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Behind the Scenes Introduction

How an Advertising Man Became a Post-Growth Advocate.

I come from the dark side.

Between 1994 and 1999, I studied at two business schools. Then I worked in advertising and marketing from 1999 until 2016 — for 17 years. First I was an employee in a couple of advertising agencies. Then I got a doctorate in Marketing and helped build our own specialised agency, with a group of friends and colleagues. The one over-riding goal of everything was always:

Growth.

Advertisers may cite many reasons why they work with advertising and marketing agencies, but at the end of the day, they all want the same thing: to grow their market share, their profits, their sales.

And make no mistake: All advertising agencies ever want for themselves is growth, too. More clients. Bigger staff. More campaigns. More money.

Nobody who works in advertising ever questions any of this. There is no time. There is always the next deadline. The next flight to the meeting. The next crazy client request. The next ego emergency. Besides, why question the hand that feeds you? Growth pays for advertising. Then advertising begets more growth. Its a virtuously vicious circle.

I myself had no idea that something might be wrong. And when the news were reporting another year of GDP growth, it was the kind of good news I was happy to hear — I’d grown up in cold war “Economic Miracle” Germany, after all.

And yet, about a dozen years into my career it dawned on me that I could not, would not, should not spend the rest of my days trying to sell more of this shampoo or that floor cleaner. That that was simply not a worthwhile pursuit for a life well lived.

But I couldn’t leave right away, I had to stick it out for another four years, we had to keep growing our business so we could sell our company. I was fairly lucky with my contract and my role in the company — once the deal was done, I could quietly slip out the back door. The new owners hardly even realised that I was no longer there.

It was March 2016. I was in Munich.

I got an electric car — I thought that would be my contribution to protecting the climate. I went to Barcelona for a month, to spend time with friends. Then I moved back to Berlin. Brexit happened. It made me sad. I was living in a small apartment on Urbanstraße in Kreuzberg that I had rented from a friend. I was experimenting with a bit of freedom and with my underused creativity. In other news, the German right-wing party “AfD” was on the rise. I didn’t know what to do about it. Should I be more political? My father had been in politics.

I didn’t have a family of my own (I still don’t), I was alone. I made a hand-drawn animated short film. I reconnected with old friends. I thought about new professions I could take on. I felt a bit lonely. Autumn was coming. But overall, I was trusting that things would somehow be fine.

Then, Donald Trump got elected.

Many were shocked by the news, but ultimately this political earthquake did not leave much of an impact in the daily lives of many people in most European countries. Modern capitalism keeps us simply too busy to care: A presentation is due for the boss. There is the problems with the co-worker at the office. The neighbour just bought a new large SUV. Should we get one, too? One of the children is ill. Let’s just pray that the insurance will cover it. Also, the older one needs a new phone. The car has to go to the garage. A big SUV might feel safer, right? Oh my god, did we remember to book the flights for the holidays? Plus, can we even afford to put Ma in that retirement home? Oh man, health insurance rates went up again.

And so on. And then, at the dinner table, you might find a short moment, you’re looking at one another, saying: “Oh man, Trump is the American President now, that’s something else, isn’t it?” You shake your heads in disbelief, and then it’s back to the daily race.

Well, me … I had none of that.
I was by myself, no one needed me.
I was running nowhere.
No one waited for me.
I had no place to go, no job to do.
Instead, I was looking at the wall in that small apartment — and Trump was always there.

Soon I realised: This wasn’t about a complete catastrophe of a US President. It was about a very different question: What is going on in this world that the United States of America elect someone as horrific as him as “the leader of the free world”.

Where and when had things gone so badly wrong? What had I missed?

2017 became my fact-finding year. I read books and newspapers. I spoke with people. I launched a blog and wrote regularly about my experiences and questions. Soon, the climate crisis rose to the top of my agenda: jointly with my friend Kai Schächtele, I developed a show format called vollehalle — it talks about the climate emergency and the role of us all in it, in a constructive and inspiring manner. We also interviewed Tim Jackson for it. A giant among those who are imagining a better economy. Meeting Tim was my first brush with a new way of thinking about the system I had taken for granted.

And another thing happened to me in 2017: inspired by a small article in the German newspaper “taz”, I discovered the “Netzwerk Plurale Ökonomik” — the German arm of the “Rethinking Economics” student movement. Thanks in part to our meeting with Tim Jackson, and also to David Graeber’s book “Debt” and Wolfgang Streeck’s “Gekaufte Zeit” (English title: “Buying Time“), it was dawning on me that the way we are running and thinking about our economies is probably a big part of the problem. But so far, I hadn’t met anybody who had useful answers. So, I applied to attend the Netzwerk’s first Summer Academy, which took place at the beginning of August 2017 in the small village Neudietendorf outside Erfurt. And I got accepted.

That week in August of 2017 changed my life.

Never before had I seen 90 people — most of them millennial students — so heavily engaged in deep, thoughtful, intellectually curious and generous debate about the major issues of our time. They weren’t shouting their written-in-stone political beliefs or adherence to some political party at one another. Instead, these (mostly) twenty-somethings were soft-spoken and genuinely curious about each other’s thoughts, about how to advance their own thinking, in order to get to new solutions. And they were going at it non-stop, from 8 am at the breakfast table until 2 am at night, as they were having their nightcap beers in the courtyard.

It dawned on me: If there is hope for our world, it’s with critical economics thinkers like these students — with their radically open eyes and their real questions and their genuine curiosity.

And there was something else that I realised: Nobody knows this. Nobody outside these circles knows that the ideas that will solve many of our most dire problems may already exist. And they lie in truly rethinking our economy. In other words, nobody outside these circles seemed to realise that economics was the most important and most exciting subject of our time, if tackled in the right way. I understood that we needed to vehemently start telling these stories and bring this thinking to a wider world. The stories that I was hearing here, the thinking that was going on here, it needed to be shouted off rooftops!

And that was just the informal part of the week.

The biggest part of the official agenda were the workshops. The one I had signed up for was called “Prosperity Economics”, led by Katherine Trebeck and Himanshu Shekhar. At the time, Katherine was a researcher at Oxfam in Scotland. She explained to us how GDP was at best an imperfect measure of progress and how an alternative take on “prosperity” would look at the real issues. She also talked about the challenges of measuring prosperity holistically, in a way that deals with how people’s lives — and the lives of all other living beings on this earth, too! — are really going.

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And then she told us about a plan she had, jointly with an Italian professor named Lorenzo Fioramonti who was teaching Political Economics in South Africa. They wanted to build a “counter-G7”: A new summit that would bring countries together who tell the world: “Enough is enough, let’s show the world how to think differently about the economy — in a way that can actually save mankind and this planet.”

They wanted to call it the “WE7”: the Wellbeing Economies 7.

What a story!

Six months later, I got a call from Gustav Theile. He’d been one of the Summer Academy organisers, now he was Katherine’s intern in Glasgow. He told me two things: One, the summit was happening! With Scotland, Costa Rica and Slovenia as the first members, getting together in Slovenia — there, they would jointly sign the Ljubiljana Declaration. And two, Lorenzo had left the project: He was returning to his native Italy, in order to run for office in the Italian election — he wanted to bring his post-GDP thinking into a new Italian Government.

I could not contain my excitement. So I turned to my friend Nick Scholey — a media creation one-man powerhouse, musician, camera operator, editor, all around creative force — and said, “Man, we gotta start making a documentary about this. Let’s go to Scotland and to Rome, let’s start filming these people. What they are doing is too important for the world to miss.”

Neither of us had ever made a documentary. But that didn’t matter. We were now on a mission. And we got support from my friend Kim Münster, a film producer.

Today, one and a half years later, we have hours and hours of footage. Of Lorenzo’s political battles in that strange Five-Star-Lega government, which eventually fell apart — he’s now actually become the Minister for Education, in the brand new Italian Government. And of Katherine travelling around the world, helping save the Wellbeing Economies government project, after the summit in Ljubiljana got cancelled at the last minute. But Katherine and the amazing folks inside the Scottish Government kept at it. And so, a few weeks ago, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, gave a TED Talk about how Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand had joined forces as the Wellbeing Economy Governments!

I am a very different person from the one I was in early 2016. I really hope that I will look back one day and say:

I made my way from the dark side to the light. And it wasn’t too late.

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This text was originally published a few weeks ago as a guest-piece on the Degrowth.info blog. We are cross-posting it here because it tells the background story of this film project.

 

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WEGo in Practice Wellbeing Economies: Concept

A Breakthrough: The Scottish First Minister’s TED Talk – Let’s Move Beyond GDP

I can hardly contain my excitement: the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave a TED Talk, and only two hours ago it was published on the TED.com website. In her talk, she makes the case for governments focussing the efforts of their work no longer on GDP, but on increasing the well-being of their citizens:

In early 2018, we decided to tell the story behind the Scottish and other governments who were trying to join forces, to move beyond GDP, in the documentary film that this website is about, that we are currently editing, and that we are hoping to release early next year. Not knowing if this would happen, and not knowing how it would play out. The fact that the Wellbeing Economy Governments now exist, and that Nicola Sturgeon just delivered this courageous message brings us incredible joy. And reason for hope.

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Behind the Scenes On the Road

Our Farewell Tour to Rome.

It’s been over a month that we’ve published our last post here on the blog and on Facebook, when we introduced our new “partner in crime” Rou Reynolds. We didn’t really mean to take that long a break, but there was just a lot going on in other areas of our lives, and the work we started doing for the film at the beginning of the year is maybe a little less interesting now: We now need to review and transcribe all the material that we have collected, i. e. carefully look at and write down everything that we’ve filmed. The biggest task in that may be the transcription of all the interviews that we’ve done — writing down word for word what our (key) protagonists have told us. Only then can you properly work with all that content.

If we only look at the key conversations with Katherine Trebeck, cutting it down to only the things she said to us (in other words, taking out our questions, etc.), we still end up with over four and half hours of footage. I’m almost done transcribing that. The next job will be to transcribe everything that we’ve got from Lorenzo Fioramonti, and with him we did a whole lot more interviews, so … I’ll be transcribing those for weeks.

But this week, we’re back on the road. It’s the last regular filming trip that we’re taking to Italy — Lorenzo and his team are putting on a “Wellbeing Economy Conference” here in Rome on Thursday, and we’ve come down one more time to follow Lorenzo, spend time with him, and film at the conference.

During the week, we’re staying at Nicoletta’s and Daniele’s place — Nicoletta is Lorenzo’s personal assistant, we’ve known her for quite some time now, and we’ve become friends with her and her boy-friend Daniele. And for this week, they invited us to stay with them, which is incredibly generous. The apartment outside Rome where they live has an amazing terrace with an incredible view, and that’s where we had breakfast this morning (see the photo above). In a few minutes, we’ll travel into the city, and then it’s back to work, filming and trying to figure out how to best capture what we see before us.

We’ll also try to post more frequently on our Facebook profile and/or our Instagram account this week, so maybe see you there.

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Behind the Scenes Wellbeing Economies: Concept

Rou Reynolds.

The central themes of our film are often reflected in the lyrics of British rock band Enter Shikari. We talked to Rou Reynolds, the band’s singer and frontman, about his political views, and asked him to collaborate with us.

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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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Behind the Scenes Introduction On the Road

Reviewing 2018: An Incredible Ride.

The year is drawing to a close — here’s a look back on what has happened in our project so far. 2018 has been an incredible ride for us, in many respects.

It all started back in February, when we found out that two things were going to happen. One, a group of government representatives from Scotland, Costa Rica and Slovenia were going to gather in Ljubiljana in March, to say openly to the world that they want to pursue a different type of politics in economics, an approach that respects the needs of people and planet. At the same time, we heard that one of the people working on making this government summit happen, Lorenzo Fioramonti (a fierce critic of the GDP and of the way most economic policies are currently being designed), was going to leave academia and join the world of Italian politics, and run for office with the 5 Star Movement. Since the 5 Stars were the strongest contender in the Italian election, this was very interesting news — there was the potential that a man who had written books about how bad a measure the GDP is could become a minister in a new Italian Government!

So we decided that we just had to start filming this story, no matter what — a story about people who want to move our world away from its endless “growth obsession”. So without funding (there was no time to wait for funding), and with only a vague concept of what kind of a story we wanted to tell, we went on our first trip: In the middle of February, we drove up to Scotland, to meet with Katherine Trebeck and other people at Oxfam, to find out what that government summit was going to be about. Katherine had worked on this thing from within the Scottish Oxfam offices, where she’d been a researcher.

(Also, Nick still had to move most of his stuff from a storage in Glasgow to Berlin, so we did it all in one go, with a hired truck. That’s a fossil fuel burning vehicle, of course, and since we want to be as climate-friendly as we can, we compensated the CO2 emissions on that trip. Unfortunately, there isn’t really any other way to move house these days than using a truck that burns Diesel.)

A few days after returning from this one, we were already off on our second trip — down to Italy. And this time we went fully electric. We met with Lorenzo in Brescia where he had to give a campaign talk, and then we drove him down to Rome. We had been invited to stay at his parents’ place outside Rome, to be able to follow Lorenzo around during this last week of campaigning before the election on March 4th. Lorenzo’s family and his home were still in South Africa where he had been living for many years. As he was launching his career in Italian politics, he turned his parents’ house — which has lots of space — into his new temp home as well.

The week we spent together in Rome was remarkable. We were traveling around the city non stop, went on lots of campaign appointments, saw plenty behind the scenes stuff in the “5 Star Campaign”, we went to their secret campaign headquarters in the center of Rome, and felt the vibe behind and on the stage at the big campaign rallies and events. It felt a little bit like being inside a real-world “House of Cards”.

In early May, it had turned out that the summit in Slovenia was not going to take place — so we had to go back to Glasgow and speak with the team there again — about what was going to happen next. Timing was tight, and we had to somehow fit the trip in. We couldn’t drive — it takes four days driving time alone to go up there and back — so we flew this time around. But we compensated for our CO2 emissions with Atmosfair — like we do with every flight which we cannot avoid.

It wasn’t until later in April that we went traveling again — but that doesn’t mean we sat idly in the meantime. We produced a small comedy show in Berlin, I moved house, and more importantly, we had to work hard on defining our story.

In theory, a documentary filmmaker only starts rolling his camera after s/he has thoroughly investigated and written down what the story is meant to be, exactly, that s/he wants to tell in the film. Based on this description, you go out into the world, and try to collect your story — or the version of it that reality will present you with. It’s obvious that life will never turn out the way you intend it in your head. But it’s still incredibly helpful to have that idea — otherwise you don’t know what you are shooting for.

It didn’t quite happen that way in our case. Instead, we had already started rolling the cameras, but we only knew that we wanted to follow these two people — Katherine and Lorenzo — to document what they were trying to do, to help us move to a post-GDP world. But what does that mean in terms of the story that we’re telling? How do we structure it, how do we intend to keep viewers engaged in a topic that may seem very technical to many people. We had lots and lots of conversations with lots and lots of people, and particularly with my friend Kim Münster, an experienced film director and producer, who agreed to produce our film and help me — a novice to the whole process — structure the whole thing.

To structure it meant primarily to write a treatment. Which is essentially the screenplay to the documentary — a description of the intention I have as a filmmaker for the story I want to tell. It was a hard process to do this, and the treatment got rewritten a number of times, and it changed around a lot. But I learned an awful lot about what it means to be a documentary filmmaker, and how I need to think, in order to make a film that anybody will want to see.

In April, we returned to Rome for our second trip there. On the way down, we stopped over in Venice, to meet with and interview Petra Reski. She’s a German writer, but she has been living in Italy (closely following the “5 Star Movement”) for decades now, and she gave us a very helpful perspective on what this movement means for Italy. Then we journeyed on to Rome. Lorenzo had won his seat in the Italian election, and we spent another 5-day work week with him around town — while the party was trying to form the new Italian government. The negotiations with the “League” had failed, and now the 5 Stars were trying to figure out how they could potentially form a government with the “Partito Democratico”. And Lorenzo was trying to prepare for his new role, potentially as the Minister for Industrial Development in the new government.

On May 7th, we had the chance to meet up with Tim Jackson in Berlin. He’s a very well-known professor, researcher, author and speaker, working on the post-growth agenda. I’d met him once before, in 2017, as we were preparing our climate change show “vollehalle”. It was fun to meet him again in Berlin. He gave a speech in the very impressive hall of the Evangelische Akademie Berlin — check out the floor lights in the pictures below — and we were allowed to film that speech.

And then at the end of May, we returned to Scotland. This time with the Tesla, again getting on the Le Shuttle train under the Channel. I really love that train! The trip first took us to Tim Jackson’s university in Surrey, where we had the chance to do a sit-down with him, and interview him for about an hour.

Then we journeyed on to Glasgow and then Edinburgh, for a very particular reason: on May 23rd, the Task Force meeting for the Wellbeing Economy Governments — the group that was originally supposed to meet officially in Slovenia in March — was happening at a hotel in Edinburgh. The idea was to plan the next potential official public meeting, which could now be in South Korea at an OECD conference, at the end of November. So there were representatives from the Scottish, Costa Rican and Slovenian governments, plus people from Oxfam and a couple of universities, getting together to hash out how they could develop their group until that conference. And we were in the room, with the cameras rolling! It was very exciting!

In Edinburgh, Katherine also told us that she was going to go to Costa Rica herself, to speak at a conference, and to (potentially) meet the Costa Rican president, and tell him about this project, and get him excited about it. It was clear — we had to go, too! So we booked two seats on the same flight that she was going to be on (again, we compensated for our CO2 emissions with Atmosfair), to travel with her to Costa Rica, only two weeks later!

But just before that, I had the hunch that I had to go back down to Italy. The forming of the government there had become this never-ending thriller — negotiations with the PD had been cancelled only days after our last trip there, because of a very controversial TV appearance of the former leader of the PD, and so the 5 Stars turned back around to negotiate once again with the right-wing “Lega”. When they finally tried to propose a government together, the Italian President Mattarella refused to sign them into office, for fear of a European backlash against the new minister of economics, a Euro critic. It was apparently all coming to a blow, with the 5 Stars organising a rally to demonstrate against the President, when at the last minute a compromise was found, and the goverment was sworn in. And so the demonstration against the President turned into one to celebrate the first time the 5 Stars were in an Italian Government. Since I only had two days, there was no way to drive down again, so I went on yet another flight, and spent two days in Rome, and got a few great shots and impressions of the vibe both within the 5 Stars, and also from Lorenzo’s point of view, who — at that stage — seemed nowhere near becoming part of the new government, despite the fact that he had been quite close to Luigi di Maio and the party leadership during the election campaign.

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And then, only three days later, we went to Costa Rica. It was a great experience — we met incredibly interesting people, the conference called Omina (about sustainable fashion) was inspiring, and even though Katherine did not manage to meet the President (he had to cancel his appearance at the conference), she did meet the First Lady. And we were in the room with them! We returned to Berlin on June 11th, after being away only six days — it had felt much longer because it had been so intense.

In the meantime, working on the proposals and trying to get funding kept right on going — unsuccessfully, however. The most irritating thing in this whole funding process is that with some German film funding institutions, you cannot get money if you apply after you have started filming. There is apparently a bit of wiggle room, but not enough for us, so a couple of sources of money for our film were already dry before we even started applying … There seem to be laws about public financing of films that make it so, but I don’t really understand it. And it is quite irritating that we are blocked from funding simply because we realised early that we simply had to start capturing this story. Otherwise, there would be no story.

The next trip took us back to Rome, we left Berlin on July 1st. This time, we wanted to be there when Lorenzo brought his whole family — his wife and the two kids — back from South Africa. We documented their arrival at Fiumicino Airport. But even more importantly, we had the chance to witness Lorenzo arriving at his new office — he eventually did end up in the government, he had been named Vice Minister in the Ministry of Education and Research (“MIUR”), and we were there to see his first days on the new job.

 

In mid August, we returned to Scotland once again — this time because Katherine was coming back from her summer holidays, and we wanted to be present (and film) as she was getting an update about the state of things with the Wellbeing Economy Governments from the Scottish government team.

The many remarkable and incredibly comfortable stays in Edinburgh for our film are only possible, by the way, thanks to Nick’s extremely generous and hospitable parents Pat and Howard Scholey — a massive thank-you to them!

Which takes us straight to our last Italian journey so far for the film, in early September — and this one was by far the most tiring because we went to so many different places. Our first stop was Geneva where we interviewed Alvaro Cedeno (he’s in the pictures from the Costa Rica trip — but he lives and works in Geneva). From there, we traveled to Milan, where we met up briefly with Katherine (!) who happened to be there that night, and then we shot an interview and other material with a start-up company that we may include in our film.

From there, we traveled on to Genua where the motorway bridge had crumbled a few weeks earlier, and we needed to get shots of that. And from there, we traveled on to Rome, where we spent some more time with Lorenzo — we drove him to a couple of TV studios, for example, where he was giving interviews. And finally, we went with him back up north, to Tuscany, where he had meetings in Pisa and Lucca. It was a super intense trip, but again well worth it.

In late September and early October, we started a little sub-project within our film project — this blog right here, and the social media accounts that we’re using, to publish behind-the-scenes stuff around making this film. We kicked it off by shooting, editing and posting our “Welcome Video”.

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In the meantime, we had also learned that further hopes for external financing from film funds had fallen through. But I managed to open up another source of finances, so even though we don’t have any film fund supporting us right now, we can still continue to make the film. And we keep applying to other funds — more specifically now to a couple of US funds that also support international films.

Finally, in the middle of November, our most intense traveling and shooting period began. Within a very short time frame, we first went on our latest road trip back up to Scotland, met with Lorenzo in Berlin and then traveled to South Korea.

On the trip to Scotland, we were passsing through London once more where we did our interview with Rowan. Then we journeyed on, to interview my friend Basile in Northampton, and then on to Scotland again, where we met with the Scottish Government team again, and with Katherine.

Katherine’s husband Mark also agreed to be interviewed by us — which was really nice. And we joined one of his Dramble Tours: he himself does these guided tours of Glasgow that include stops in six carefully selected pubs where you get to sample six different carefully selected Scotch whiskys. We had fun. (I was just a bit cold, to tell the honest truth, my jacket wasn’t warm enough …)

Only two days after our return, Lorenzo came to Berlin! Together with his assistant Nicoletta they came for a few meetings. That made life easy for us — no need to travel to Italy to film our Italian protagonist!

And finally, our last trip this year: to South Korea. The Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative (“WEGo”, here is the website) was going to be launched at a big OECD conference on measurement and statistics there, so the Scottish Government team, teams from other governments, and Katherine were going to be there. And Lorenzo was coming as well. So we had to go, too, and see what it was going to be like, to see that initiative see the light of day. Just like in South Korea, we spent a good deal of time with Katherine, and even managed to fit in a last day of “light tourism” in the old part of Incheon — the city where the whole thing was taking place.

(I already posted a fairly extensive blog post about what we learned at the conference.)

So … that was the summary of what we’ve been up to this year, trying to make this film. (Not to mention other projects that we have worked on.) This does not include, of course, a whole bunch of little things that we were working on here at the office: editing work for funding applications, the countless revisions and reworkings of our various (German and English) treatments and other documents.

2019 will probably begin for the film in the second half of January, with yet another trip to Scotland. We hope to get done with the main bulk of shooting by March — in other words, more or less exactly a year after we started. And after that, we need to sit down and start to work out how to actually make this film — sift through all the material, edit it, and do all the prost production. There is a lot of work ahead of us, and it will be, without a doubt, another very interesting year.

We’ll hope to post another video, about the trip to South Korea, towards the end of this week — so stay tuned! And other than that, have a Merry Christmas Season, and all the best for 2019!

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Introduction Sustainability Wellbeing Economies: Concept

Welcome Video.

A short introductory film to our project.