The Restorative Economy

Jubilee image

By Alex Evans. Originally posted on Global Dashboard.

Over the past six months, I’ve been working with my friend and colleague Rich Gower on a report for Tearfund, the Christian development NGO, entitled The Restorative Economy: Completing our Unfinished Millennium Jubilee – and today, the report is finally published. Here’s the summary, and here’s the full report.

The process of writing this report has been especially close to my heart, and has left me at the end feeling that I want to devote much more of my energy to the massive task of movement building and values shifting that lies ahead of us. I’ve been working in and around the multilateral system for nearly a decade, and like many of my friends and colleagues in that world, have frequently felt acute frustration at the postage stamp-sized amount of political space that currently exists for solutions on the scale we need, both internationally and at home in the UK.

This report is an attempt to start thinking about what a new approach to that challenge might look like – across four chapters. The first one sets out a snapshot of where we are: in many ways a golden age for development, but one in which three huge challenges – environmental unsustainability, growing inequality, and the millions and millions of people still left behind as globalisation accelerates apace – remain ours to solve.

In chapter two, Rich and I set out the need for a different theory of influence. Many of us who work in the fight for development, justice, and sustainability have I think been feeling the limits of theories of change that rely primarily on ‘insider lobbying’. We take that here as our starting point for asking what an alternative approach might look like: one that places much more emphasis on how we build new grassroots coalitions, transform values, and tell each other much deeper stories about where we are, how we got here, where we might choose to go next, and who we really are.

Chapter three then explores the potential to discover such deeper stories in theology. All of us witnessed how the biblical idea of jubilee was able to animate a transformative civil society movement fifteen years ago, and proved powerfully resonant far beyond the church groups that formed Jubilee 2000’s core. As someone who worked in the UK government at the point when the 2005 Gleneagles summit concluded its debt relief deal, I still have to pinch myself when I remember that the average low income country’s debt fell from nearly 75% of its GDP in 2000 to just over 25% today – something that happened partly because of politicians, but much more fundamentally because of a coalition of millions of ordinary people, united by a shared story.

In this light, we argue, it’s important to remember that the once-a-generation jubilee festival described in the Old Testament was never about debt relief alone. When you go back to the original texts, as we did at some length in the course of researching this report, you find that they were also about environmental restoration. Ensuring that there was real attentiveness to enabling people living in poverty to meet their basic needs. And ensuring that concentrations of wealth did not build up from one generation to another. All three of these themes are of course fundamental to where we find ourselves today, in 2015. (And as friends working on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals will already have spotted, they’re central to that agenda too.)

So in a very real sense, the work we began in 2000 – our millennium jubilee – remains a work in progress. If we can complete it, then our kids will enjoy the kind of future that I know I want for my children – Isabel, 5, and Kit, 2. And in chapter 4, Rich and I set out what we think that would look like in practice.

We argue that it starts with the changes that all of us need to make in our own lives. This is partly because of the direct impact that such changes can have, of course, but we think the main issue here is something to do with the quality of intention that movements exemplify. Wherever movements not only demand but live out the change they want to see in the world, there’s a raw power there that can exert the kind of non-linear effect on politics that progressives so urgently want to see.

But ultimately the decision about the future we want has to be made by all of us collectively, as well as each of us individually. So chapter 4 ends with a ten big ideas for far-reaching policy changes of the kind that we think have this transformative power. The ideas cover a very broad waterfront – from reforming the financial system to global climate policy, and from how we use aid internationally to how our tax system works at home.

We don’t by any means think the proposals we set out are the last word on the subject. But if they can play even just a small part in catalysing a serious conversation, among all of us, about the choices we have in what we bequeath to our kids, then I think I speak for all of Tearfund’s fabulous advocacy team, Rich, and I when I say that we’ll be more than happy with the result.

In the wake of Cyclone Pam – never have the relevant felt so irrelevant

By Timothy Ingram

As the devastating news about the impact of Cyclone Pam on Vanuatu unfolds, I am sat in the negotiation room of the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai Japan. This United Nations (UN) conference was established to develop a new framework to address the global issue of disaster risk reduction and build on the success of the original Hyogo Framework for Action launched in 2005. This new Framework will represent a voluntary agreement by UN Member States (of which the United Kingdom is one) on global policies to combat the increasing risk of disasters across the world. Cyclone Pam has brought all this into stark focus.


What has been so encouraging since our arrival in Sendai last Thursday has been the diverse civil society attendance, with over 2000 delegates travelling to Sendai to share knowledge, experiences and a vision for the future of disaster risk reduction (DRR) in their countries. It has been a honour to be part of this and to meet so many passionate individuals working hard all around the world to improve communities resilience to disasters. The turnout from the UN has also been strong with 186 delegations registered to participate in negotiations on the new framework.

The inconvenient truth

If the civil society engagement has been the highlight of the conference, along with the wonderful hospitality of the City of Sendai, the lowlight has been the treatment in negotiations of those that matter most. It’s been shocking to witness the relevancy of ‘stakeholders’ involvement in decision making processes for national plans on DRR being called into question during the negotiations taking place in the Tachibana Hall.

The stakeholders that the conference is referring to are those affected by disasters – that means every individual, business and organisation that inhabits the natural environment of a country regardless of location, gender, ethnicity or religion. All these have an interest in the prevention of disaster and resilience of their country, community and homes.

Putting communities first

The very fact that the right of these individuals to input into the formation of disaster preparedness plans and policies to protect them from disasters such as Cyclone Pam or the Great East Japan Earthquake, is being questioned demonstrates the failing of the UN Member States to realise what this agreement should be about. This Framework should be about those stakeholders now having to rebuild their homes, lives and communities in the aftermath of disasters. This Framework should be about those stakeholders who know they are vulnerable and are hoping that they will not be next. This Framework should be about those stakeholders, both individuals and local organisations, who have the capacity and knowledge to strengthen national plans, improve community resilience and mobilise a vast number of volunteers to support the work of national and local governments. This Framework should demonstrate how a global society can come together, put politics aside and do what is needed to ensure that adequate support on disaster resilience is in place to: in short to lessen the need for humanitarian aid. This Framework should be about you.

A joined up Civil Society for lasting change

If these pressing issues are not tackled before the closure of the conference on Wednesday 18th March  then  the final agreed text may end up being just words on paper. A coalition of over 1000 global NGOs, including Tearfund, have come together to express their discontent with this process to date and concerns for the strength of the agreement to come. It is important that this is listened to and acted on before the close of the negotiations. See the press statement here: NGOs lament limited political commitment to funding disaster risk reduction plans.

However, while we will continue to push for an improved agreement at this conference, civil society, representing ordinary people around the world, has already begun to focus on how they can join together to affect real change on the front-line. It is this action that will be the true legacy of Sendai regardless of how negotiations conclude.

The change we need in 10 words: A larger us. A longer future. A different good life.

By Alex Evans. Originally posted on Eden 2.0

Yesterday saw the launch of action/2015, the new global campaign on poverty, inequality, and climate change that will rally more than a thousand campaigning organisations around four crucial summit moments on these issues that will take place over the year ahead.

It’s the right campaign at the right time, because now more than ever, power is so distributed that only mass mobilisation and values change will be able to bring about the transformation needed – something I realised vividly during the profoundly disillusioning experience that was acting as the author of the UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability in 2011 (more on that sorry tale in the first couple of pages of this talk of mine from 2013).

But just what kind of values change is it that we need? I’ve written before here about the importance of stories for mobilising change – so what is it that those stories need to be about?

In our forthcoming report for Tearfund – working title The Unfinished Jubilee: Towards a Restorative Economy – Richard Gower and I argue that three themes are especially important. You can sum them up in just ten words: A larger us. A longer future. A different good life.

1. A larger us

First up, we need to think less of “people like us” and more of “people – like us”. The whole sweep of human history is a story of expanding the size of the ‘we’ with which we empathise – from itinerant bands of hunter-gatherers to chiefdoms, from city states to kingdoms, and on to modern nation states and the staggeringly diverse communities of affinity and ethnicity in today’s globalised world. This expansion of empathy was perfectly captured by Martin Luther King in his 1963 ‘letter from Birmingham City jail’:

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Above all, we need to get back to thinking in terms of the common good – and to do so at planetary scale, because in a world of global interdependence and planetary boundaries, only a 7 billion ‘us’ will do.

2. A longer future

Second, we need to face up to the fact that we’ve fallen out of the habit of thinking about the long term. Instead, our political leaders rarely have the luxury of thinking beyond the next election; our business leaders, the next financial quarter; our journalists, the next 24 hour news cycle. Scientist and author Danny Hillis observed in 1994 that:

When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 2000. Now, thirty years later, they still talk about what will happen by 2000. The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life.

In particular, there has been a catastrophic implosion of the implicit covenant between past, current, and future generations. Today’s young generation in developed countries face a far more uncertain future than their parents, with unaffordable housing, costly higher education and student debt, and the end of ‘jobs for life’. And globally, the next generation faces a future of steadily increasing climate change and resource scarcity – unless decisive action is taken now to prevent that from happening.

3. A different good life

Third, recent years have seen a wealth of research challenging the idea that material consumption levels have much to do with happiness, at least beyond a certain point. Surveys that measure people’s subjective wellbeing routinely find that the correlation between life satisfaction and income starts to break beyond a certain level of GDP per capita.  Robert Kennedy recognised this nearly 50 years ago, when he observed that,

Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

So our stories need to focus on a broader idea of human flourishing, encompassing not only material security but also goals further up the ‘hierarchy of needs’ – such as friendship, family, a sense of connection, confidence, achievement, and the respect of others.

For more on the Tearfund project mentioned above, this presentation and this blog post, both from a couple of months ago, give an overview of some of the ideas we’re looking at.

A view of Paris from Peru

Author: Madeleine Gordon

Over the last two weeks officials from countries around the world have gathered together for the latest round of UN climate talks, this time in Lima, Peru.

Although these talks happen every year, this round has been particularly anticipated as a signal to demonstrate the level of commitment towards a global agreement next year in Paris. This legally binding agreement will replace the Kyoto Protocol (a treaty agreed by nations through the UN to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions) and will take effect from 2020.

Encouragingly in the weeks leading up to the talks there were some unprecedented action by member nations, such as the US-China deal and $9.6  billion pledged to the Green Climate Fund– all signalling a change in the wind when it comes to international priorities on climate change.

Alongside this, there’s been strong public support for climate action throughout the year such as the ‘Peoples Climate Marches’ which saw over 2,000 different events across 162 countries, resulting in hundreds of thousands of people stepping out in support of strong action on climate change. In Lima on Wednesday there was a march of 15,000 people, from many different countries and diverse backgrounds – bringing a human face to the negotiations that can often feel sterile and technical.

Hosted in Lima, the talks have been important to the region of Latin America in raising the profile of sustainable development in the region.Tearfund’s partners in Peru are already helping communities reduce their vulnerability to extreme weather events and are speaking out publicly about the change that’s needed.

Roger Mendoza from Tearfund partner Paz y Esperanza in Peru has been at the climate negotiations, and comments; ‘I think it’s important that there is a united front from Member States, civil society and businesses in a spirit that energises us all into restoring the planet and to see communities flourishing. The impacts of climate change are a real threat to the most vulnerable, and that is why we are calling governments to take action immediately.’

‘From the negotiations we can see that there is consensus on achieving clear objectives, actual results, concrete funding for adaptation and mitigation, forest conservation, technology transfer and capacity building to ensure solid responses to global warming.’

‘We hope there is wisdom in [UN] member countries for these intentions to become realities. The final couple of days will be key in making sure we are on the right track to see a fair and legally binding treaty for post 2020.’

So we wait in solidarity and put collective pressure on our leaders to ‘do the right thing’. Alongside this, we also need to address our a high carbon, high physical consumption lifestyles in the West and a global economic model that has been great at driving down poverty, but has done so at enormous environmental and social costs. The change we require goes beyond political lobbying and incorporates the way we live, recognising we all have a part to play in a sustainable and just world, where all communities can flourish within the earth’s limits. A fair and legally binding deal in Paris next year is crucial to that.

Dispelling the myth that a rising tide lifts all boats

A rising tide lifts all boats implies that when those at the top become wealthier, this eventually trickles down to everyone and makes society as a whole better off. Do we therefore need inequality in order to release people from poverty?

A new report, ‘Inequality and Growth’, released yesterday from the OECD indicates that the opposite is true, stating that: ‘when income inequality rises, economic growth falls’. The report estimates that rising inequality has knocked up to 10 percentage points off growth in New Zealand Mexico, the US and the UK. Furthermore, the growth which is happening is not inclusive and is only benefitting those at the top. For example between 2009-2011, the incomes of the richest 1 percent of the USA population grew by 11.2% while the bottom 99% of incomes fell.

A UNDP study from 2013 shows that it is possible to increase national income whilst decreasing income inequality, further dispelling the myth that policy makers must choose between inequality and growth. Countries that have moved from lower middle-income status to upper middle-income status, at the same time as reducing inequality during the last 20 years, include Malaysia, Botswana and Mauritius. Although there is still much progress to be made in these countries to continue to reduce poverty and inequality, they are on the right track for more inclusive growth.

According to Forbes, 67 people own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. As an international development agency, why should we be concerned about the mega rich? Some might say we should only focus on very poor people in poor countries. Being wealthy isn’t wrong itself but the potential of the wealthiest to over consume their fair share and the pressure this creates for others to follow suit  is a threat to humanity’s future as our planet’s resources continue to be further stretched beyond their limits. Furthermore, yesterday’s OECD report states that ‘inequality significantly shapes the opportunities of education and upward mobility of disadvantaged individuals.’ Left unchecked, the gap can continue to widen between the rich and the poor as income inequality creates unfair opportunities between children creating vicious cycles of widening inequality.

Countries like Malaysia, Botswana and Mauritius show us that we don’t need high inequality in order to achieve economic growth. And the countries with the lowest levels of inequality in the world, including Norway and Denmark, are some of the richest in the world. They also score 1st and 4th place in the Legatum Prosperity Index which defines prosperity as more than just GDP including dimensions such as governance and health, however does not include the countries environmental impact.

The OECD’s report concludes that ‘policies that help to limit or reverse inequality may not only make societies less unfair, but also wealthier.’ Therefore, reducing inequalities enables holistic growth where everyone has the opportunity to flourish.

Reflecting on a week of fascinating conversations

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities)

At Tearfund we recognise that we’re living in a paradox – the more we achieve on development, the more we suffer on sustainability. Last week we hosted two conversations under Chatham house rules and invited various wonks from NGOs, think tanks, academia and government to discuss how we step forwards in facing in this paradox and ensure that Tearfund’s fantastic development work is not undone by our changing climate. You can read a background think piece that we shared with the participants and sets out some of our early thinking and ideas here (please note it really is just a think piece, and not in any way a statement of Tearfund policy).

Alex Evans, our lead consultant on the project has blogged about the conversations here. He says, the main purpose of the conversations was to ‘start imagining what it would look like for us to move to an economy that was both just and sustainable – at all levels, from global policy right down to what it would mean for individual families.’ The second purpose was to explore ‘the new kinds of influence and change that will be needed to unlock change on this scale. Tearfund have recognised very candidly in their internal thinking that traditional ‘insider’ lobbying strategies will have limited power here. Instead, alternative approaches will be needed – ones that propagate different norms, build new kinds of movement, create new coalitions for change, and use environmental, social, and economic shocks to fuller effect.’

Duncan Green, a guest at one of the conversations, has reflected on his thoughts here. A snippet of his thoughts: ‘To get real movement on climate change, we need a grand narrative on One World, sustainability and the need for environmental stewardship. But campaigners also need quick wins to build optimism and momentum. Those often have to be much less ambitious and system-shaking to have a chance of being adopted. The danger is that watered down quick wins will undermine the grand narrative (agreeing to more comfortable slave ships rather than total abolition). We need to make sure quick wins are aligned with the end goal, and develop the ground for a subsequent set of policy changes that are currently ‘just beyond the possibility horizon’ and make sure they fit the big narrative too.’

We’ll be launching our latest campaign based on the outcomes of these conversations next March.