same standing. This is equity.

Simply put, antiracism promotes equity, and racism promotes inequity. 

This framing allows for a simple way to identify which policies are racist or antiracist. For example, do-nothing climate policy is racist since the non-white Global South is being victimised by climate change more than the whiter Global North. 

Transitioning away from policies that promote inequity, requires a shift in how we think about our economic system. 

Our current system – underpinned by capitalism [‘an economic system characterised by private ownership for the means of production, especially in the industrial sector’] latches onto existing hierarchies in a society – like gender or race – exploits and exacerbates them, and creates new hierarchies”. As Cedric Robinson states, “Without this ability to exploit existing divisions, the profit margins of the corporations that drive capitalism would be seriously undermined.”

This insight shares the reasoning behind building racial hierarchies in society; to build hierarchies of value. In the Open Democracy Podcast, “Is Capitalism Racist”, Dalia Gebria points out that upholding these hierarchies, where some people do the dirty work that keep others alive, means that “you have to differentiate people into more worthy and less worthy, more human and less human, and with particular characteristics that make them seem ‘naturally suited’ to this work, all while concealing the fact that this differentiation is socially constructed.” 

Continuing to uphold these hierarchies in society will perpetuate the capitalist system that is underpinned by racist policies. Kendi says, “Whoever creates the norm creates the hierarchy and positions their own race-class at the top of the hierarchy.” Meaning that, to dismantle these hierarchies of power and to ensure policies are not racist, policymaking must be inclusive of all the voices of communities. Building policies that are inherently collaborative, is the process needed to build a Wellbeing Economy

In a Wellbeing Economy, people and the planet are the priority. The focus is on building equity in societies all over the world. As Kendi writes, “Changing minds is not a movement. Critiquing racism is not activism. Changing minds is not activism. An activist produces power and policy change, not mental change.” 

This is why a core part of WEAll’s network is focused on convening and connecting stakeholders from different focus areas and geographies and bringing them into each other’s work thus catalysing new powerbases of people that can shift policy and structural change in our economic system. This is created through our place-based Hubs, [ScotlandCosta Rica, Iceland, Cymru- Wales, California, New Zealand], which advocate for policy change, and the establishment of the WEGo Partnership, which is the world’s only living lab testing Wellbeing Economy policies.

To transition towards a Wellbeing Economy, our future policies must stop thinking of transaction, value extraction, and accumulation, but rather begin to think about togetherness, survival, and repair. We are all on the same planet, in this complex system; as one.

Visit our anti-oppression page to learn more about how to incorporate antiracist decision making into your work. 

Our upcoming Wellbeing Economy Policy Design Guidebook will also outline the specific tools needed for policymaking that promotes equity. 

If you are interested in starting a WEAll Hub in your local area, see our Hub Guide.  

Written by Isabel Nuesse

Towards the end of the 2020, WEAll hosted a series of webinars through the WEAll Citizens platform in partnership with our members and fellow citizens. The 3-part series was designed to dive deep into the various aspects of narrative development, to support our ability to create narratives around a Wellbeing Economy that are feasible and desirable.

Our three brilliant hosts demonstrated just how complex narrative can get. The major takeaways for me were:

  1. Bring it back to the values. Values underpin our decision making, how we think, react, and communicate with each other. These values can underpin a society and therefore, underpin the way in which we communicate the change that we want to see in the world. 
  2. Narratives are constant. There is not A narrative. There are many narratives, which are developed and re-developed all of the time. The key is to allow for emergence of new stories that can speak to the overarching narrative you’re hoping to change.
  3. Don’t give up on people. People are hypocritical and stubborn and incredibly complex. As soon as we give up on supporting other people’s journeys to deeper understanding, we lose. We need to make sure that we are patient, kind, and understanding as perspectives transform and shift. Avoid shaming people into believing! 
  4. It’s here – we just need more of it. A Wellbeing Economy does exist. It starts with highlighting what already exists, and replicating these inittaives over and over again. This builds the powerbase that can then shift the real power at the top.  People are agile and able to create significant change swiftly and effectively, as we’ve seen with some of the response to COVID-19.  

Here’s a summary of each webinar in the Narratives series:

1. “How Narratives Facilitate Change” 

Rina Tsubaki from the European Forest Institute (EFI) hosted this launch session. The EFI are working on a digital media analysis project around the Amazon fires in 2019. Rina used this research to explore narratives, how they are spread around the world, and how they can be used to facilitate change. 

You can watch the event recap here

There were a few points that were particularly interesting about her research:

  • Hashtags. When a movement is being created, the use of hashtags is incredibly important. They shift and change and there is always an ‘end of life’ to the use and viral nature of these terms. To learn more, see (21:00).
  • Narratives evolve. This is shown when an initial issue is discussed (e.g. Amazon fires) and  connected to and used to restart the conversation on another issue that was dormant (e.g. Indegenous cultures fight for life). To learn more, see (26:00).
  • Influencers. Rina’s research showed that images that were most popular in the Amazon fires movement were popularised first by more famous accounts and influencers of the public. See her example of Emanuel Macron at (37:00). 

One of Rina’s most striking research insights was that the classic ‘Hero’s Journey’ (see image) story structure or template, no longer applies in today’s world. 

We now live in a world where there is no single structure that fits all narratives. This dramatically shifts the ways we communicate with each other. In our ever-changing society, it is no longer about sharing the ‘single most beautiful story’ but rather, focusing on the change that we want and mobilising around that vision. 

Rina asks us to imagine what our ultimate dream scenario for the future can be, then work backwards from there, rather than start with the immediate changes needed. See image below:

She also introduced the “Iceberg” model, which can also be useful to identify the change that is needed to build a Wellbeing Economy. We need to think closely about the substance underneath the surface of the story that we’re trying to share.

Lastly, Rina introduced a beautiful illustration of the ‘types’ of narratives that can exist in today’s world. There are three types of stories. 

  1. Story as a light: Which makes previous stories that were invisible, visible. 
  2. Story as glue: Which supports community building, creates movements, connects people, and introduces a shared language to create a shared understanding. 
  3. Story as a web: constructed with a diverse set of narratives based on common themes. They recognise the depths and interconnectedness of the movement as a whole. 

Rina’s presentation paved the way for  the second webinar in the Narratives series…

2. “How do We Shift Our Internal Narratives?” 

In November, Jackie Thoms from Fraendi shared research to help us better understand how we, as individuals, see the world, understand complexity, and shift our internal thinking and behaviour as a starting point to change society.

This webinar was particularly informative around human behavior, how we think, what appeals to us, and what the process is for transforming our internal thinking and perspectives (which is key to narrative formation). 

You can watch the recap here 

The main points Jackie touches on are the three dimensions of adult development that are integral to understanding how our worldviews are created.

At 15:00, Jackie dives deep into the social- emotional piece of adult development:

Social-Emotional: This aspect of human development is where we develop maturity and wisdom. It is how we take decisions and is often crisis-led. There are five stages to this.

Stage 1: Our social-emotional learning as we develop from birth.

Stage 2: A stage of cognitive development but with a low social and emotional capacity.This may be someone who is unwilling to go beyond themselves. 

Stage 3: Is the stage that most of society is at. This is mainly about belonging. Once someone sees that they may not align with a community, they shift to the next stage. This stage can feel risky as individuals are leaving the comfort of their family of origin. Or, they may be changing their relationships or community.

Stage 4: This stage is embodying the values that we hold dear and the principles that we want to lead our lives by. 

Stage 5: This final stage is where people begin to consider other people’s perspectives more critically. This is where people may begin to experience the ‘other’ and not see one perspective as particularly dominant. This is someone who can hold a very broad view of life.

Jackie then turns to discussing the cognitive part of adult development (27:30)

Cognitive: This aspect of human development supports us in moving into a wider scope of responsibility and building the capacity to hold many different perspectives and thoughts.

Jackie then ran us through an exercise to discuss these thought-forms in a real-time example. You can check that out at (45:46). 

Jackie wrote a recap blog here if you’re interested in learning more. 

3. “How to move from Understanding to Action” 

Mariana Mirabile hosted the final narratives webinar, a highly interactive session supporting the audience to understand how to move from understanding how narratives work, to developing narratives about a new economy in real life.

Watch the webinar here.

Mariana speaks to the importance of understanding the values that underpin the change that we want to see in the world from (from 2:15-15:00). She uses this graphic to explain how stories and narratives are generally created. 

In the exercise that Mariana ran, she encouraged us to each think of an initiative that we are a part of in our daily life (i.e. a coop grocery store, bike share program etc.) – to illustrate the what we do – and then relate the initiative to one of the 5 WEAll Needs: 

She was making the point that a Wellbeing Economy is happening every day. We are living certain aspects of it in our daily lives. And, to be able to change narrative, we need to understand what tangible initiatives we’re supporting that are already helping to build the world we want to create. As we continue to see and support these initiatives, it will transform our mental models and in turn, build a Wellbeing Economy. 

If you’re interested in continuing to work on narratives for a Wellbeing Economy, please reach out to Isabel

By: Isabel Nuesse

One of the most significant measurements in our economy is Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP is a measurement of the total value of goods and services produced in a country. It measures the size of a nation’s economy but doesn’t reflect a nation’s wellbeing. While inherently flawed, GDP continues to dominate the space as the measurement to compare countries against one another, and more importantly influence global policymaking. 

In a Wellbeing Economy, we argue that it is time that we move beyond GDP and find a more holistic measurement that encapsulates both human and ecological wellbeing. 

In the podcast Citations Needed, Economic Anthropologist and WEAll Ambassador Jason Hickel breaks down the history of GDP, how it drives both the climate crisis and inequality, and what practical steps we can take to ensure thriving livelihoods for all. 

What’s the history?

GDP was initially developed as a war-time measure. Simon Kuznets, the economist that created the national income accounts which inspired the current GDP measurement, warned the US congress about using this as the measurement. 

“The [people’s] welfare can therefore scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income as defined above.” 

Meaning, there is no determination of social progress or human welfare that can be derived from this metric. So why do we continue to use it?

Using GDP as the main measurement of economic success was solidified after WWII hit. Countries focused on the measure of economic production, as wartime was a race to military domination. Growth ruled supreme. Who could produce the most output, the fastest, and where did the highest capacity lie?

It was further solidified after the Bretton Woods conference in 1944 which had over 700 delegates from 44 nations and created big institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF). GDP then continued to dominate during the 1980s, when these institutions created structural adjustment programs (SAPs) – primary for countries in the global south- which move countries away from national development models and push for global development models that essentially only pursue economic growth. 

Luckily, these criticisms of GDP as the sole metric for economic success are coming to the forefront. It’s hard to ignore when the richest 1% of the human population pockets 22% or a quarter of total GDP 

As Jason says, “We’re plundering the earth to pay tribute to the global elite.” 

To further demonstrate this, Hickel says that if we took ⅓ of the income of the richest 1%, it would be enough to raise everyone in the world above a high poverty line of $7.40/day – eradicating poverty forever. If we took another fraction of that, we could provide high-quality universal public healthcare for the world. And, it would still leave the richest 1% with over $130,000/year per person forever. 

These numbers are striking. 

Where do we go from here?

Jason points out that once we admit that we don’t need more growth – we can focus on building an economy that can deliver high quality of life for all, and meet the ecological needs of the planet. 

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) model that outlines how to keep global warming to under 1.5 degrees celsius from pre-industrial levels, requires a reduction in material use and energy use in the global economy. Meaning, we must scale down – or reduce growth. 

If both material and energy use is reduced, GDP will likely crash, causing our economy to collapse as our entire system is underpinned by its health. In order to prevent that crash, we need to organise our economy in a way that will not deliver such a catastrophe. 

How can we develop policies that allow human flourishing, despite declining industrial activity?

What’s needed is a fair distribution of existing income and a redistribution of productivity gains to more people.  Jason suggests that one practical way of doing this is shortening the average working week to four days, increasing wages so they are living wages for workers despite fewer hours, and redistributing necessary labour amongst more people. 

He raises  an interesting point about how self-defeating we will be if we continue to pursue GDP growth. Yes, the world is switching to renewables at a rapid pace, which will reduce the carbon footprint of our globe. However, renewable development still requires extraction of raw materials. And, if we’re continuing to grow the economy, we need to transition the whole economy to renewable energy and do it three times over to maintain our current pace of growth. 

In order to give technology a chance to be effective in delivering goals of human and planetary flourishing, we need to remove the growth priority so that innovations that address some of the glaring problems of the world are elevated, not stunted, because of low growth trajectories. The more you require companies to ramp up supply to meet demand, the more pressure on those capacities and the less of a solution they become.

How does equity play a role? 

Equity and justice have to be at the core of this transition to a ‘post-growth’ economy. The vast majority of the causes of the ecological crisis come from excess consumption from high-income nations. If everyone in the world consumed at the level of the average person in the Global South, we would have no ecological crisis. If they consumed at the level of the high-income nations, we would be operating at over 4x capacity of the Earth

There needs to be a balance between necessary growth for lower-income nations and degrowth for higher-income nations. 

The other key point is that this transition must be de-colonial at its core. No longer can the Global North rely on the extraction from the Global South. Imagine the possibility of an economy that doesn’t rely on that kind of extractivism! 

Institutions such as the IMF can no longer link voting power to GDP metrics. This is actively exclusionary and continues to set the wealthiest nations up for success. As Jason notes, “it’s crazy to have a plutocracy1 at the heart of global economic governance.”  

1 Plutocracy: a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income

Jason presents another glaring statistic: “The poorest 60% of humanity only receive 5% of the income from global GDP growth”- proving that the theory that wealth at the top will “trickle down” to all levels of society does not hold true in the real world. 

Meaning, this idea that global aggregate economic growth is necessary in order to reduce poverty is untrue. The global south contributes the vast majority of both labour and resources and yet don’t reap the benefit of their output. 

We need a fair economy that allows the global south to claim their fair share of yields they produce. This will in turn eradicate much of the poverty in the world simply by distributing income more fairly. 

Jason concludes that once we build a more fair economic structure and shift to a post-growth economy we can more easily fight the climate crisis and tackle global poverty. 

The last point that Jason makes on the podcast is around the phrasing that, “humans are the virus” that is damaging the earth. He wants to completely shift that thinking. Humans are not the virus, capital is the virus.

Capital is programmed to replicate itself – everything it touches turns into more capital. Exactly like a virus that colonises the host to produce more of itself. 

The problem is that expansionary economic systems are organised around appropriation, plunder, and extrication. 

It’s time we changed the economic system, don’t you agree? 

By: Isabel Nuesse

COVID-19 has killed over 1.7M people and infected more than 77M globally. Just this last month, the promise of a vaccine seems to bring renewed hope that the days of isolation and struggle may soon come to an end. However, as the roll-out of these technologies begins, it’s not a coincidence that they are being deployed to the wealthier nations, first.

This trend is not new. 

Historically, lack of access to affordable health care medicines for the global population has been a recurrent concern – especially since the World Trade Organization (WTO) created the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (“TRIPS”)  agreement. This agreement was created to strengthen the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRs). 

What is the significance of the TRIPS agreement today?

The COVID-19 vaccine is patented and many lower to mid-level income countries simply cannot afford it. The alternative is to create a generic version of the vaccine at a more affordable cost. This is only possible if IPRs on COVID-19 vaccines are eliminated.

India and South Africa have already requested a waiver to remove the IPRs on these medicines and technologies that prevent, contain, and treat COVID-19.

This proposal essentially calls for solidarity amongst governments around the globe to make access to the vaccine equitable and affordable, without the threat of sanctions or being found in violation of international trade rules. 

The waiver proposal has been extended from its initial December 31, 2020 expiration date. As of now, 9 countries oppose this waiver: the United States, Switzerland, Japan, Norway, the United Kingdom, Canada,  Australia, Brazil, and the European Union. These are seemingly countries that do not have to worry about affordability with the vaccine. Likely, they even house the multinational corporations that produce the vaccine. Therefore, they may stand to benefit from keeping the IRPs in the hands of the pharmaceutical companies.  

The significance of this waiver brings about an important point. As it stands, the TRIPS agreement places the goal of free trade above the needs of the people. At what point does the intellectual property of medicines and technologies take precedence over saving lives? 

Christian Felber recently gave a talk on the transitions that need to be made in order to support Ethical World Trade, a key component of a Wellbeing Economy. Mainly, trade cannot be the end, but rather, a means to the end. The goal of international trade should be to support human flourishing, not to support free trade. Read the recap of the event here.

One interesting example of when such a goal has been effectively pursued was with the WHO and the TRIPS agreement was during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the early 2000’s. The initial offer from the pharmaceutical provider of HIV/AIDS medication requested the Brazilian government pay $1.59 per pill. But, Brazil saw that it could get the medicines made from India for $0.45 per pill which would enable them to distribute the drug more widely. However, because of how the TRIPS treaty works, the pharmaceutical provider has monopoly rights over the distribution of the drug. This meant that Brazil had to pay the $1.59 to the pharmaceutical provider, even though the generic brand was available at a lower cost. TRIPS institutes the monopoly power for the pharmaceutical provider so that companies don’t lose out on the expensive research and development costs (even though much of this research is publicly funded). **to learn more about this see Mariana Mazzucato’s work on the public funding seeding investment for the private sector. Here is an article in Time Magazine as well. 

Brazil’s president stated that he was not willing to sacrifice the health of his country’s citizens for the sake of world trade. 

After this debate, international leaders met for the Doha Declaration in November of 2001 and formally established that the TRIPS agreement should be interpreted and implemented to promote public health.

The Compulsory Licensing Provision within the TRIPS agreement now allows developing countries to produce or buy generic versions of the patented medication, which inevitably reduces the cost of the medicine. Each country can determine the grounds on which the compulsory licencing may be granted. These could be on the grounds of national emergency, extreme poverty, public non-commercial use, and to remedy anti-competitive practices. 

The precedent that this case study set is of concern for many nations. Having strong IPRs over pharmaceuticals prevents people from low to middle income countries from having access to life-saving medication. So, it is important to allow generic manufacturers to override patent holder rights in certain situations. 

Where does this leave us, in regards to the COVID-19 vaccine?

The vote on whether to eliminate IPRs for the COVID-19 vaccines will take place in the next few months, and coalitions amongst countries are already being made. Luckily the WHO has a policy for one vote per country. 

If you’re interested in learning more about international trade issues, please check out the organizations below:

Regions Refocus

Third World Network

DAWN

SEATINI

Bretton Woods Project

Gender and Trade Coalition

By Isabel Nuesse 

This week, many American’s are gearing up for another Thanksgiving holiday. A holiday told to celebrate the harmony between the Pilgrims and Wampanoags – whose land expands from Southern Massachusetts, into Rhode Island.

Source: Wikipedia 

However, this narrative overlooks the genocide of the Native American peoples. It is said that between the 19th and 20th centuries, 75-90% of the Native American peoples were killed by the European Settlers

It is significant that the month of November, during which Thanksgiving takes place, has been named Native American Heritage month. Which was only officially recognized in 1990 by President George W. Bush. 

It has taken years to acknowledge the mass elimination of the Native American’s and the theft of their lands. Much of that acknowledgment is still missing. Though, understanding the true story of Thanksgiving is the first step in finding a better path forward for our society.

As we begin to plan how we ‘build back better’ in the face of the crises of COVID-19, inequality and climate change, this work is absolutely critical.

It feels obvious to say, but to address the crises we face and to build a Wellbeing Economy, we cannot use the same paradigm from which our current economic system was born.

We need alternatives. And, those alternatives exist. 

On this day, we consider the teachings of Native American communities and how these perspectives are necessary in building a more just and sustainable economy; both in the US and globally.  

WEAll members have collectively defined 5 universal human needs that a Wellbeing Economy must deliver upon, to truly be ‘better’ than our current system. The ‘WEAll Needs’ are: dignity for all, participation in decision making, access to and preservation and regeneration of nature, connection and fairness.

Indigenous value systems inherently already address each of these needs. 

In the book, Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks of ‘The Honorable Harvest’: Indigenous principles or rules that govern the exchange of life for life. She notes that while these ‘rules’ are not written, if they were, they would appear something like this: 

  • Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them
  • Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life. 
  • Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.
  • Never take the first. Never take the last. 
  • Take only what you need. 
  • Take only which is given.
  • Never take more than half. Leave some for others. 
  • Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken. Share. 
  • Give thanks for what you have been given.
  • Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken. 
  • Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever. 

These principles highlight an incredible act; giving, which is in direct contrast to our current extractive economy, which is very much focused on ‘taking’. This mindset validates the endless growth paradigm and centers profit ahead of the land on which we depend. 

Crucially, these Indigenous principles highlight the truth that the Earth is the source of life, not a limit to life. And that everything that comes after, is dependent on that source.

In learning more about this ancient wisdom, I ask myself,“Can we learn from these perspectives? Can we better honor the land and give more than we take?”

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin speaks to a salient point. She notes that the Indigenous communities in what we call America observed, “The problem with these new people is that they don’t have both feet on the shore. One is still on the boat. They don’t seem to know whether they’re staying or not.” 

This speaks to an investment, in our lives, in our Earth. Robin then asks, “Can Americans, a nation of immigrants, learn to live here as if we’re staying? With both feet on the shore?” 

What does a Wellbeing Economy look like from this point of view? How can we ensure that we’re building a system that requires that both feet are on the shore? One that centers the earth and grounds the Wellbeing Economy movement in our living systems?

There’s much more learning to be done. Today, I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from this wisdom and to start to help right the wrongs of our past. 

To deepen our understanding, we’re looking into these Indigenous organisations and resources:

By: Isabel Nuesse

Founded on ideals of white superiority, rooted in colonial behavior, rich due to the exploitation and oppression of indigenous and black communities; this is the story of the US that has been avoided for the last 250 years. 

With the performative slogan, ‘United We Trust’, we endeavor to pursue unity without acknowledging the hurt of so many.

We are in need of deep repair and healing. And only through that repair, can we consider rebuilding to a Wellbeing Economy in the US.

In their episode, ‘Confrontation’, the hosts of the podcast, Invisibilia, explain that the first step is to air our grievances with each other, confronting the issues. We must allow people to speak their truths, without repercussions.

“There is a need for people to be in your face and hear the situation. We’ve got to be able to address it. But I think at the same time, there has to be a meaningful, and purposeful conversation behind it. If I’m just going to make you mad without doing the bonding and the education and growth, all I’ve done is make you mad.”

Invisibilia “Confrontation”, NPR

They emphasize that once the feelings are expressed, the repair can begin through meaningful conversation to support that bonding, education and growth. This starts with acknowledging what people are asking for. 

To build a Wellbeing Economy there must be belief that most humans want similar outcomes, that common ground can be found. 

A Wellbeing Economy is one that delivers social justice on a healthy planet by addressing five universal needs.

Katherine Trebeck speaks of this in a recent interview: “people around the world consider the same core issues important. Think fresh air, clean rivers, financial security, and strong relationships”

This idea is echoed in a quote from Theodore R. Johnson,

“Even amid all the division broadcast across traditional and social media, most of us want similar things from our society. We want to be treated equally. We want to be included and respected in our communities. We want our institutions and systems to be fair and just. And if the government derives its power from our consent, then we have the ability to make our country more unified if we are willing to focus on what we have in common so we can work through the areas where we differ.”

Theodore R. Johnson

If we can agree that we share common needs, we can begin to answer the how. How does a country, state, or town begin to deliver on those needs?

In a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation webinar, “Reimagined in America” Katherine Trebeck and Lisa Parson, a member of the Wellbeing Project in Santa Monica, California discuss a practical example of where in the US we are learning how to build a Wellbeing Economy. A part of Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Project is an open-source wellbeing survey, which provides a better understanding of who residents are, how they are doing, and their concerns. This provides inputs into a Wellbeing Index for the city.

Katherine explains why this is important,

“The conversations and the deliberative nature of that is important. To tell residents that their voices matter in this. Particularly for the most marginalized communities. These efforts take a long time, but if you just start, then things can happen.”

WEAll recently published a paper which sets out a path to rebuild to a Wellbeing Economy in the US. The paper stresses that the path to rebuild our economy is founded on the principles of economic freedom, security, resilience, justice and leadership – and that it can be done. The questions we must answer are; are willing to go there, to dig deep, to be vulnerable, to forgive, to repair, to heal and to ultimately change? 

The confrontations needed have just begun and we’re a long way away. But I have hope.

Building a Wellbeing Economy is a process which requires many steps. And as Lisa Parson, who is creating Santa Monica’s Wellbeing survey and Index, says: “You just have to start.”

By: Isabel Nuesse

well-be·​ing | \ ˈwel-ˈbē-iŋ  \

Definition of well-being : the state of being happy, healthy, or prosperous : WELFARE

It’s a tumultuous time in the United States. With an ever-divisive political arena, our sensitivities have the wheel and it’s much easier to stick to our corners, and talk amongst ourselves.The outcome of the upcoming federal election could further exacerbate political polarity. If this trend continues, I expect few will applaud the result. 

Writing this piece, I’m a little scared. I do not want to over-simplify, offer a blanket solution, cause offense or seem uninformed. I know I’m not alone in this. These worries are everywhere. Due to our lack of trust for the ‘other’, we’re losing our ability, or more specifically, our desire to communicate honestly with each other. 

Conversations on topical news stories can often end with the warning of, ‘don’t make this political’, because it’s almost guaranteed that one side will lash out at the other. Or, we spew ‘facts’ back and forth. But are we sitting with the complexity of these issues, thinking from other perspectives or challenging our own thinking? 

I see both the left and the right disengaging entirely. ‘You’re threatening to take away my abortion right?’ ‘You’re threatening to take away my guns?’ It’s a yes/no, a this/that, either/or. When in reality, it’s almost all grey. But are we willing to believe in the grey? It’s much easier to stick to our corners and hold a hard line.

A transition toward an economy centered on wellbeing may only be possible if people are willing to and capable of having patient conversations with one another. 

It’s true that sometimes patient conversations cannot be had, due to deep rooted histories of oppression. In this instance, my suggestion does not apply. 

I do believe however, many people are capable of having these conversations. But they’re hard, uncomfortable and can be extremely emotional. If we don’t start to shift more of the conversation to be inquiry-based, with a focus on the core issues, do we run a risk of escalated unrest?  

I found some hope in seeing this video the other day, of two candidates running for Governor in Utah.

It is not perfect. But, it’s somewhat refreshing to see the two sides trying to move beyond the hyperpolarization of our current political state. 

In my own life I’ve tried to facilitate some of these conversations. 7 months ago, I moved back in with my parents in a small town in  Massachusetts. Twice a week, I walk with a friend of my Mom’s: a ‘fiscally conservative’ voter, who is curious enough to engage me in conversations on current events. From police violence, racial justice, supreme court nominees, climate change and Jeff Bezos’ trillion dollar salary, we cover it all. 

We can agree that local community resilience is paramount, that wealth inequality is an issue, that police often act above the law, that women are the future and that nearly all political parties can act immorally. While these agreements are not revolutionary, they are telling. 

These topics are complex. I can see from her perspective and have been forced to ask myself questions that I would not have thought of before. It can be refreshing to chat with her, because she is so hopeful about the future that it can sometimes dampen my worry.

Most importantly, these conversations have solidified the fact that we do have similar visions for the future.

Meaning, we can likely find common ground to work together towards a country we’re both proud to live in. 


My vision for a Wellbeing Economy in the US starts with us. Compromise is not impossible. And having compassion is important. One way to transition toward a Wellbeing Economy is to start in the community to better understand our neighbors, and to be open to question our individual perspectives. We have to remind ourselves that the ‘other’ isn’t evil. We can co-create an economy that meets the needs of all people. And we don’t need to be filtering our conversation to do that.

There is not one blueprint for a Wellbeing Economy; the shape, institutions and activities that get us there will look different in different contexts, both across countries and between different communities within countries. However, the high-level goals for a Wellbeing Economy are the same everywhere: wellbeing for all, in a flourishing natural world. Visions of a Wellbeing Economy is a series highlighting voices from the diverse WEAll global network on describing their visions of what a Wellbeing Economy might look like in the context of their countries and how the meaning of the words ‘wellbeing’ and a ‘Wellbeing Economy’ in their respective language impacts this vision.