20 November 2019
by Vera NYGARD


The Economy of Wellbeing Meeting 

Helsinki, Finland- 11.5.2019


This meeting organised by Eurodiaconia and its members, the Deconess Foundation and the Evangelical and Lutheran Church of Finland, provided an opportunity for civil society to have a dialogue with actors from the EU and institutions and Finnish policy makers regarding the value and impact of faith-based organisations on the Economy of Wellbeing. 

Heather Roy from Eurodiaconia opened the meeting by speaking on the importance of faith-based organisations in the sphere of social policy. 'The members of Eurodiaconia together employ over 1 million people through their services. This means we truly have a voice and a significant opportunity to contribute to the making of social policy, Roy stressed. It has taken us a long time as faith-based organisations to reach a point where we recognise that we have a voice. The economy of wellbeing needs organisations like us. We are the ones engaging with the economy of wellbeing on a daily basis.' Roy pointed out. 'We are unfortunately at a stage where we love things and use peple and not the other way around' he stated. 'We are here to be loved and cared for and wellbeing is about people being at the heart of what we do. People ask themselves if they have a voice, and we need to let them know that they are taken into account.'

A key question in the conference was how we are able to provide a sense of wellbeing and value for people through the services we provide. In this, we also need to emphasise spiritual wellbeing. In the Finnish Council Presidency conclusions there is a mention of finding concrete ways to measure wellbeing. This is an important aspect, as looking at the GDP in each individual country is not enough to find answers. Sarita Friman from the Finnish Ministry of Social and Health Affairs spoke on the meaning of an Economy of Wellbeing. The Finnish Presidency of the EU has emphasised the need for stronger strategic priorities. This entails protecting citizens and freedoms, developing a strong and virant economic base and building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe.  Friman emphasised that we need actions at all levels, and civil society needs to be a strong partner in the way towards the goals listed. Working towards a sustainable Europe means that common values and the rule of law need to be strengthened, and the security of citizens need to be protected comprehensively.  

Friman presented some crucial elements of the Economy of Wellbeing. She stressed that human wellbeing and economic growth are closely interrelated and mutually reinforcing. The wellbeing of people creates economic growth, productivity and fiscal stability. It also increases stability and security in society. The main goal is to strengthen the link between wellbeing and economic policies in the decision making process. Human wellbeing is a value in itself and a key aim of the EU. The economy of wellbeing puts people's wellbeing at the centre. 

Katarina Ivancokovic Knezevik from DG EMPL was not able to participate in the meeting, but provided a video presentation in which she spoke on the importance of putting people at the centre of all our policies. This is the key to long term econmic growth and wellbeing. Ivankovic Knezevik emphasised the importance of the EPSR in this regard, as it covers most of the dimensions included in the goals for wellbeing. The European semester, which is strongly linked with the Pillar, has finally be made more social. Effective civil dialogue has been crucial in the implementation. Ivancokovic Knezevik recommended an even stronger presence of local NGOs in the EU debates on social policy, such as the Social Pillar. 

We had the opportunity to hear some best practice examples fom the Deaconess Foundation, that is implementing projects for disadvantaged people. The VAMOS project in Helsinki provides opportunities for young asylum seekers ages 16-29 that are awaiting their residence permit. Through this project they take part of psycho-educative group activities and are encouraged to start new hobbies in order to prevent becoming idle. They also received coaching on an individual and group basis and have opportunities to make friends with people of Finnish background. The project is funded by both the AMIF fund and the ESF. 

MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen (EPP) spoke on the importance of linking economy and wellbeing. 'All politics should ultimately be about wellbeing, otherwise what are we doing?' asked Pietikäinen. The universal understanding of wellbeing includes respecting life, sharing social welfare, human rights and personal rights being respected. But how do we know if we are actually working towards this? How do you know if you are doing more good than bad? The SDGs are important goals but not useful if they are left unnmeasured. 'Harmonised indicators would be a first step,' suggested Pietikäinen. If we do not do something on an EU level we cannot have an effect on the differences between the EU countries. 'Maybe a solution would be a directive for minimum income, that would commit the countries to provide a basic income for all,' Pietikäinen noted. 

In this event there was time allocated for sharing snapshots from projects in Finaland that were having a great impact on people who are struggling in life. The first programme presented was regarding wellbeing among women with a migrant background. It is a well-known fact that significant amount of Roma people have been left behind in society. Roma women are at a great disadvantage in terms of employment. This is something the Deaconess Institute has tried to tackle through their programmes. Luliana is a Roma woman who came to Finland in 2013 to earn money and make a better future for her family. She started off volunteering for a project for Roma women, and was eventually offered employment in the same project. Generating employment can happen directly through civil society organisations. Angelica Vironen is part of the Finnish Roma population and works for the organisation Terne Apre that is reaching out to Finnish Roma youth. Many of them are at risk of dropping out of school and abusing substances. Terne Apre provides contacts and assistance to these young people, with a strong emphasis on spiritual wellbeing. 

In a joint statement from 5 November, Eurodiaconia together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Deaconess Foundation, concluded the main message of the conference. 'Our aim is to bring forward the message of hope- especially to young people, to promote human rights and human dignity, participation and inclusion. We welcome the economy of wellbeing approach as an important and comprehensive tool in enhancing social, economic and ecological justice for all, and are committed to collaborating, and dialoguing at all levels in order to put the wellbeing of people and the planet at the heart of European policies in years to come. Read full statement here

Considerations for The Salvation Army 

1. TSA is contributing to the wellbeing of people in a holistic way through its services.

2. TSA can look for avenues to build partnerships with other organisations in order to have an even broader impact and reach people who normally do not use TSA services

Tags: Europe