Alliance Magazine: Philanthropy’s Role in Building a Happier, More Just Society

May 28, 2024 | Projects

Philanthropy’s Role in Building a Happier, More Just Society

The recent report on global happiness has delivered a sobering revelation: the United States, once a fixture in the top 20, now finds itself at 23rd place, with young adults under 30 ranking a disheartening 62nd worldwide. This stark contrast in happiness levels prompts a critical question: what factors underpin such divergence?

The report identifies a myriad of well-being indicators contributing to this contrast, including income disparities, unequal access to education and healthcare, social exclusion, and the absence of robust support structures at familial, communal, and national levels.

These findings mirror the daily struggles faced by marginalized communities and young people across the United States – a reality we confront regularly in our work. The pursuit of ‘the good life’ has become increasingly elusive for many, exacerbating societal divisions with each passing day.  Financial insecurity is bad for your health – and if we don’t help people feel more secure today, we will all pay the price in higher healthcare costs in the future.

To address this disconcerting reality, we must redefine our metrics of success and advance policies and strategies to build a more equitable well-being economy. It is no longer sufficient to tether our aspirations solely to traditional measurements like GDP growth. Instead, we must pivot toward alternative economic paradigms that prioritize sustainability, social cohesion, and overall quality of life; growth of profit at the expense of people, places, and planet is clearly not serving us well.

As our WIN Measures analysis of data from the Federal Reserve Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking shows, more than 1 in 4 Americans (29 percent) can’t afford a $400 emergency expense – with numbers soaring to 46 percent for Black Americans and 41 percent for Hispanic Americans.

We’ve seen how driving a more equitable community can have lasting effects. Time and time again, studies have shown that basic income or guaranteed income programs lower stress for individuals and families using the funds appropriately.

For example, in San Antonio, Texas, a $400 quarterly cash gift for two years, combined with a digital platform for families for peer support in navigating life and finances, led to people feeling stabilized.  They used the money for housing, utilities, food, clothing, and transportation, according to the update. They also reported using funds to accelerate financial, educational, and career goals, including building businesses, completing college courses and professional certificates, and paying off debt.

The H.E. Butt Foundation, Methodist Healthcare Ministries, and other foundations invested with the city in this initiative because they knew that financial security drives positive generational outcomes.  A universal basic income is just one of 140+ policies co-developed with economic experts across both sides of the aisle and community members experiencing economic inequity in the newly updated Equitable Economies Policy Library.

I’ll offer another example: when people in Stockton, California received $500 monthly cash payments, they reported tangible improvements in their health and well-being, highlighting the crucial role financial stability plays in promoting happiness.

Still, true happiness isn’t solely contingent upon financial security. We must reimagine the concept of community and mutual abundance, ensuring that young people, indeed, all of us, can meaningfully engage with one another and forge genuine connections.  In our work, we’ve seen that communities that come together to solve problems through an asset-based approach are more likely to thrive because they know they have what they need to address their own reality. We call belonging and civic muscle a vital condition for thriving together.

These multifaceted challenges will take center stage at an upcoming gathering hosted by WIN Network, Communities RISE Together, and Well-being and Equity in the WorldWE WIN Together Week 2024, themed, ‘Being Better Ancestors in Turbulent Times,’ is slated for April 22-25 in St. Louis and will feature a series of sessions on looking beyond profits to ways to better nurture prosperity.  Methodist Healthcare Ministries in San Antonio Texas will be there to talk about how healthcare systems are investing in communities beyond healthcare to restore a fair chance for everyone.

Without such changes, the erosion of our young people’s happiness will persist. It’s incumbent upon all of us to become better ancestors, collectively redefining the parameters of success in our nation and throughout the world by prioritizing the holistic well-being of everyone. We need to make a concerted effort to change what defines success in the U.S. and beyond. I hope you’ll join me in this significant endeavor.

Soma Saha serves as President and CEO of Well-being and Equity in the World (WE in the World), as well as Executive Lead of the Well Being In the Nation (WIN) Network

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