Contextual issues and system roles
in individual wellbeing

Our current infrastructure is largely outdated and serves an ever-diminishing proportion of the population. Here we have an opportunity to consider how to make changes to deviate from our current direction—based on a capitalist profit model—to one of a quality-of-life-for-all or a wellbeing model. This does not preclude any capitalism, or potential for the individual to be able to better their lot, but requires a degree of consideration about how we ensure the snares of our existing model do not entrap us.

We should be mindful of our language and be aware when new paradigm language is being employed to seduce us into old paradigms of thinking

Without being over simplistic, but to give us a sense of context, in Britain we live in a state of advanced capitalism. This is based on the premise that we have a free market and that business and profit must grow infinitely. Whilst we can quickly acknowledge the idea of infinite growth in a finite world as absurd, the notion of the free market is also fundamentally flawed. We have no such free market, as monopolies, inequalities and restrictions limit the capacity of ‘anybody’ being able to ‘make it’ successfully within this framework. Capitalism is based on the idea of ‘anybody’ being able to achieve this success, improve their lot, with effort, so when this proves impossible within the current system with those monopolies, inequalities and restrictions, it is notionally ludicrous and clearly unsustainable in its current model. Capitalism also has no implicit provision for investment in the society in which it operates, therefore potentially removing any and all profit from the society, and limiting the economy in flow. Hence why there is need for quantitative easing; perpetuating the same flawed model that created the inherent need for the proposed solution, rather than address the underlying defects and deficiencies in our existing status quo. Corporate Social Responsibility has been embraced by some organisations but as an optional extra. Frequently more of a marketing move, rather than a meaningful investment, leaving plenty of room for organisations to operate and make ostentatious profits, often with a non-existent or minuscule tax liability, without investing back into the communities in which they work and serve.

The reality of the funding situation for community, social and voluntary organisations, who deliver directly to the public, has been squeezed into almost non-existence. We are five years into an austerity plan, with few signs of any common sense on the horizon. There’s little indication that those that hold the purse strings are interested or prepared to invest in organisations that can make so much positive difference to people’s lives. Organisations that become more and more important as other essential services are stripped to tenuous capacity to do what they set out to achieve. Services and professionals are overstretched and their capacity to be effective is reduced further and further.

We are a talented and interdependent species, let us embrace those qualities

Meanwhile, in reducing delivery and frontline services, many organisations have set themselves up as additional middlemen administrators and gatekeepers to funding and opportunities that could otherwise be invested directly in those frontline services. At a recent meeting, a spokesperson from a local voluntary organisation complacently remarked that, “When funding becomes available we simply make up a project to soak up the funding.” Terrifying, but the unfortunate reality of the sector. Search for investment in social causes in the UK over the past five years and, while some amazing projects have received funding, albeit largely of the flash-in-the-pan, short-term variety, a huge percentage of investment money has been diverted into non-delivering organisations and practically no direct investment has gone into the communities in which it was received. Cameron’s big society seemed more of a big swindle, as the funding poured into “we’re all in this together” pot was received by a tiny minority, many within profit-making non-delivery organisations, and barely any made it to direct investment in society. It’s a sham and a shame, indicative of the practices we should guard against and move away from.

Funders are limited in what they can do, with limited funds to invest, and pressure from the ever deepening demand for investment. Unfortunately, many have fallen victim to this situation and created further exclusions within society by developing the most narrow streams of funding which allow for very specific groups but rarely integration, or inclusive projects. Meaning that all that funding for isolated, fringe and marginalised groups has frequently been invested into keeping those individuals marginalised, isolated and non-integrated.

Let us look at ways to develop a more inclusive, accessible and nurturing approach

As an added layer to navigate, investors and funders have to be vigilant that grant funding and investment isn’t going to private, profit-making organisations with limited shareholders which, by way of loophole—for example, servicing a contract for an organisation that started with social good at its core e.g. recent contracts to private organisations from the NHS sell-off—are managing to deceptively co-opt the language of social enterprise, mustering business and investment from the term’s adopted value.

The language which is frequently used becomes a barrier to developing a deeper understanding of issues or finding solutions from the resources and skills available to us. This is relevant to all spectrums of our lives and dialogues. People often refer to politicians as people in power or in authority, I am sure I have been guilty of this in the past, but herein lies a potentially damaging misconception of their role. A more fitting title, that could be used routinely, should be ‘in service’ and ‘elected into service’, as they are elected to serve the people of their respective constituencies. It keeps the focus on whether politicians are actually representing people’s views or simply those of themselves and third-party private interests. Perhaps it would act as a pertinent reminder to politicians, as much as to the constituents they serve. Back to the point, we should be mindful of our language and be aware when new paradigm language is being employed to seduce us into old paradigms of thinking.

A wellbeing model is an achievable vision of infrastructure, organisations and individual contribution working to serve our species

So moving from a system which currently does not work, how do we move towards a more representative or wellbeing-based model? If our current model exclusive, inaccessible and damaging, let us look at ways to develop a more inclusive, accessible and nurturing approach.

The reality of our situation has to be acknowledged and discussed in order for us to find appropriate solutions. We can bury our heads in the sand, maybe making all the right noises whilst standing firm footed within a paradigm which no longer serves us, or start having a genuine dialogue about, and acting on, what role we can play in bringing about this necessary shift and manifesting positive change.

We have the skills and resourcefulness to create systems which serve us, keep an economy flowing and raise the standards and quality of life for all. Our wellbeing model is in utero, wellsprings of ideas and potential are rising around us with new ideas and manifestations of human capacity and compassion; ideas that make a difference, communities working together, people connecting worldwide, permaculture, local currencies, people and businesses engaging with the prospect and potential of a wellbeing model. An achievable vision of infrastructure, organisations and individual contribution working to serve our species, raising the standard of living for all.

We are brought to our priority of wellbeing by necessity, but it is an opportunity and one in which our divergent thinking plays a vital role. Humans are as much natural problem-solvers as problem-creators. We excel at both. There are uncomfortable dialogues to be had, ideas to be discussed and practical solutions to be developed, our work is cut out, but then necessity is the mother of invention and crunch time it certainly is. We face the most rewarding challenge of our time: now to invest the time, energy and resources into a wellbeing model. We are a talented and interdependent species, let us embrace those qualities.

In the next article, I introduce you to Creative Wellbeing. A needs- and asset-based social enterprise model which has spent over two-and-a-half years delivering creative activities as a means to enhance wellbeing within Cumbria, employing professionals local to the delivery areas, partnering with local and national organisations and promoting wellbeing around the country and beyond.