If those in power are listening at all they will have heard a collective cry for change ringing loud and clear. The Covid crisis (on the heels of Brexit divisions and looming climate breakdown) has made it clearer than ever that now is the time for action, for rapid transition to a sustainable, equitable economy that delivers growth in the quality of our lives, not merely the quantity of our wealth.
Our prevailing economic model is a root cause of this web of social and environmental crises. It does not account for nature, is blind to distribution of resources, and gives little or no ‘value’ to many of the things that are essential for our human, social and environmental resilience.
But a shift to a radically different and systemic economic model feels a long way off our current national government policy. We seem to be at risk of repeating the same mistakes of 2008; patching over cracks with sticking plasters, and sacrificing people for profit on the altar of growth. Yet, the longer we wait, the further the social and environmental crisis deepens.
So what’s the solution?
Think local, act local, do it now!
Local leaders need to urgently step up to take bold action and create momentum for wider change. If there are any positives to be seen from the crisis, one has surely been the recognition of just how quickly change can happen: and that citizens are ready and waiting for exactly this sort of change.
Mutual aid groups, a new sense of neighbourliness and volunteering have all flourished during the pandemic, and it has been local business, not multinationals, in every corner of the land that have stepped up. The challenge for local leaders is how to build on this energy - connecting policy, commissioning, planning, strategy and investment to look beyond silos to a new type of economy that delivers the conditions for thriving.
This is possible. Every local area is right now developing an ‘economic recovery plan’, and with that comes an extraordinary opportunity to put in place new models that turn local economies into engines of growth for everything we have valued most through this crisis: health, community, resilience, equality and sustainability.
With the right practical tools and support, the sorts of changes we are seeing at a national scale in New Zealand, Iceland, Scotland and elsewhere can be delivered locally and rapidly across the UK. Building back ‘better’ can be much more than a slogan, and go further than merely softening our spiralling inequality and climate catastrophe, and UK regions have more help available than perhaps any local areas around the world.
As an organisation that has been shouting from the rooftops for exactly this shift in thinking and action for over 10 years, we at the Centre for Thriving Places are bringing our decades of know-how together to offer places across the UK a fast track to creating their own route map to build back better. We work with local places, and leading academics, practitioners and experts, to help answer to the question: How can we build places focused on the growth of wellbeing rather than merely wealth? There are a wealth of tools already available, that can help us design a local economy based on our capacity to thrive within our planetary boundaries and on a fair and equitable social foundation.
The Thriving Places Index, which has been supported by Triodos bank since 2017, is a world leading tool designed to measure whether or not we are creating the right local conditions for people to thrive, and whether we are doing that equitably and sustainably. In essence, it is a tool that already maps out the principles of a better economy for every Local Authority Area in England and Wales and this data is ready today.
Our work not only delivers the data, our team works with local towns, cities and regions, to quickly, collaboratively and economically fill in the details. We take this outline ‘portrait’ of a place, and adapt it to the local context, priorities and needs. We can help people across sectors, communities, politics and places agree what ‘better’ looks like and then use the data we already have, combined with their own unique local wisdom to paint a clear and shared picture of where they are, where they want to be and the key steps to getting there.
As a ‘centre’ we believe in collaboration. We listen and co-create with communities this clear picture of vision and need, then we bring in the best people, tools and data to support them to get there. That might be our own expert staff and associates, or the brilliant Doughnut Economics Action Lab team, or it might be the local wealth builders at CLES (Centre for Local Economic Strategies), or the new economy policy visionaries at New Economics Foundation, or the social business brains at Power to Change or the cooperative culture experts at Coops UK. Whatever the barriers are to a ‘better economy’ locally we help navigate a path to overcoming them.
Systematic economic change can come, and should come, from all levels and sectors of the economy. At this crucial historical juncture, we need to be brave enough to ask visionary questions about how we can redesign our economic system to support people and places to thrive. The pioneers are seizing that mandate and building a very different economy where they are. Together this is possible right here and now.
About Liz Zeidler
Liz Zeidler is co-founder and chief executive of Centre for Thriving Places – a small team with a big mission, to help make what matters count. Centre for Thriving Places challenges the idea that the world has to be about endless consumption and GDP growth, because it thinks people want something better than that.
See your Local Authority’s score at the Thriving Places Index website.
How Triodos Bank supports a different kind of economy
By inviting external contributions to the Colour of Money our intention is to challenge, provoke debate, stimulate ideas and engage with issues that concern many of us. The views published here are not necessarily those of Triodos Bank.