School for Wellbeing Studies and Research
The School for Wellbeing Studies and Research was established, 20 August 2009, as a result of the 3rd Gross National Happiness conference organized in Nongkhai and Bangkok, Thailand, November 2007.
The ‘School for Wellbeing’ is an independent think-tank being shaped by an international network of dedicated academics from diverse disciplines, and by practitioners and policy makers, primarily inspired by the concept of Gross National Happiness. By common effort the School for Wellbeing offers a creative learning space for a diversity of stakeholders inducing cross-cultural studies in happiness, wellbeing and quality of life.
The School for Wellbeing is building an evidence-based research-platform guided by ‘critical holism’ in order to explore alternative development paradigms. It enables (young) researchers to undertake related action-research initiatives.
The focus of the School for Wellbeing is on empowering people who are engaged in a much needed integrity-shift towards wellbeing-driven public policy development.
The Patron of the School is H.E. Jigmi Y. Thinley, Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bhutan, while Advisors from Thailand, Bhutan and all over the world support this new initiative.
The Prime Minister has conceptualized Gross National Happiness, the national philosophy of Bhutan, in terms of Four Pillars:
- Environmental conservation
- Cultural Promotion
- Good Governance
- Equitable Economic Development
The progress of Gross National Happiness (GNH) is monitored, since 2008, by the GNH Index with 9 domains. At present countries like England, France, USA, Thailand and China18 are following the idea initiated in Bhutan by exploring, wellbeing-driven development policies and indicators for ‘happiness’."
The School is the organizer of a conference/international exchange platform, taking place in Thailand: Re-Thinking Property for a Well-Being Society
Here is the text of the Well-Being Society scenario project proposal to Thailand Research Fund (TRF), 15 Sept. 2010
The ‘Third Way’ between socialism and capitalism has never matured into an alternative in its own right. The most recent attempts to create a ‘Third Way’38, notably by political leaders Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have resulted in compromises between free-market and socialist systems that honoured the negative aspects of both rather than combining the positive dimensions of each.
Parallel to this effort a comparable approach was conceived in Asia by Nicanor Perlas, Philippines, but it never reached the mainstream like the ‘Third Way’ did in England and USA.
The ‘Third Way’ never matured into a systemic alternative realized massively and consequently on the ground over a longer period of time.
A major obstacle towards emergence of a genuine ‘alternative economy’ has been the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi before he could start his governance experiment, including ‘trusteeship’ ruling property, and a village-based economy, in independent India.
The emerging blend of liberalization within communist China still maintains a lighter ecological footprint than that of the West, but the Chinese economy as it develops, is not genuinely sustainable and just.
The European ‘social-market economy’, instead of carving out its own course, increasingly followed the principles of the USA economy. It was hard hit by the economic crisis of 2008 which revealed its unsustainable characteristics, in spite of enormous efforts to change the course.
The ‘co-operative movement’ was articulated in modern history as a potentially alternative economic framework, for example by Robert Owen (1771-1858) in England. The movement now includes an enormous number of co-operatives, including some of the largest enterprises, spread all over the world. However co-operatives in general adjusted to the economic environment and the movement did hardly offer a systemic alternative for national economies.
In Africa Julius Nyerere induced co-operatives nation-wide in Tanzania. However the original impulse evolved towards a restrictive government-driven system. While the inspiration towards ‘endogenous development’, including traditional forms of co-operative business, as pioneered by Joseph Ki-Zerbo in Burkina Faso, was marginalized.
Nearly all over the world natural resources are governed by private property- (individuals and corporates) or public property- (the state) regimes, often maintained from far and anonymously. In traditional, endogenous and contemporary alternative worldviews nature is considered to be common property shared by all in a multiple generational perspective and cared for – not exploited – by communities directly involved.
Socio-political crisis-ridden Thailand’s struggle to comply with sufficiency economy, and the positive charisma surrounding the newly constituted democracy Bhutan with its Gross National Happiness, offer two possible important ‘social labs’ for exploring new combinations that include elements of capitalist and socialist systems but above all could draw their guidance towards a new direction in development, from a possible ‘third scenario’: the wellbeing society.
In order to facilitate countries and above all civil societies to determine their own unique mix of development philosophy and economic theory guiding practice, it is important to give the ‘wellbeing society’ a stronger, transformative, profile.
The ‘wellbeing society’ should not be seen as a compromise between neo-liberal and socialist systems but as a development path based on a distinct vision, worldview and authentic, intrinsic values.
Bhutan launched its Gross National Happiness philosophy as a new development paradigm. Whether it really can make a difference will be determined within a decade40. Thailand is exploring avenues – beyond ritual – towards a genuine sufficiency economy and since the political crisis of May 2010, no longer can escape from facing the challenge to bridging the gap between rich and poor. A new development paradigm, however, may as much emerge from efforts to bridging the urban-rural divide, as from focusing on ‘wealth distribution’, though not at all ignoring the urgent need for ‘economic justice’.
Best practices gathered in the framework of this project from both agriculture and ICT (Information and Communication Technology) undertakings, as well as contemplation on property regimes will offer analytical material to test this assumption: skillfully addressing the urban-rural divide has strong transformational impact. The relevant pioneering minority in agriculture being the organic agriculture movement. And within the world of ICT this is the ‘creative commons’ approach.
Not only will this assumption be tested by means of academic dialogue but as well in simulation of decision making regarding the policy dilemmas involved. Assessing and re-thinking Food Security policies provide a challenging framework for this exercise.
Thailand and Bhutan offer two exemplary opportunities to co-create unique development pathways. Both countries have their complex problems as well as their unique ‘cultural capital’. From Thailand-Bhutan interaction in this perspective, links can be established to regional (Mekong countries, S.E. Asia), continental (Asia Pacific) and global networks operating in the same field of articulating an alternative, new ‘Third Way’ economy, an economy of sharing.
In addition to secular initiatives, a new generation ‘Buddhist Economics’ is being explored and may offer new windows to alternative development.
Common denominators to be revealed among this diversity of alternatives – unique but in many ways representative for other unique cultures in Asia – could provide the foundations of a wellbeing society - perspective.
If common ground can indeed be found and given a strong profile, this would strengthen the contributions of movements in Thailand and in Bhutan to the debate on re-thinking economic performance and social progress in South-East and in South Asia.
The discourse could influence the new role of Asia in shaping progress towards appropriate global governance, including interaction with initiatives evolving from other continents44.
The construction of a ‘wellbeing society’ scenario is intended to provide a framework for dialogue at various levels. The purpose is to engage the government, business and civil society sectors as equal partners in a common effort to shape development. For this reason the concept deserves an exploration into more depth.
Participatory decision making in policy development can be exercised by modes of simulation games with backing of academic research, forecasting the impacts of alternate decisions. The design, experimentation and evaluation of the informed simulation offers material for a multi-media communication project which brings decision-making on contemporary global dilemmas into the direct face-to-face human sphere, and beyond mere intellectual exchange. The simulated decision making process can possibly be shared with the public, including by means of social networking.
The School for Wellbeing Studies and Research aims to provide a platform for exchanges and debate on wellbeing-driven policy development. ‘The School’ intends to be an independent think-tank in this field."
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