Innovating Beyond GDP — Otto Scharmer

MIT Sloan Sr. Lecturer Otto Scharmer

Ask almost any economist or government official about how they measure a nation’s progress and they are likely to answer with three letters: GDP, or gross domestic product. But just as there is growing disenchantment with the way we currently run our economies, there is also now mounting discontent with GDP as the main and sometimes only indicator of social and economic progress.  That’s why I am partnering with others to launch the Global Wellbeing & Gross National Happiness (GNH) Lab to explore new ways of measuring and implementing well-being and progress in societies around the world.

The Lab was recently launched in Brazil and brings together some of the leading innovators to push us “beyond GDP,” helping us to develop alternative metrics and indices to measure not just economic gains, but a nation’s social and ecological well-being. We need not only different indicators of progress, but a different mindset. Rather than a concept of economic development that is just based on increases in material throughput, we need one that reflects the impact on and wellbeing of both people and planet.

While there have been many efforts to develop such alternative indicators of progress, they are not gaining the traction they should, especially as global issues such as our current footprint of 1.5 planets (we use resources 1.5 time the regeneration capacity of the earth) and growing income inequalities (2.5 billion people living below the poverty line) require us to reinvent how we run and integrate our economies. The Lab will become a platform of collaboration and innovation, bringing together key leaders from business, government and civil society from developing, emerging, and developed countries, North and South.

This initiative will build upon local prototypes like Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) Center in Thimphu, which, along with the Prime Minister of Bhutan and the GIZ Global Leadership Academy of the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, is partnering with me to launch the Lab through the Cambridge-based Presencing Institute.

The Lab will convene multiple forum events in order to share the emerging results from the multi-local prototying, including in Berlin in July and in Cambridge, MA, this fall with a student workshop at MIT and a public forum on “Transforming Ego-system to Eco-system Economies” (Feb 10-11, 2014, Cambridge, MA). The Lab will convene a similar forum in Asia in 2015 – to add to the groundswell around the world for new economic indicators – and for relinking economic value creation with the well-being of all.

Otto Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer in Organization Studies

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