12th April, Sophia Cultural Thursdays

It is clear that a complex and interdependent society poses continuous challenges: what knowledge, what choices may favour a sustainable, equitable and inclusive world? Despite the abrupt halts we witness all too often at the local and global level, an indication of the way forward is clearly emerging even amid the contrasting signs: it is provided by a number of interesting initiatives, tools and practices of active citizenship – experiences that are revealing the vitality of both civil society and of the corporate world.

The line of research and experimentation inaugurated around BES – the Equitable and Sustainable Well-Being index developed by ISTAT (the Italian National Statistical Institute) – is one such initiative. It suggests a different way of pursuing the common good and a different idea of citizenship, opening to the concept of global citizenship and outlining concrete steps to take in order to learn to live together.

This was the theme of the cultural evening held at Sophia on Thursday 12th April 2018. The evening’s programme was conceived in collaboration with numerous local representatives, who are always eager to join forces when it comes to taking a step forward together. Alongside Sophia, represented by Daniela Ropelato, Professor of Political Science, the event saw contributions from Luigino Bruni for the Polo Lionello Bonfanti and the SEC/School of Civil Economy, Giulia Mugnai, the mayor of Figline e Incisa Valdarno (who started an experimental phase in the municipality), and Alessandro Agostini, the president of the local ‘Percorsi & Futuro’ association. The Social and Labour Pastoral Office and the ‘Policoro’ Project of the Diocese of Fiesole also offered their support, as did other friends like Licia Paglione, the Sophia sociologist who facilitated the round table, and Massimo Bigoni, who introduced the evening on behalf of the inhabitants of the Loppiano International Centre.

In a friendly atmosphere, presenters recalled the main arguments of the national and international debate on Equitable and Sustainable Well-Being, moving from Robert Kennedy’s famous 1968 speech in which he pointed out the clear inadequacy of GDP, the Gross Domestic Product, as an indicator of the well-being of nations. Today, the debate around BES aims to produce an improved system of indicators, capable of giving a clear picture of where we stand and where we are headed, and of the model of society we live in. Nothing new – just a new set of data and measures, one might object… yet, in fact, those indicators give us a lot of new information about some aspects of the life of the society that public policies need to focus on as well.

The conversation around which indicators may give a more comprehensive picture of a country’s well-being has been going on for many years and has involved prestigious actors: presenters mentioned the GDH, the indicator of Gross Domestic Happiness developed by Bhutan, and the HDI, the United Nations Human Development Index. With BES, Italy has decided to take up the challenge and, for the past few years, it has been practically experimenting measuring the quality of life of its communities not just through GDP, the measure of wealth produced in a country, but also through other specific measures of health, education and training, the job market and work-life balance, economic well-being, social relations, politics and institutions, security, subjective well-being, natural and cultural heritage, the environment, innovation, research and creativity, and quality of services. The aim is to put a spotlight on those aspects of well-being that, so far, had been overshadowed by an outdated vision centred solely on economic growth.

Among other things, participants (the event was attended by about a hundred people) found out that some of the BES indicators were included in the most recent Budget Law approved by the Italian Parliament.

The evening thus revolved around a very relevant issue, one that is being experimented in society and researched upon at Sophia. It represents a new pathway for politics, too, because to measure does not necessarily mean to maintain the status quo. In fact, quite the opposite: if politics is at the service of people, measures can offer citizens and decision-makers a richer, more informed and more mature look on the issues facing the civil community and its resources. They may even help broaden decision-making processes, with a watchful and informed civil society capable of holding representatives to account for the mandate they have received.

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