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Inside the 3rd Global Solutions Conference..

I was delighted to attend the 3rd Global Solutions Conference last month in Berlin. This summit supports the T/G20 presidencies, with this year’s presidency being held by Japan.

The theme of this year’s event was all about building bridges between the world of ideas and action – and the theme of, ‘recoupling’, was established just to do that by bringing researchers and practitioners together with representatives of political life, business and civil society.

In more than 60 sessions, 1,200 participants from over 120 countries worked on recommendations for the G20. These recommendations will be finalised in the various T20 Task Forces and submitted to the G20 Summit in Osaka. The Global Solutions Initiative aims to enable global civil society to contribute to the success of multilateralism and to support governments with research-based proposals for the G20 themes.

While many themes were discussed at the huge range of workshops, a key interest for me is looking at how we can look towards new ideas of economic thinking that can support the delivery of a more equal and sustainable economy – and an economy which includes well being as a measurement. After all, the economy is really about cooperation and working together – isn’t it??

One idea presented was the ‘gross national happiness’ index of Bhutan. This concept implies that sustainable development should take, ‘a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing.’ The idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH) has influenced Bhutan’s economic and social policy, and Bhutan has sought to create a measurement tool that would be useful for policymaking and create policy incentives for the government, NGOs and businesses of Bhutan to increase GNH.

The GNH Index includes both traditional areas of socio-economic concern such as living standards, health and education and less traditional aspects of culture and psychological wellbeing. It is a holistic reflection of the general wellbeing of the Bhutanese population rather than a subjective psychological ranking of ‘happiness’ alone. Certainly, an interesting concept that’s not all about GDP!

While there was not a specific policy theme on gender equality at this year’s event unfortunately – and many of us were very disappointed in the number of ‘manels’ (all male or only one woman member panels) - gender equality did feature highly in many of the sessions, and was raised as an issue from the floor several times. Dr Margo Thomas, a friend and supporter of WES, chaired an excellent session on women’s economic empowerment.

We know that both national and international data on women’s empowerment is poor, and often context and culture specific, but we need to be looking to the international community to help to gather gender disaggregated data so that we do have a measurement. We will never have a paradigm shift if we don’t change what we measure, and so much of what women do is not measured – for example, domestic labour and caring roles. We need to ‘measure what we treasure’ in our society! No policy is ever gender neutral and we need to look at shifting the narrative towards thinking more seriously about the impact of gender roles and stereotypes.

I welcomed much of the discussion at the summit as it focussed largely on how we need to change the narrative and move away from the traditional theory of ‘rational economic man’, which has for too long been the grounding for economic study and economic policy. Many movements are now engaged in thinking about the need to change our approach in talking about economics and in developing economic strategy – both at national and local levels.

Feminist economics can provide such an approach by promoting a rethinking of economics through a feminist lens and asks questions of a range of traditional theories of economics - including questions about ‘value’ and ‘wellbeing’. A feminist approach to economic strategy outlines the importance of non-market activities, such as childcare and domestic work - incorporating caring and unpaid domestic labour as fundamental economic activities.

A major thread of the summit was that we just don’t work together enough. And, of course, we need that level of political will and commitment to make change happen. We know that there are economic benefits of gender equality, yet the inclusion of gender equality as a central strategic objective in economic policy formulation is sadly not yet guaranteed.

However, I left the conference feeling energised by the new ideas and new ways of thinking – and I’m already saving the date for the Global Solutions Summit 2020 which will take place 20-21 April 2020!

Anne Meikle is the Policy Manager at Women's Enterprise Scotland. She has over 30 years’ international experience working in the field of equality and human rights and has managed key equality projects at local authorities in Scotland, Save the Children Fund and at the Equal Opportunities Commission.