Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Meet the Leading Wellbeing Festival speakers: Jon Alexander and the ‘citizen’ vs the ‘consumer’

With the Leading Wellbeing Research Festival just around the corner, we thought it would be a great idea to introduce you to some of the inspiring minds and thought-leaders attending and speaking at the event from 16-18 July.

Jon Alexander is Director of the New Citizenship Project, based in London. Jon will be taking a key role as MC at the festival, and is also participating in a timetabled discussion on activist leadership.

I first came across Jon's work when reading a report he co-authored in partnership with WWF-UK, called 'Think of me as evil? Opening the ethical debates in advertising' (you can find a copy of this on the New Citizenship Project website).

Jon founded the New Citizenship Project after spending a decade in the advertising and marketing industry. He believes passionately that we should think more carefully about how we use the industry's knowledge, and that it can be used to achieve substantial positive social and environmental outcomes. At the heart of his work is the idea that we should see ourselves as 'citizens' rather than 'consumers', a subtle but important distinction that can empower us to think and ultimately act differently in our everyday lives.

The project works with a variety of organisations to make citizen participation a reality. One of its earliest collaborations was for an experiment called MyFarm, which saw the decisions behind running a National Trust farm opened up to the public using an online voting system.  

Jon recently took part in the first of a new video series for the Guardian, called BackChat, and discusses whether the era of the consumer is beginning to come to an end - if you haven't already seen it, it's a good, short introduction to some of the arguments:

Jon and I recently made contact about the festival, and I put the following questions to him:

Q1. What does the term ‘wellbeing’ mean to you?

I think, for me, wellbeing is really about meaning and purpose. I’ve always had a problem with the ‘contentment’ story, and with terms like ‘life satisfaction’ that some associate this language with, as I think those tend to keep us in the trap of thinking first of the material conditions of life rather than of deeper considerations of quality and meaning. I think we’re in a moment in time when there are some big choices to be made, at individual and societal level, about what kind of future we want – and wellbeing, when understood as a need for meaning, could provide a powerful compass in that moment. If we can find ways to discuss and share our individual search for meaning with one another, that could open up something very special. That’s really what’s behind this idea of citizenship as opposed to consumerism – an idea of people as beings with purpose, and the capacity to share that purpose with one another; rather than as material preference maximising machines…

Q2. What aspect of the festival are you looking forward to most?

Meeting everyone! I love getting to know different people, understanding what drives them, and seeing the world through their eyes as much as I can. That’s what made me so keen to take up the MC role when Jem suggested it – I have the best seat in the house!

For more information on Jon's work and the New Citizenship Project, visit: http://www.newcitizenship.org.uk/

You'll also find him tweeting as @jonjalex and the project as @NewCitProj

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