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Social change agendas are often driven by a focus on ‘fixing’ people and their problems. It’s a negative focus that for those being ‘fixed’ can feel disempowering. 

The new focus by Government on a social change agenda driven by promoting well-being, however, is aspirational. It’s about building on strengths, and the desire of whānau and families to create a life worth living for themselves, and for the next generation.

At the Wellbeing and Public Policy conference last week, we saw a shared agenda for wellbeing for Aotearoa start to emerge. The conversation drew on the experience in the room from the Victoria University School of Government and Faculty of Health, the Treasury, and an impressive line-up of leading local and international wellbeing scholars, and practitioners with experience in applying wellbeing principles to public policy.

As a public health practitioner of old I was excited and felt re-engaged in a revitalised agenda for action, with a strong drive for whole of government and whole of sector engagement. The call for shared action and debate and engagement was a great way re reinvigorate us in a collective way towards a goal I’m sure most of us share ; wellbeing and positive outcomes for all. A central challenge is to find ways to address the inequalities that have sadly grown over the last three decades.

Collective action for change will need us to move from our respective silos and old paradigm. We need to unpack the determinants of our current population outcomes and be brave and innovative to find Aotearoa-based ways to move the dial on wellbeing for our society. This might sound like motherhood and apple pie (both of which are things to be greatly respected) but social policy driven by the pursuit of wellbeing is a serious global movement. The OECD is leading the charge on this, and whilst recognizing their frameworks are not always going to suit local / national needs they provide a knowledge base members can draw on and contribute to as they develop their own wellbeing agendas.

So what could this mean for those of us in philanthropy, in social change and impact and in the community sector?

Well we have our own silos too. We can do more together and we should. Collaboration is hard and messy at times, but what we do have collectively are common visions and values. We are in effect a community of practice that uses and builds evidence of effectiveness in all its many glorious forms. Over the last few years I have been inspired and driven by seeing the movement of change towards a stronger focus on innovation, on impact and on shared values. An agenda for wellbeing can enhance the work in our sector that is already underway. We should also influence that agenda based on what we have learnt from our work alongside our communities.

Let’s see what we can do together.

Read more:

Overview of the Wellbeing and Public Policy conference agenda

What Works Wellbeing is a UK-based centre which brings together the evidence about the relative impacts on wellbeing of policies and projects, their cost and the quality of the evidence.

The Netherlands’ Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organization (EHERO) is a scientific institute where happiness is studied.

Information on the OECD’s Better Life Initiative and the work programme on Measuring Well-Being and Progress.