IGN in action

Growing a wellbeing economy

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Centre for Thriving Places

Rachel Laurence (Deputy Chief Executive) and Liz Zeidler (Chief Executive)

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For over 50 years there have been calls for the global economy to move ‘beyond GDP’ and to focus instead on growing our capacity to thrive. We currently have an economy that is producing social injustice and climate catastrophe by design. We need to move to a system that puts the economy at the service of people and the planet, not the other way around.

This rewiring of our economy towards the delivery of equitable and sustainable wellbeing is perhaps the most urgent task of the 21st century. A movement is emerging, which includes some of the greatest thinkers and leaders of our time, from economists to environmentalists, politicians to protesters, all pushing for this urgent shift. Without it we will continue to face crisis after linked crisis – from housing to energy, from climate to cost of living.

Wellbeing economies

The key narrative running through this fast growing wellbeing economy movement is a call for a focus on:

  • Delivering the conditions for people to thrive and flourish (ie. to prosper)
  • Delivering this fairly so everyone benefits
  • Delivering this sustainably so the planet and future generations can also thrive

This is a fundamental shift: A move away from a singular focus on driving economic growth as an end in itself, and towards a focus on growing the known drivers of a range of interconnected outcomes that improve lives – now and in the future.

This work needs to happen at every level. There are already initiatives within multinational organisations such as the UN, OECD, EU and the Club of Rome, and among far-sighted national governments and global businesses. But the world cannot wait for every national government leader to get on board. We need this shift to happen at a local level at a mass scale around the world.

It is a tough job however to turn around the tanker that is our consumption based economy around. To move from the simple ‘growth is all’ mantra to a more nuanced understanding of what supports people, places and the planet to truly thrive is not a simple task.

It can feel frustrating trying to do this at local and regional level, within the context of the wider system. But an increasing number of pioneering local leaders are unpacking what those drivers are, and seeking a roadmap to delivering them. To do this, they need access to tools and support to re-wire their local systems. Here in the UK, there is a wealth of such support available from organisations who have been working on this for over a decade to develop the frameworks, metrics, policy and know-how to make it happen.

North of Tyne's Wellbeing Framework

"We want economic growth for the region. But this can’t come at the cost of other important things. Our health. Our relationships. Our homes. Our ability to participate as citizens. Our access to green spaces.” - Mayor Jamie Driscoll.

The North of Tyne Combined Authority are among this important vanguard. In 2021-22 they worked with Carnegie UK and Centre for Thriving Places to develop a bespoke measurement framework to put the wellbeing approach into action. Using the Thriving Places Index as a basis, with its wealth of data (readily available for all LA regions in England and Wales), both organisations worked with leaders across the Combined Authority region to adapt the Thriving Places Index domains, outcomes and indicators and enhance them to reflect the particular priorities and needs of the area.

The resulting bespoke North of Tyne Wellbeing Framework has been endorsed and adopted by the full Cabinet.

The Centre for Thriving Places along with partners New Economics Foundation, Centre for Local Economic Strategies and Co-operatives UK are now working with NTCA colleagues and communities to bring the framework to life and embed it into policy and practice across the region and beyond.