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Behind the Scenes OECD South Korea On the Road

2019: A Breakthrough Year for Our Film Project.

The development of this film project in 2019 was rather remarkable.

Originally, we had planned to finish shooting in March of 2019, after a little over a year. And then we wanted to finalise the edit and post-production by the end of 2019.

But then other things happened.

Our stories and protagonists took to the global stage!

The final chapter in our story about the Wellbeing Economy Governments was supposed to be the big OECD conference in South Korea where the initiative was officially launched and publicly announced for the first time. But to be quite frank, that event felt somewhat anti-climactic: It was a so-called “breakfast session” — very early in the morning, in a small room, with hardly anyone attending. And we asked ourselves: This is supposed to be the big breakthrough that shows the world that we need to move away from GDP as the key measure for economic activity?

It seemed a little like the project had failed as it was succeeding.

But it turns out: A small launch can still lead to a big change. In the following months, all kinds of little things were happening in the three WEGo countries, and also between them. And then, another few weeks later, the big news broke that Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish First Minister, was announcing and explaining the WEGo initiative from the TED stage. To this day, her talk has been watched over 1.7 million times — and that does look a lot more like the big event that we would have hoped for. And then towards the end of the year, Icelandic prime minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir gave a speech about the initiative in London, which got the BBC interested, and which finally even led to a brief radio interview I myself gave to the BBC about the WEGo!

Lorenzo’s story also took an unexpected turn around the middle of the year — he was promoted from Vice Minister to Minister of Education in the surprisingly formed new PD/5-Star government. In this role, he made lots of waves in Italy, he got plenty of pressure from many sides, his policies made him unpopular with many people (because he proposes uncomfortable solutions and he really wants to transform the Italian society for the future), but he has also got international headlines for his push to have Italian schoolchildren taught about sustainable living and the climate in all classes starting with the coming academic year.

All this culminated in him being invited to the Climate Conference in Madrid and to an audience with the Pope. (We were there with the camera for the former, but not for the latter.) And now, just before the end of the year he resigned from his job as minister. Which came as no surprise to us, on the contrary. But the background to his resignation doesn’t belong here, it’ll be in our film. The important thing for us is that we were very lucky: We met a man who was then not even a member of the Italian parliament, and who transformed from a nobody into an internationally recognized politician in just under two years. When he resigned, it was reported internationally in the media. How often do international media usually take an interest in an Italian Minister of Education who’s been in office for only a few weeks?

We found powerful partners!

The second thing that “got in the way” was a partnership for the production and distribution of the film. Around the middle of the year we met a director and producer who is very well established in the German television landscape and who quickly warmed to our project. In November we signed an agreement according to which we will finish and market the film together with his company. We will communicate details about this alliance once there are details to communicate — but for the development of our film it is important that the second half of the year was characterized by getting to know and discussing the film project with our new partners. In our exchanges we thought and learned a lot about how our film can work, how we should structure it and what the focus should be. This was enormously helpful for our understanding of what kind of film we are making. But it also took time, of course.

Because of these two developments, we didn’t finish the film by the end of the year, but we are now planning to get it done by the middle of 2020.

So … we are looking very much forward to an eventful year in which we will see our film finished. The key job now will be to carve out a compelling story from all the material that we have collected. Happy New Year everyone, and wish us luck!

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OECD South Korea WEGo in Practice Wellbeing Economies: Concept

The Wellbeing Economics Governments Are Moving Forward.

In the past weeks and months, we’ve been excited to notice how the Wellbeing Economics Governments have been making progress.

New York Times About New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget
The most visible example may have been the New York Times article about New Zealand’s Wellbeing Budget. We were excited to see this in part also because in January we had the chance to interview the very same Grant Robertson who is mentioned in the article for our film — he is New Zealand’s Finance Minister. And some of what he told us then was pretty much verbatim repeated in the article. The text provides an inspiring view-from-the-outside picture of what the current New Zealand government is trying to do differently, and it’s encouraging to see that the NYT is taking note.

The First Wellbeing Economy Governments Policy Lab
Even closer to our film’s subject was the first meeting of the WEGo policy lab in Scotland on May 1st of this year — in a house that Adam Smith himself had lived in.

Back in November, we were in South Korea as the WEGo — the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative — was first publicly presented at the OECD Forum in Incheon. What may be the crucial part of this project is said Policy Lab. If governments want to move towards a holistic approach to Wellbeing of People and Planet, they need to do a lot of things very differently. And that is hard.

So in order to figure out how to make this happen, they are trying to learn from each other, by organising these policy labs. In the words of First Minister Sturgeon:

But we know that we don’t have all the answers. We know that we have got a lot to learn – and a lot to gain – from working with other like-minded countries.

That’s why the Scottish Government established the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative and it’s why we’re so pleased to be hosting the first of these Policy Labs. And it’s why we’re delighted to have such a wealth expertise represented here today.

Our film’s protagonist Katherine Trebeck attended the opening session, where both the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Prime Minister of Iceland, Karin Jakobsdottir, gave speeches (New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was not at the lab, but NZ sent representatives). And Katherine published a blog post about what that was like, on the Wellbeing Economy Alliance website. Here is how she explains in her text what the WEGo are about:

WEGo is about governments rolling up their sleeves, linking arms, and walking together down a path that sees national success as being defined by the quality of life of citizens rather than the growth rate of a country’s GDP. As the Chief Economist of the Scottish Government said, WEGo is about driving the wellbeing agenda in economic, social, and environmental policy making.

First Minister Sturgeon’s speech from the event is available online, and some of her statements show where the WEGo are headed, particularly when it comes to their stance on the role of the GDP:

GDP has too often come to be seen not just as an indicator of a country’s wealth, but as the main measure of its success.

(…)

As governments, we see the promotion of sustainable and inclusive growth as a vital way of raising living standards for all. But we also understand that growth is only of any real value if it makes people’s lives better, it is not, and never should be seen, as an end in itself. We have to test whether we are creating a fairer, healthier, happier nation in the process.

And then I cannot help but notice: The heads of these three Wellbeing Economy Governments are all strong and inspiring women. I’m beginning to doubt that that’s a coincidence. And instead a sign of a future that needs a lot more female leaders.

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Behind the Scenes Gross Domestic Product OECD South Korea On the Road Wellbeing Economies: Concept

Film: Thoughts from the OECD Forum in South Korea.

In November our documentary film took us to Incheon in South Korea for the OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy. Here’s a little video from the trip!

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OECD South Korea

What We Learned In South Korea: the Wellbeing Agenda Is Making (Slow) Progress.

The last week was intense. We spent three days at the OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy in South Korea. The title of the conference: “The Future of Well-Being” — and that makes it quite topical for our film, of course. And even more specifically: The “WEGo” initiative — which stands for Wellbeing Economy Governments — was publically launched there, and it is one of the key projects that our film is about.

Here are a couple of tweets that document the launch — Gary Gillespie, Chief Economist for the Scottish Government, posted this after the announcement:

And we ourselves summarised the launch as follows:

As we have explained in our initial video on this blog, we are making a film about people who want to help move our world towards a new and different thinking about the economy. That sounds a bit technical, but it concerns every person on this planet — and the rest of the living world, too. If we cannot manage to find another way to run our economies, we will crash and burn our world. And the governments that got together here and launched the WEGo project — Scotland, New Zealand, Iceland — are among the leading governments worldwide in this area.

What makes them different from the rest?

One part of the OECD (an organisation founded to coordinate the economic collaboration among some of the richest countries in the world) is all about numbers. If you want to run an economy, you need numbers. The key number that almost all governments are most interested in is GDP growth. (We talked about what that means in our video about the GDP.) But there are more: the unemployment rate. The exchange rate. The stock market index.

These are the “traditional” measures that economists have been using for decades now, in order to figure out if a country is doing well or not. These numbers helped us a lot to rebuild our world after World War 2, and to build the Western societies of the sixties and seventies — which were incredibly prosperous, and where the idea was developed that every generation will have a better life than the one before. Many decisions that were made in the last fifteen to twenty years were all taken based on these indicators. The Maastricht treaty was designed around the idea that GDP Growth is the thing that every country needs.

Today we are seeing that these traditional indicators do not work anymore. They promote increasingly bad decisions for people and the world. They lead to favouring investors over normal people. They give more and more power to the rich, and tear at the social fabric of our societies. We are getting to a point where it is becoming clearer and clearer that we are no longer creating good and prosperous societies that way. Just the other day we had posted a text that shows how the UK is actually promoting poverty with the way politics are making decisions there — decisions that are taken primarily to promote economic growth.

In other words: the idea that every generation will have a better life than the one before it is being reversed — if we continue like this, the quality of life will drop significantly, for all of us. And we need to do something about this.

The realisation that this whole idea of GDP growth and our over-reliance on “old numbers” must end is not at all new to the statistics people at the OECD. Quite the contrary — they publish studies and talk about what we need to focus on: other numbers, those that promote real wellbeing.

One example: Is it enough to simply ask whether we have less unemployment? Or shouldn’t we start asking what kind of jobs we are creating? It’s not the number of jobs alone, it is the type of jobs and how well they are paid, and what they do to our societies. If you ask that type of question, you will act very differently when Amazon comes and wants to get subsidies for creating jobs in your town or region or country. If you look closely, you may realise that the jobs Amazon can offer may not be good at all for your communities. And so you may say “no, thank you”, to Amazon and try to find investors and companies that offer actually decent jobs.

What we learned at the OECD Forum, in a nutshell, is this: Statisticians and economists from governments all around the world and at the OECD as well have developed many new ways of measuring and assessing whether people and nature in a country, or in all countries around the world, are doing well or not. And they are sharing these ideas at these conferences, they are discussing them, and they have answers and ideas for a different way of organising our world.

But the politicians, the people who actually make these decisions, are not listening yet. Except for a few. The governments of New Zealand, of Iceland, of Scotland — they are. They have started to realise that the old numbers don’t work anymore. They have developed and implemented new numbers and new systems to look at how people are actually doing. And in the WEGo initiative, they are getting together and trying to learn from each other.

That is why the WEGo initiative is so important, and that is why we are following that project for our film.