Nothing is more important than leaving the world in a better place than we found it for future generations. How can we ensure our children have full bellies and curious minds? How can we care for and share with others? How can we ensure we count the earth beneath our feet and in faraway lands as our equals?
In 2015 Wales introduced the Well-being of Future Generations Act, becoming the first country in the world to legislate in the interests of future generations. This inspired countries such as Canada, Ireland, Scotland and Gibraltar to introduce similar legislation. It also inspired the creation of the UN Special Envoy for Future Generations, with Nikhil Seth, the then UN Assistant Secretary General, saying “What Wales is doing today, the world will do tomorrow.”
The Well-being of Future Generations Act places a legal responsibility for policy makers to create inter-connected solutions to improve cultural, social, economic and environmental wellbeing, via seven goals, including ambitions for a healthier, more equal, and environmentally resilient society, and a wellbeing economy. Notably, the goal for a “prosperous Wales” doesn’t mention GDP, and instead defines growth in terms of “an innovative, productive and low carbon society which recognises the limits of the global environment”, with an emphasis on “decent work”.
The term in office of Wales’ (and the world’s) first Future Generations Commissioner, Sophie Howe, came to an end on January 31st. Derek Walker, currently also CEO of Cwmpas, replaces her, and we look forward to having the opportunity of working with him in his new role. Just before leaving office, Sophie Howe published her Future Generations Changemaker 100, which she described as “a list of some of the extraordinary people that my team and I have been inspired by over the seven years since I took up post”. 4theRegion are on the list (we’re number 4)! We’re so honoured to be on a changemakers list with Micheal Sheen!
At 4theRegion, we believe strong relationships and inclusive networks are essential if South West Wales is to respond positively to the challenges we’re all facing. Co-creation, collaboration and inclusion have shone through as key priorities in the implementation of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act – and that’s what we are all about!
The beginning and end of 4theRegion is young people. Younger generations are our future, so how can we equip young people across South West Wales with the skills and mindset to thrive?
How do we ensure every child gets to hear all the opportunities available to them?
We could get inspirational young professionals, who are more relatable, to speak them. We can encourage businesses to give young people an opportunity to volunteer, which is more beneficial to a day in school.
We should also consider the pressure of the question of “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and perhaps reframe it to be “What kind of person do you want to be when you grow up?” Do this next time you speak to a young person – placing the focus on the opportunity to build a happy, healthy and fulfilling future. Self belief, resilience and curiosity are key attributes that enable young people to seize opportunities and discover their own path.
Wales now has a new purpose driven curriculum, designed for well rounded, innovative citizens. It includes mental health education and eco-literacy, while encouraging young people to follow creative pursuits. We’re also moving away from traditional exams and moving towards learning for learning’s sake.
And how could we improve wellbeing for those who’ve entered the workforce?
A Senedd Committee has said Wales should make “serious moves” to introduce a four day working week. Wales has some of the longest working hours in Europe. Whereas, in Iceland 86% of workers work a four day week. A four day working week means you work reduced hours with no loss of pay. It’s argued it could improve mental health as shorter hours reduce the risk of stress, anxiety and burnout. It could reduce our carbon footprint by reducing commuting. It could have a positive effect on gender equality, as four day week pilots suggest women report the largest increases in wellbeing. It also appears to boost productivity. Countries where people work the least number of hours are actually more productive on an hourly basis.
The four day week debate also scratches the surface of an ongoing discussion among economists. GDP has long been used as the ultimate measure of a nation’s progress, often with the effect of seeing policymakers chase growth at any cost.
Of course it’s very easy to point to the headline grabbing changes. But we think often what’s more effective for cultural transformation are the small things (that are actually really big things).
We’re talking about the movement for real change within our communities. A conversation at a primary school, food bank, community garden or upcycling café is often more meaningful than an address to the UN or a keynote speech at a business event. These are the conversations that make a difference at a local level, sow seeds for the future, and that create a network of wellbeing roots in our very soil. They are the conversations that inspire hope in a world that could do with a little more hope. And that’s because these small moments build to become a powerful force for change from the core.
Research acknowledges that wellbeing means different things to different people and is best understood using methods that pay attention to how wellbeing is done by people, moment by moment.
No longer should we focus on growth, instead focus on thriving, wellbeing and resilience in communities. The battleground for next ten years is not harder faster life but more balance and better connections. And we need people who are in poverty involved in the discussion of the direction of travel for economics and wellbeing. Doing to people never works. This needs to be hyperlocal, because we can’t wait for large corporations and governments. As we do this we will make mistakes but we need to learn from each other to see what happens next.
It’s basically based on empowerment. Where people need empowerment, give them the resources, bits of help and guidance as and when necessary, but basically put them in charge. And that changes the dynamic, and makes people not hopeless and know they’ve got something they can do. Which is great!
Ask yourself how much can you do in your own community and become self-reliant? See who the connectors are. In different communities different people and organisations play that role. Make connections with people who are like minded. This can mean community hubs, engagement with outdoors, community engagement, local engagement (we’re passionate about this at 4theRegion, and want to see more deliberative democracy, people’s assembly, sense of agency around our own communities), and arts and crafts. What are businesses doing to support the humanity of the workforce?
A wellbeing economy demands truly transformative change. Yes, at a policy level, but that thinking has to have a place to live. It needs to live in schools, cafes, homes, shops, banks, in business, and in everyday life. In a wellbeing economy, we believe physical and mental wellbeing will be a fundamental measure of its success. It seems straightforward that if more people feel healthier in mind and body, communities thrive and the economy benefits.
Is it possible that Wales, supported by the Well-being of Future Generations Act, can lead the charge globally? We think so. Join Wellbeing Economy Wales at 7pm this evening to discuss what we need to change to make the wellbeing economy a driver of societal behaviour, not a trickle down consequence of coerced, second hand investment.
Oh and our third annual Swansea City Centre Conference takes place on March 29th. It’s set to be an incredible day, showcasing everything that’s great about Swansea and hearing from the people, organisations and businesses who are making change happen. It’s open to all, and YOU are invited!