Bristol-staged conference will explore going beyond GDP to achieve an Economics of Happiness

September 14, 2018

Bristol will next month play host to an international Economics of Happiness conference, bringing respected thinkers, activists and innovators to the city.

Co-hosted by Happy City, the Bristol-based charity promoting wellbeing rather than economic growth as a measure of society’s success, the event will encourage debate on the creation of a new economy that supports flourishing lives and a thriving planet, including the role that businesses can play. 

It will be hosted across a number of city centre venues between October 19 and 21 and will coincide with the annual summit of the Global Parliament of Mayors, which is also taking place in Bristol.

The conference – the 18th in an international series – will explore and explain the need for a shift in direction from a globalised system of inequality and environmental degradation to local cultures and economies that put wellbeing and resilience first.

Internationally-recognised experts will come together with local speakers and activists for three days of talks, panel discussions and workshops on the global-to-local theme. Topics will include the economics of local food systems, the role of business in a wellbeing economy, the future of cities and the regeneration of community.

Pioneer of the new economy movement and conference co-host as founder/director of Totnes-based Local Futures, Helena Norberg-Hodge, said: “This conference is a unique opportunity to discuss the ‘big picture’ – moving beyond the narrow Left/Right parameters of conventional economic thinking to look at root causes and root solutions.

“Rather than attempting to solve every problem by growing the economy, we need to focus instead on meeting real human and ecological needs. This is what we mean by the economics of happiness.

“The world is at a tipping point – culturally, socially and economically. We urgently need to reclaim our sense of community and our connection to place.”

Among the speakers will be chief executive and founding director of Happy City, Liz Zeidler. Liz, the former chair of Bristol Green Capital Partnership, and her team recently launched the Thriving Places Index, the most comprehensive analysis of how well local authorities are doing at creating the conditions for people to thrive ever undertaken.

Writer and broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, who will be moderating at the conference, added: “Events like this, which are driven by a fierce passion for doing good in the world, are always a strong draw for me. I chaired a Local Futures conference in London some years ago, and found the combination of expert speakers, real world examples and practical solutions highly stimulating.”

Keynote speakers include:

  • Stewart Wallis – co-founder of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance and a former director of the New Economics Foundation, Stewart is well known for advocating the transition to a new economic system and was awarded an OBE in 2002 for his work with Oxfam.
  • Colin Tudge – biologist by training and writer by trade, Colin established the Campaign for Real Farming in 2008, the Oxford Real Farming Conference in 2010 and the College for Real Farming and Food Culture in 2016 
  • Andrew Simms – author, analyst and campaigner, Andrew co-founded the New Weather Institute think tank and is a research associate at the Centre for Global Political Economy.
  • Stephan Harding – respected author and director of the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College, Stephan is renowned for his inspirational teaching on deep ecology.
  • Chloe Hardy – director of policy and communications at the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, Chloe has an impressive track record in campaigning and currently leads The Social Change Project, aimed at strengthening civil society’s ability to bring about change.
  • Michael Schuman – author, economist and attorney, Michael is a globally recognised expert on community economics, a founding partner of Local Analytics and an adjunct professor at Bard Business School.

The speakers will demonstrate that grassroots activism can bring about real and lasting change against a backdrop of an increasingly gloomy news agenda dominated by President Trump, Brexit and the impacts of extreme weather events.

Bristol-based charity Happy City director and conference co-host Mike Zeidler added: “We are exactly 10 years on from a banking crisis that highlighted fatal flaws at the heart of our economy, yet we still haven’t seen the systemic changes needed to tackle them.

“Rising inequality and climate chaos are clear alarm bells that tell us the current system is no longer fit for purpose. We believe it’s time to look beyond outdated single-issue approaches and harness the power of local initiatives to tackle global issues.

“Come along to inspire and be inspired as we learn how people like us are challenging broken ways of doing things with better, practical and shareable alternatives.”

Outline Programme

  • Friday 19 October (3pm-7pm): Organisational Change for a Wellbeing Economy
  • Saturday 20 October (9am-6pm): Systems Level Change for Economics of Happiness
  • Sunday 21 October (10.30am-12.30pm): Films for Change 

For more information about the conference, visit

Pictured: Economics of Happiness conference co-hosts Mike Zeidler and Helena Norberg-Hodge

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