• Make The World Better Magazine /

Scottish Government: Operating With a Wellbeing Framework

The Scottish Government is on a mission to build a better life for all its citizens by following a wellbeing framework that will help reduce inequalities and power a just transition to a green future. Learn more in this exclusive interview with Dr. Gary Gillespie, Director and Scottish Government Chief Economic Adviser, as featured in Make The World Better Magazine.

/ 6 mins / SparxTeam

Overcoming today’s challenges and building a better life for all requires economic and systems-level change. To mainstream approaches that place wellbeing at the centre, governments need frameworks and objectives that align with our greatest needs and provide opportunities for everyone to flourish.

We spoke with Dr. Gary Gillespie, Director and Scottish Government Chief Economic Adviser, about how the Scottish Government is following a wellbeing framework to pursue a just transition to a green economy and reduce inequalities.

What inspired you to start advocating for the Wellbeing Economy?

My advocacy of the Wellbeing Economy reflects, in part, a strong political desire in Scotland to put the Wellbeing Economy as a key focus of the Government’s objectives. This has been reflected in the continued evolution of economic strategy in Scotland since 2015; the growing recognition of the combined challenges of rising inequality, climate, and nature loss; and the interdependencies and need to frame a system response which focuses on collective wellbeing across economic, social, and environmental domains, consistent with safeguarding future generations.

As an economist advising and working in government, it has been great to work toward the Wellbeing Economy, drawing on new thinking and approaches from across academia and other countries. In my role, my focus on the Wellbeing Economy is through the lens of the economy. It is clear we need a successful economy to deliver our wider outcomes — providing opportunities for employment, good jobs, income, and participation across the country while supporting our transition to net zero, reducing inequality, protecting and restoring nature, and investing in public goods.

Although the Wellbeing Economy is often viewed as a new or novel approach, its roots can be traced across many areas. Adam Smith, Scottish political economist from the 17th century — often regarded as the father figure of modern economics — argued that governments should be viewed in direct proportion to the extent to which they improve the happiness or wellbeing of their citizens. Therefore, advocacy of the Wellbeing Economy reflects a tradition of seeking to improve citizens’ outcomes, which I am happy to continue. 

What do you consider to be your biggest success as an advocate and professional in this space? Can you share any stories of the impact your work has had that have surprised you?

I have been surprised at how quickly the idea and concept of the Wellbeing Economy has developed as an operating framework for governments and also as a catalyst for broader change across communities.

Personally, I would highlight Scotland’s role in the creation of Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo), alongside Iceland and New Zealand in 2018, the expansion of the group, and the ongoing international interest in governments working together to achieve similar aims.

Scotland’s National Performance Framework, which was updated in 2018, with its central purpose to enhance wellbeing and provide opportunities for all to flourish, is now set in legislation and is regarded as Scotland’s wellbeing framework. This is also reflected in the cross-party political interest and growing consensus on this approach in Scotland and internationally.

I would also highlight the “Why governments should prioritize well-being” TED Talk by our then–First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, given in 2019, which has had over 2.5 million views.

Another major highlight was the appointment of a Scottish Government Minister, Cabinet Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy in 2023, which reflects the centrality of this approach within the Scottish Government and its three missions: equality, opportunity, and community. The current focus is on mainstreaming this approach, working with the business community, and establishing an expert advisory group to shape this work.

Finally, the continuing work of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in developing frameworks and sharing policies to support the Centre on Well-being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (WISE), alongside the growing interest of the World Health Organisation (WHO) in this area who have reviewed the different approaches taken by WEGo countries, is another noteworthy success.

How do you feel that shifting to a Wellbeing Economy will help make the world better?

At the heart of the Wellbeing Economy approach is the recognition of the need to change our economic model, given the broader challenges we face. The recognition of the interconnected nature of those challenges means economic transformation is critical if we are to meet our global climate and biodiversity obligations and secure a safe world for current and future generations. These crises are already changing the global economy and how we live, so the only constant is change. We, therefore, need to play our part in pursuing a just transition to a green economy while maximizing the economic opportunities it brings and making sure those opportunities are accessed and shared fairly across society. High levels of inequality and poverty are incompatible with a strong, resilient economy and society. Therefore, achieving a Wellbeing Economy will improve outcomes for people and planet.

Scotland joined forces with Slovenia, Sweden, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Australia at the first meeting to establish the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll).

What are some of the challenges you typically face in advocating for the Wellbeing Economy?

One of the biggest challenges is defining the vision of the Wellbeing Economy so that it can be easily understood by different people, and the benefits can be recognized. We have been working in partnership with the business community in Scotland to develop a clearer description of what the Wellbeing Economy means for businesses as they are crucial for our success.

Change of this scale is by its nature extremely challenging, be that for large institutions and governments, small businesses, or individual citizens. Therefore, changing how we think about problems — drawing on system theory — and recognizing the importance of place and community participation, and ultimately, changing cultural norms, are crucial.

Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects related to your work/the Wellbeing Economy you’d like to share?

There are so many policies to share. I would highlight our Wellbeing Economy Toolkit and Monitor, the just transition plans for sectors in Scotland, the place-based work relating to community wealth building, fair and inclusive workplaces, and the work with the business community as key economic policies. However, wider policies, such as The Promise implementation plan, Scottish Child Payment, expansion of free childcare, educational attainment, and supporting policies to reduce inequality and child poverty are all key.

What can people do to help spread the word about or take action toward transitioning to the Wellbeing Economy? How can they support your mission?

People should feel empowered, as they are needed to take part for any change to happen. There are lots of community-led initiatives happening all over the world making real progress on building a Wellbeing Economy. International organizations and initiatives like the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WEAll) and the Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) are doing great work at both community and national levels. Here in the UK, we also have organizations like Carnegie UK and the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) which are driving action toward wellbeing-focused policies in both national and local governments.The Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) are showing the influence of small countries working together for a common cause, but, ultimately, we can all contribute and need people to be catalysts for change. All journeys start with a first step, so feel empowered to engage, question, and challenge. Think about changing one thing in your life or business as every action has an impact and leaves a trace.

This story was featured in the Make The World Better Magazine:

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