THE Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) come to an end this year. Introduced in 2000, the MDGs have provided a shaky roadmap for international development, as the world experiences rising inequality within and across countries, worsening environmental conditions and instability. Designed to assist poor countries in their journey to “development”, the MDGs have failed to trigger meaningful change and have largely resulted in business-as-usual policies.
The failure of the MDGs has also been a failure of conventional economic thinking. There is increasing recognition that the mainstream approach to economic progress, which is based on the maximisation of growth in gross domestic product (GDP) at all costs, is not only inadequate from a social point of view, but also disastrous for the long-term health of our societies and ecosystems.
Against this backdrop, the world is ready to adopt a new agenda, known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Unlike previous initiatives, the SDGs emphasise wellbeing (both human and ecosystemic) as the precondition for durable and just prosperity. Many hope the SDGs will trigger important reforms in economic governance and better policies on social development. Despite their limitations, the SDGs will become the benchmarks against which all countries will have to gauge their progress over the next few decades. And, unlike their predecessors, these new goals will apply to all nations, not only to the so-called developing countries.
To achieve this, not only do we need better business, better unions and a more visionary government, we need experts and activists capable of thinking out of the box and academics interested in pursuing game-changing scientific research. And these are in short supply in a country where conventional wisdom has become dominant.
But not everyone is aligned to the mainstream. Some of us keep producing innovative analyses and practices, which can be used to prototype new approaches to economic progress.
We have been advocating for the ecological transformation of African industries, for a more sustainable form of regional trade, for a different approach to natural resources, for investing in land and water as common resources, for structural support to small farmers and small businesses, for the decentralisation of renewable energy production and consumption, for participatory practices in education and for a holistic approach to governance.
Africa is home to a universe of innovations in all these areas, which are generally neglected by mainstream media and snubbed by most experts and analysts. Yet it is from this groundswell of creativity, more often than not at local level, that our economic and social future will emerge.
Next Tuesday, during the annual Governance Innovation Week at the University of Pretoria, we will be launching WE-Africa, an action-research network designed to produce research and practices for a “wellbeing economy”. Members include innovative academics and activists, and business and civil-society leaders. We aim to support scientific and social innovation to promote radical economic transformation. A comprehensive approach to progress, which includes human and ecological wellbeing, is the key commandment for future economic governance. Our policy makers, their advisers and all those so-called experts who still believe in business-as-usual Band-Aid approaches had better take note.
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