Published December 21, 2017

This is what the next era of well-being looks like

The summary of a vision for building a fair and sustainable future provides guidelines for a progressive social policy. A more detailed memorandum on the solutions and institutions building the next era of well-being will be published at the beginning of 2018.

Many seem to agree that we are on the verge of a major societal transformation, yet surprisingly few ask: where do we want to go? What kinds of jobs and income do we want? What is the future for democracy? What role does growth play? How do we adjust our operations to the limits set by the planetary boundaries?

These are some of the questions that have served as starting points for Sitra and Demos Helsinki’s initiative, The Next Era. In The Next Era work, we have been creating an understanding of the transformation that is unsettling the basic structures of future societies by organising international workshops, and by producing The Next Era memoranda and bringing up for discussion observations based on them at publication events.

In the work, we have summarised a vision for the next era of well-being that provides guidelines for a progressive social policy, aiming at a fair and sustainable future. The article below sums up some of the key messages of the vision that was presented at Sitra’s 50th anniversary celebration on 16 November 2017.

In the memorandum to be published at the beginning of 2018, we will reveal more about the solutions and institutions building the next era of well-being – so keep following us!

See also the web articles highlighting the key themes of The Next Era at nextera.global.

Towards the next 100 years: the next era of well-being

By Mikko Kosonen, President, Sitra

Social policy is about making choices. Do we have the courage to reform ourselves?

The success story of the 100-year-old Finland did not happen spontaneously and by only following others; in many ways, it has been the result of our bold choices and actions. Inspired by the ideas of the social policy researcher and decision-maker Pekka Kuusi in the 1960s, we decided to believe here in Finland in the fact that social policy is not an expense but an investment in the future wealth of the nation. In the comprehensive school reform, we chose to believe that giving every child the right to high-quality education creates well-being for the whole nation.

Many progressive initiatives were met with fervent resistance when they were first conceived

These and many other progressive initiatives were met with fervent resistance when they were first conceived. Regardless, time and again we have found the will and the ability to choose progress as the central role and theme of social policy. Do we still dare to make bold choices and believe in progress?

To maintain our belief in the future, we need visions, or future prospects that can generate hope. Keeping things as they are does not suffice as an inspiring vision. A lack of prospects produces a vacuum that can be filled rapidly and surprisingly by something good, but also by something unwelcome or ugly as well. A credible vision recognises the kind of need for change, some signs of which we can discern even today. Furthermore, the vision should be attached to such strengths and starting points that build trust in our ability to do what it takes to make the vision come true.

Keeping things as they are does not suffice as a vision

We at Sitra hope that increasing numbers of responsible societal actors would share their own visions, or their stories of what kind of society they are striving for. To accelerate progress towards this goal, we are also bringing up for discussion our own views of what the next decades could look like. What could the next era of well-being look like?

At the core of the Next Era of well-being lie the ideals, in which the influences from the European and the Nordic traditional values are combined with our national characteristic, such as “sisu”, or grit. Many things we in Finland take for granted – such as freedom, human dignity, gender equality and the principles of a constitutional state – are still distant dreams in many parts of the world. In recent years, we have also even had to witness European states taking steps backwards regarding these values we hold as key ideals of a liberal democracy. That is why, right now, it is progressive to return to the basics and to raise the core values of society to the centre of politics and societal development.

Core values are worth defending

The next era of well-being is being built in a world defined by rapid technological development, a new era of geopolitics and the limits of the earth’s carrying capacity. A key demand for social policy is to create a credible vision of income, inclusion and progress at a time when the old assumptions about the connections between work and income, representative democracy and inclusion, and economic growth and progress are going through major change.

Progressive social policy understands the necessity and urgency of adapting to the limits of the earth’s carrying capacity, as well as the benefits of international co-operation and institutions for stability. Even in the future, Finland’s strength, technology, can be fully harnessed for producing well-being.

In terms of the economy, the next era of well-being should be based on a fair and competitive circular economy. By a circular economy we refer to the need of the entire economic system to change in a way that allows added economic value to come from production and consumption within the boundaries set by the earth’s planetary boundaries. Wealth will be built upon the competence of people even in the future. The right – or the duty – to have access to lifelong learning should be elevated as a new reform equal to the reform of the comprehensive school system. Administration and structures should be seen as solvers of what are known as wicked problems and ambitious catalysts for progress rather than as expenses and bureaucracy.

When calling for a progressive social policy, it is important to note that only the kind of social policy is justified whose benefits are transformed into everyday experiences.
At its best, the next era of well-being would manifest itself in people’s everyday lives in such a way that diverse new work created by the transformation would provide income, and reliable basic security would soften the insecurities of working life. Functional democracy and constructive societal discussion and activity will enforce people’s experience of inclusion. And everyone should have the opportunity for lifelong learning and development throughout their lives.

Building and maintaining hope are signs of responsible leadership

In our society, many have been disappointed and too many are scared about the future. There are understandable reasons for these feelings. There are challenges before us that must be taken seriously. Nevertheless, everyone who is worried about the division of our society should feel responsible for building and upholding hope. With our choices, we can build the next era of well-being. The future will not just happen, but we will all make it together. What should we do today to ensure that future generations can be proud of our solutions a hundred years from now?

This article sums up some of the results from Sitra and Demos Helsinki’s The Next Era vision work. Debate about the next era of well-being will continue at Sitra on 9 January 2018 (in Finnish).

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