Rethinking Property Exchange Platform Conference Overview

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Main conference info via: Re-Thinking Property for a Well-Being Society


This is the post-conference review written by Hans van Willenswaard, August 28, 2011.

Title: ACTION-RESEARCH OUTLINE ; International Exchange Platform; RE-THINKING PROPERTY. Pathway to the Well-Being Society scenario? 25-27 August 2011, Bangkok

Is “common property” a principle that can change the course of our stuttering world economy?

Saturday 27 August the international exchange platform Re-thinking Property. Pathway to a Well-Being Society scenario? concluded with a challenging overview of opportunities for future action-research. The opportunities will be taken-up by a diversity of partners; as alliances or independently.

Some of the major groups involved in this action-research challenge are:

  • The Commons Strategy Group – a global network of “commons” activists and researchers
  • Kansai University, Japan – “social systems design” discipline
  • The Right Livelihood College – a global capacity building initiative based in Penang, Malaysia affiliated with universities in Lund, Sweden; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Bonn, Germany, spreading the knowledge and experience of Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award, popularly known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize”
  • The School for Wellbeing Studies and Research – a new think-“pond” and action-research platform including three partners: Chulalongkorn University, Faculty of Political Science; * the Centre for Bhutan Studies, Thimphu, Bhutan; and the
  • Sathirakoses Nagapradipa Foundation, Thailand.

At the international exchange platform held at Chulalongkorn University, two Right Livelihood Awardees presented their views:

Nicanor Perlas (Right Livelihood Award 2003, Philippines) sketched a world order in which governments, the business sector and civil society negotiate social contracts as three equal partners. The present situation is patterned along the lines of a business sector driven by the laws of the “conquerors”, backed-up by political systems that adapt ethics to the interests of the powerful.

Sulak Sivaraksa (Right Livelihood Award 1985, Thailand) highlighted in his speech titled The Wisdom of Sustainability that even top economists like Joseph E. Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs now recognize that “an alternative development path” should be made a genuine option soon in order to transform the global economic system towards a sustainable future.

The major question challenging future action-research is how “common property”, presently revitalized in urban and rural community-initiatives as well as in the world of ICT-users and designers, can forge a new balance with private and public property regimes, provided they adopt re-newed integrity.

The “commons” principle resonates with a shift of emphasis in economics from utility and satisfaction of needs (with a tendency to be overblown into greed) towards a more altruistic dimension of the happiness experience, based on “life with a meaning”.

Imagining a visionary scenario for the future is what researchers around the School for Wellbeing Studies and Research try to achieve in a process of simulation and exercises in evidence based decision making towards consensus building. A “Wellbeing Society” scenario would be driven by civil society, in contrast, but in the future positively interdependent with, transformed versions of state- or corporations- driven scenarios prevailing in communist and neo-liberal economies.

The welfare state offers a model that reconciles the market economy with far-reaching social security provisions for all citizens. But the full welfare state may not be affordable in developing, Asian, countries. And the welfare state is based on different social structures: strong labour unions and egalitarian societies versus the extended family, communities and religious groups providing informal safety nets, in a context of patronage by elites.

Exploration of a new and Asian “Third Way” between neo-liberalism and communism (most recently practiced in the West by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, with initial but no lasting success) should take into account the social and cultural capital inherent in traditional community and family structures. But they should add new dimensions, including universal health care, access to meaningful schooling and income security where families fall short or fail. Social networking supported by communication technology, freedom to form civil society associations and “good governance” guaranteeing impartial state service and justice, should be facilitated but not controlled by governments. Government regulation would guide the business sector to an economy of sharing. A contemporary approach to the “commons” carries the potential to become a central and guiding principle in this path towards sustainable development.

Traditional community life has conserved natural resources better than modernized societies, as is apparent from the case of Bhutan. Abundant natural capital and related land property legislation providing all families with land – limited to maximum proportions – is one of the foundations of Bhutan’s gross national happiness.

The “Four Pillars” of Gross National Happiness, if analyzed in-depth, provide a sound bases for a holistic approach towards negotiating the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) beyond 2015 and to re-constitute a Millennium Development Partnership, MDG number 8, in light of the worldview based on “threefolding” as presented by Nicanor Perlas. At a recent meeting in Bhutan, Jeffrey Sachs, Advisor to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on the Millennium Development Goals, admitted that the Millennium Development Partnership under MDG8 did not emerge as hoped. A new, innovative, Millennium Development Partnership could be a pivotal organism guiding transformation towards sustainable development.

MDG 9 “happiness for all” as proposed by Bhutan and recently adopted by the UN General Assembly can become a powerful catalyst.

In order to achieve transformation focus is needed:

  • Organic or sustainable agriculture can be understood being the heart of global transformation. Prime Minister of Bhutan Jigmi Y. Thinley launched, parallel to the MDG9 initiative, the “Bhutan 100% organic country” policy. The School for Wellbeing will focus action-research on the challenge to provide evidence that organic agriculture can feed the world by multiple “clustering” of local networks of small-scale farmers. Organic agriculture can feed the world and drive transformation to sustainable development, if governments, the business sector and civil society shape adequate, threefold, cooperative and “commons”-based structures. Scenarios for organic agriculture at one hand, and chemical, oil-based, agri-business at the other hand, can be compared by simulation and scenario-building, planning techniques developed and tested in the business sector.

This experiment in scenario comparison will include the application of alternative indicators and “full-cost accounting”. How to value natural, social and cultural assets in wellbeing impact assessment is still subject to debate, and dialogue.

A joint action-research scenario project will be initiated by the Green Market Network managed by Suan Nguen Mee Ma social enterprise and partners, supported by Thai Health Foundation; in collaboration with the “Towards Organic Asia” project of the School for Wellbeing supported by CCFD-Terre Solidaire, a French development agency; and the Well-Being Society project supported by Thailand Research Fund.

Youth will play a leading role in shaping the action-research programme of the School for Wellbeing.

A major project of the Green Market Network is to build bridges between rural producers and urban consumers, in particular how hospitals can provide health food to their patients and in the same time re-invigorate their preventive health care impact by supporting local, sub-urban and rural organic farmers’-driven community building.

In the Asian context interreligious dialogue and cooperative exchanges among the diversity of religious, philosophical and ethical “schools”, including indigenous wisdom streams, will be an important element of the transformation process towards sustainable development. From the perspective of “Buddhist Economics” efforts will be made to create an inter-cultural platform in support of organic agriculture development. This initiative will be an important subject of consultations at the conference of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), Bodhgaya, India, 26-29 October 2011 titled The Future of Buddhism. From Personal Awakening to Global Transformation.

Resource persons actively engaged in the international exchange platform Re-thinking Property. Pathway to a Well-Being Society? were Silke Helfrich (Germany, Commons Strategy Group), Dasho Karma Ura (Bhutan, Centre for Bhutan Studies), Ramaswamy Sudarshan (UNDP), M.R. Akin Rapeepat (Thailand), Takayoshi Kusago (Kansai University, Japan), Ven. Dhammananda Bhikkhuni (Thailand), Teerana Bhongmakapat (Dean, Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorrn University), Jean-Pierre Verbiest (Asian Development Bank), Amara Pongsapich (Human Rights Commission, Thailand), Sharan Srinivas (Right Livelihood College, Penang, Malaysia), Supinya Klangnarong (media activist, Thailand), Jacques-chai Chomthongdi (Focus on the Global South), Sombath Somphone (Magsaysay Award Recipient, Laos), Bamrung Kayotha (Thailand), Darwis Khudori (Bandung Initiative, Indonesia/France), Michel Bauwens (P2P Foundation), Surichai Wung’aeo (Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies), Saya Kotar (Myanmar), Rosana Tositrakul (Senator, Thailand), Chea Vannath (Cambodia), Guo Peiyuan (Syntao, PR China), Prida Tiasuwan (Social Venture Network, Thailand), Francois Bafoil (SciencesPo, France), Apichai Puntasen (Thailand Research Fund, Sufficiency Economy research programme, Thailand), Daycha Siripatra (local rice seed propagation expert, Thailand), Decharut Sukkumnoed (Health Impact Assessment, Thailand).

The exchange platform was supported by The Japan Foundation, Thailand Research Fund, Heinrich Boell Foundation and Chula Global Network. The School for Wellbeing Studies and Research acted as host, together with organizer Suan Nguen Mee Ma social enterprise. The exchange platform was shaped by The Change Initiative, with process facilitator Jost Wagner.


Action research or participatory action research – is a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a "community of practice" to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. Action research can also be undertaken by larger organizations or institutions, assisted or guided by professional researchers, with the aim of improving their strategies, practices, and knowledge of the environments within which they practice. As designers and stakeholders, researchers work with others to propose a new course of action to help their community improve its work practices (definition from Wikipedia).

The School for Wellbeing will publish a book in 2012."