Societal well-being is as important as economic well-being. This was the key message from New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, at the 2019 World Economic Forum. This was a bold statement made even more poignant given the announcement that the New Zealand government will present a “well-being budget.” This signals a new decision-making focus, one that ensures impacts on the quality of life for citizens are considered, rather than the traditional focus on just the financial impacts. In practice it means that any decisions made, policies implemented, and money spent by the government will need to demonstrate how they benefit New Zealanders and how they work across ministries and party-lines to ensure ongoing positive impacts.
As the results of this shift will take time to become evident, the New Zealand government is committed to expanding their definition and indicators of success beyond economics by using their existing Living Standards Framework. This framework identifies 12 measures of Current Well-being that, when taken together, provide a robust, well-rounded picture of New Zealanders’ well-being. Indicators such as Civic Engagement, Subjective Wellbeing, Knowledge and Skills, and Social Connections are being included. By placing these measure of well-being at the centre of decision making, New Zealand is seeking to ensure that rates of Future Well-being will be high across their four indicator areas: Natural capital; Social capital; Human capital; and, Financial and Physical capital.
The implementation of the well-being budget is a recognition of what Asset-Based Community Development practitioners have known all along: investing in people and developing social capital is essential to the wellbeing of residents and communities. When people feel connected to each other and valued for and able to meaningfully share their gifts, skills, abilities and knowledge, communities thrive and become more resilient. When people feel like they belong and have a sense of attachment to their community, this in turn has an economic impact. Research conducted by the Knight Foundation in 2010 discovered that indeed, “cities with the highest levels of attachment had the highest rate of GDP growth.”
Prime Minister Ardern advocates looking beyond a political cycle through the lenses of “kindness, empathy and well-being.” If the research is right, this radical approach to governing could just be exactly what is needed to create stability and resiliency in the face of global economic and political uncertainty. Make no mistake, focusing on kindness, empathy and well-being will not be an easy task, rather, in the face of enormous pressure, it will take courage and unwavering commitment. In the words of Prime Minister Ardern, “This is not woolly, it’s critical.”
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