Layers of complexity
Today was the start of the final two weeks of the Bellagio Initiative. Forty people from across the world have been invited to the beautiful Lake Como in northern Italy to talk about how we can act more strategically towards achieving human wellbeing.
Today was the start of the final two weeks of the Bellagio Initiative. Forty people from across the world have been invited to the beautiful Lake Como in northern Italy to talk about how we can act more strategically towards achieving human wellbeing. I will try and blog from this event in the coming four days, every now and then, for as much as the intensive brainstorm sessions will allow.
My posts will consist of observations and bits and pieces of information. No grand conclusions yet, as no-one knows where this process – four modules of four days each, with four different groups of experts – will leave us with at the end.
What is this Summit about? What is this concept of ‘human wellbeing’? And how does it differ from the concept of human development, which the UNDP has elaborated? Or from the notion of an ‘integrated’ or ‘holistic’ approach to development? Allister McGregor, one of the intellectual sources of the concept of wellbeing, can easily talk about it for hours, but he stated that today was not the day for discussing definitions. Rightly so, I thought, because what we need is to move towards action. At the same time, it needs to be made clear that what the concept of wellbeing tries to do, is to move beyond a focus on reducing only income poverty, which is the traditional paradigm of the development sector. People not only long for jobs, they also desire good health, education, or the often-heard term ‘dignity’. Human wellbeing tries to incorporate economic, social and ecological factors. I would like to say: don’t forget the political aspect – which did come up in the discussions this morning.
After lunch we focused on the new ‘ecosystem’ of development, reflecting on new actors and changing circumstances for aid, similar to the debate The Broker is hosting in advance of the Busan high level forum on aid effectiveness, which will take place in South Korea at the end of this month. Many different views were presented by the panellists, who included representatives from the World Bank, USAID, UN Habitat and the Open Society Institute, including an interesting inside view by Samir Radwan, who briefly served as the Egyptian finance minister after the revolution.
Looking back at this first day, I must say I’m left a bit confused. Perhaps it would have been better after all to start with defining what’s new in the concept of human wellbeing? That may have helped a proper mapping of all the different issues and aspects, which would make it easier to determine a strategy for the advancement of human wellbeing. But very few of the panellists made a direct reference to this concept at all. I’m wondering whether perhaps we are busy building a new construct, a new layer that adds to the complexity, and moreover one that covers up essential differences and political and ideological divides within the development sector. For example about how to deal with the dominant neoliberal economic model, something that in my opinion needs to be a prominent part of the discussion.
Maybe I will be proven wrong in the coming days. Maybe this concept of human wellbeing will indeed open up new prospects.