The topic of this panel discussion, “The Politics of Wellbeing”, opens a space for us to consider the roles and responsibilities we each have in promoting and safeguarding wellbeing within our communities and countries.
The range of possible activities to achieve this goal is vast, and varies enormously from context to context.
I shall offer some thoughts about the strategies for wellbeing developed in Malta, particularly through the work of my Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society.
As an entity falling under the Presidency, the Foundation has a unique role in Maltese society.
It is capable of reaching beyond the lines drawn by political ideology, faith tradition, or socio-cultural background.
The Foundation invites people from all walks of life to come together and explore what “wellbeing” means in their lives. Over the past two years, we have engaged with thousands of people from diverse organisations, communities, and groups.
By talking about aspects of wellbeing through the Foundation’s many consultative fora, we have identified several key themes that emerge time and again.
These primarily include the central role of nurturing relationships; the importance of health and access to healthcare; the security that comes along with dignified employment opportunities and an adequate standard of living; and the urgency which people feel in protecting their natural environment.
The work of the Foundation recognises that these themes are enmeshed in larger concerns.
We aim to create a universal culture of peace and wellbeing.
Addressing our concerns and challenges is essential to build such a culture.
The most serious impediments to human wellbeing, elicited by participants in our consultations is to achieve an underlying change, a change runs deeper than the simple elimination of deprivation or ignorance.
From the experience achieved by the Foundation, it is evident that there is a most vital need to promote and sustain positive values.
…… positive values that will counter-act the narratives of hopelessness and division that disrupt the wellbeing of our societies
Our much needed positive values include physical security and standard of living, and material necessities like identity, autonomy, and human development.
Unfortunately it is when these needs go unsatisfied that the achievement of society’s sustainable wellbeing is impeded.
It is worrying to realize that the basic needs which underpin wellbeing remain unmet, for many individuals and communities.
It is not only in so-called “failed states” or developing nations, but even in richer and more stable countries.
At the root of these hardships is the existence of socioeconomic, political, and cultural systems that themselves dispossess and alienate broad sectors of society.
Systems – that restrict access to economic prosperity; adequate healthcare; political participation; and the appreciation of how important relationships are in building a sustainable culture of peace.
Systems – that produce unease and violence, diminish wellbeing and directly impede the effective implementation of our strategies for wellbeing.
To transform these systems successfully, we must bring the affected parties themselves to the table.
For this reason, the work of my Foundation is rooted in the lived experiences of the individuals, communities, and groups with whom we enter into dialogue.
We must be committed to valorise the voices of those who endure the pressures of inequality, of alienation, and of oppression.
It is through their lived experiences, that a politics of wellbeing will be capable of transforming society from within.
As my Foundation’s consultations continue, the idea of wellbeing keeps growing as a valuable concept of practical relevance in the lives of the people of Malta and Gozo.
People are more aware of wellbeing, and have begun to call for its inclusion as an important topic on the national agenda.
We are also, through the studies carried out by the Foundation’s research entities, in a position to offer concrete recommendations about how our research’s focus on wellbeing should feature in legislation, policy, and practice.
Investment in the wellbeing of our communities and societies must be spearheaded by the efforts of our governments, as part of a state’s responsibility towards its people.
Civil society has a crucial role in holding our leaders and policy-makers accountable for the way wellbeing features in a country’s budget, and how its policies manifest that commitment.
For example, if governments truly believe that relationships are a core component in human wellbeing, then efforts must be made to invest in strengthening those relationships.
All countries must be in a position to work together, towards strategies for wellbeing, in a concerted effort that incorporates the participation of civil society alongside governments.
We must work within and among our countries, in a sustained and peace-oriented dialogue.
At this point, several pertinent questions come to mind. Allow me to ask:
What can we do to alter oppressive systems within our societies that hinder wellbeing?
How can we shift our focus to the safeguarding of peace and wellbeing for our communities?
How can we make changes that are significant and not merely reformist?
How can these changes be nonviolent, rather than destructive?
In conclusion, let me summarise three key steps, which guide the journey of my Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society.
First, we are committed to a system-based analysis of the structural sources, which are often not visible, at the root of social violence, discrimination, and oppression within society.
Second, we are committed to coming together to think of ways of redesigning these systems.
Third, we are committed to facilitating a politics of wellbeing that is able to engage with the grass-roots experiences of individuals, incorporating bottom-up and top-down approaches.
The world is now, I believe, in the early stages of a new period of innovative community politics and social transformation.
Local attempts are appearing all over the world, challenging systems of objectification, elitism, environmental destruction, and social alienation.
Younger generations are hungry for a world that is capable of providing for their wellbeing.
I have seen this most clearly in the rapid growth of civil society activism, particularly around issues of social and environmental justice, in my own country.
Let us do our utmost to encourage the transformation of our societies to nurture a sense of global social solidarity.
Let us create a politics of wellbeing that responds to our deepest desire to build a culture of peace, of lasting benefit to all of our communities and our nations.