In this year’s World Happiness Report, Drs. Jeffrey Sachs and Jan Emanuel de Neve map well-being to sustainable development and the world’s efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is noteworthy as we now have research showing strong correlations between well-being and the SDGs. Not only do the authors map well-being indicators to SDGs, they also perform regression analyses to determine which SDGs might have a greater impact on individual and national well-being.
Linking Wellbeing to the Sustainable Development Goals: A New Approach and Role for the UAE?
In this year’s World Happiness Report, Drs. Jeffrey Sachs and Jan Emanuel de Neve map well-being to sustainable development and the world’s efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It is noteworthy as we now have research showing strong correlations between well-being and the SDGs. Not only do the authors map well-being indicators to SDGs, they also perform regression analyses to determine which SDGs might have a greater impact on individual and national well-being.
This research brings to light what many have thought of intuitively. Why hasn’t there been more examination of the links between the SDGs and well-being? Why haven’t more government policymakers adopted models of impact and change based on well-being? Similarly, why hasn’t the private sector looked at their impact investing through a well-being lens? While much has been said about investing with purpose and a conscience, in the present pandemic, there is also a need to invest in projects to ensure our current situation is not repeated.
Indeed, there is a gulf between the government and private sector, not only in aims, but language too. Impact investment communities speak of the Economic, Social, and Governance (ESG) model for development projects, while governments speak of Development Assessment Criteria (DAC) or Results Based Management (RBM).
Having worked in government for years, I can also attest to the fact that when it came to sustainable development, we believed the private sector wasn’t interested unless it served their profits. Similarly, the private sector believed that government was inefficient, cumbersome and ill-equipped to have an immediate short-term impact.
These views have changed significantly as both government and the private sector realize they need one another to further local and global sustainable development objectives. I’m confident the divide is narrowing as governments and the private sector create new epistemic communities of social change, but there is still room for more.
What about a “via media” approach that both the public and private sector can embrace?
The research conducted by Sachs and de Neve may open the door to such a possibility. Both government and the private sector increasingly use the SDGs as a benchmark for positive change. And now that we have the first insight into why well-being matters for sustainable development, it may offer a way for all social entrepreneurs and government officials to speak with one common voice to ensure working together has greater success.
The UAE can be a leader and catalyst for establishing well-being into a sustainable development framework. Its government has well-being policy design centres of excellence and could build on this by creating a framework that operationalizes Sachs and de Neve’s research. This can benefit global international cooperation networks, as well as the social impact investment space.
As a first step, why not create a well-being and SDG data and project repository that tracks further research and project activities in the form of a digital library via EXPO 2020? This legacy project could further enhance the UAE’s leadership as an important actor in implementing the sustainable development agenda. It could also further legitimize well-being as a policy framework and needed new language that enables the public and private sectors to work more closely to make the world a better place. The time has never been more right to do so.
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Aziz Mulay-Shah is a former senior Canadian diplomat and now the Managing Director of Global Communications Agency Middle East.
Over the past 20 years, Aziz has been a diplomat, a strategic communications expert, and policy design leader with Global Affairs Canada and in the Office of the Privy Council. As a diplomat, Aziz worked as a senior advisor on strategic communications and Middle East policy for Canada’s Prime Minister. His overseas assignments included postings in Palestine and other parts of the Middle East.
For the last 11 years, he has lived and worked in Dubai, including four years as Canada’s Deputy Ambassador to the UAE. Upon leaving government, Aziz led engagements in risk assurance at PwC and taught communications and diplomacy at university. Aziz also has research interests and he is co-author of a chapter on policy planning in the emerging field of positivity and well-being, as well as lead author of a second chapter on the private sector’s contribution to happiness and well-being.