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A Space We All Can Thrive In: Doughnut Economics

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Kate Raworth
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A Space We All Can Thrive In: Doughnut Economics



Around a week ago I joined a “Doughnut Economics” workshop organised by TAMK, where we dove deeper into understanding what economic models we need as a humanity and planet to thrive. No access to drinkable water, gender inequality, and ozone layer depletion are just a few examples that the current imbalance of our political, economic, and social systems causes. Nevertheless, Kate Raworth, a British ecological economist, suggests a different approach to these local and global challenges- Doughnut Economics. In this essay I will tell more about the misconception of progress, as well as introduce the Doughnut and Doughnut Economics.



How does progress look like to you? And how would you visually present it? Many of us have been taught that the shape of progress is an ever-rising line of growth. For instance, from a baby barely crawling forward to taking their first steps. Or Western sayings such as “good is up” and “things are looking up- we are moving forwards”. Or the Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, where the progress of humanity is depicted as an upward and forward line of growth from a lolloping ape to a walking Homo Sapiens. In fact, we are so used to this idea of progress, that we have built economies which, too, demand and depend on never-ending growth. (Raworth 2018)


IMAGE 1. Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. (DNA 2018)


Raworth compares growth with a plane, and the today’s pressure for never-ending economic growth is like a plane that’s never allowed to land. This growth is most often represented by a steep line of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The idea of Gross Domestic Product being the best fit for assessing the success of financial development was firstly introduced in the 1930’s by an American economist Simon Kuznets. “At that moment,” as he stated, “it was finally possible to put a dollar value on America’s output and hence its income.” (Raworth 2017, 38-39)

Many leaders of the last and this century have found Gross Domestic Product to be the metric of national success. They hold a belief that countries with a larger GDP (monetary or market value of all the goods and services produced within country’s borders) would thereby have a higher standard of living. And, since the common perception of progress is an upward and forward line, so is the image of GDP and the demand for more and more growth (see Figure 1). (Fernando 2023)


FIGURE 1. GDP growth: forwards and upwards. (Raworth 2017)


Ironically, Simon Kuznets, who initiated the idea of GDP, later on became one of the biggest critics of it. What he realised in the 1960’s was that “the welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income”. Nevertheless, economists and politicians of that time had already adapted this single measure for progress. And without asking if more growth is always beneficial, needed or even possible, the GDP growth has become a political necessity for over half a century. (Raworth 2017, 40)

However, if we wish to look at the world and its progress through the lens of the 21st century, we must ask: “What enables human beings to thrive?” Kate Raworth’s answer to this question is: “A world in which every person can lead their life with dignity, opportunity and community – and where we can all do so within the means of our life-giving planet. In other words, we need to get into the Doughnut.” (Raworth 2017, 43)




Raworth believes that progress in this century cannot be measured with money, rather with “a dashboard of indicators”. And, as funny as it is, these indicators turned out looking like a doughnut. First published in 2012, the Doughnut (see Image 2) is a visual framework, a new compass to guide the humanity in this century towards prosperity and balance. It emphasises the importance of providing for everyone’s needs, while protecting the living world we are all in. Meanwhile, Doughnut Economics explores the mindset needed to lead us that direction. (Doughnut Economics Action Lab 2020)

IMAGE 2. The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries. (Raworth 2017)


3.1 The Doughnut

The Doughnut includes two rings: a social foundation and ecological ceiling (see Image 3). The social foundation (social boundaries) is inspired by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The foundation of 12 boundaries provide that no one is left falling short on life’s essentials. That hole in the middle is where people are lacking humane necessities such as food, healthcare, or political voice. The goal of the social foundation ring is to get everybody out of that hole into the green zone of safe and just space for humanity, to live a life of dignity and opportunity. However, we cannot also let our resource use overshoot the ecological ceiling (the 9 planetary boundaries). By putting too much pressure on the Earth’s life-supporting systems, we begin to kick it out of the order. For instance, mass production leading to air and chemical pollution. Therefore, to meet the needs of all within the needs of the planet, we must learn to live within the Doughnut. That is, to live within a dynamic balance. (Raworth 2018)

IMAGE 3. A simplified version of the Doughnut. (Wiedmann, Lenzen, et al 2020)


However, the current situation of the Doughnut is looking critical- falling short and overshooting at the same time (see Image 4). There are billions of people who lack fulfilment of the most basic of needs, such as drinkable water or accessibility for education. In fact, one in nine people doesn’t have enough to eat, and one in three people has no access to toilet. Meanwhile, we have already collectively crossed the line of at least four planetary boundaries like biodiversity loss, land conversion, climate change, and nitrogen & phosphorus loading (according to data of 2018). As it turns out, the number of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish worldwide has dropped in half since 1970. Thus, the question of how to live in balance between the social and planetary boundaries rises more urgently than ever before. (Raworth 2018)

IMAGE 4. The Doughnut: shortfall and overshoot. (Raworth 2018)


3.2 Doughnut Economics

To make a difference from the last century, we must adapt a different economic thinking and shape of progress. Doughnut Economics introduces a mindset that can lead us in the direction of living in the safe and just space for humanity. Instead of policies, it proposes a holistic way of thinking that enables the regenerative and distributive dynamics that this century calls for. Doughnut Economics involves 7 ways to think like a 21st-century economist: change the goal, see the big picture, nurture human nature, get savvy with systems, design to distribute, create to regenerate, be agnostic about growth (see Image 5). (Doughnut Economics Action Lab 2020)


IMAGE 5. Seven ways to think like a 21st century economist. (Doughnut Economics Action Lab 2020)


Instead of endless growth, Doughnut Economics begins with changing the goal to thriving in balance within the Doughnut. Meanwhile, seeing the big picture and understanding that any economy is built within and dependant on the society and our planet. This economic way of thinking also recognises that just as human nature can be encouraged to be individualistic and competitive, it can also be nurtured to be caring and cooperative. (Pote 2021)

Doughnut Economics emphasises the importance of systems thinking, since our economies, societies, and environments are complex and interconnected. Additionally, it calls for transforming degenerative economies into regenerative ones by applying circular economy principles and making one process’s waste another one’s fuel. Through open design practices, Doughnut Economics also aims to work within distributive, rather than divisive economies. And, finally, it acknowledges that growth can be a healthy phase of life, however nothing grows forever: success lies in “growing until it is time to grow up and thrive instead”. (Pote 2021)



A year 2018 research on planetary boundaries lead by Daniel W. O’Neill, an economics professor in University of Leeds, shows that so far across 150 countries there is “not one country that satisfies all its citizens’ basic needs while maintaining a globally sustainable level of resource use”. However, what influences whether we all get into the safe and just space or not? Raworth highlights these 5 factors: population, distribution, aspiration, technology, and governance.


4.1 Population

Population might be an obvious one- the more people there are, the more resources are needed to satisfy the needs and rights. Although the global population is still growing, its growth rate since 1971 has surprisingly been dropping. And, for the first time in history, this is not due wars or famine, but due to investment in child health, women’s education, and reproductive health. By ensuring that everyone is able to live a life free of deprivation, we can ensure a more stabilised size of our population.


4.2 Distribution

Distribution stands for a more equitable administration on the way humanity uses its resources. For instance, hunger could be ended with just 10% of the food that gets wasted.


4.3 Aspiration

As economist Tim Jackson has said: “We are persuaded to spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to make impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about.” The lifestyles we aspire to live and the purchases we make have seemingly small, but very accumulative effects on the social and planetary boundaries of the Doughnut.


4.4 Technology

Since around 60% of the area that is expected to be urban by 2030 is not yet built, technology will have a much bigger impact in these processes. Can the technology be used create a better social and ecological outcome? For instance, a new transportation infrastructure replacing traffic jams with a much faster, accessible, and convenient public transportation.


4.5 Governance

Governance on local, national, and global levels plays a central role when getting into the Doughnut. With the ever-changing environment of this century, administration must be more attentive and flexible to unexpected events and challenges. Moreover, they must lead the way by understanding that everything in this world is systematically interconnected.

(Raworth 2017)



In conclusion, the 21st century calls for a more thoughtful definition of economic development and success. The Doughnut Economics provides a shift in the way of thinking from never-ending growth to finding progress in dynamic balance. Meanwhile, the Doughnut guides a direction where social and planetary boundaries are respected. Although the word “boundaries” for many associates with limitations, it can also be the source of creativity and innovation. As Kate Raworth, the author of Doughnut Economics, states in her 2018 Ted Talk: “It’s boundaries that unleash our potential. And the Doughnut’s boundaries unleash the potential for humanity to thrive.” I am also a believer that the safe and sweet spot for humanity lies in the balance of understanding not only our own, but also the needs of others. In this essay I explored the basics of the Doughnut Economics, and I am very excited to dive deeper in the topic, as well as witness and affect a future where we can all thrive in balance!




Doughnut Economics Action Lab. 2020. About Doughnut Economics. Read on 3.5.2023. https://doughnuteconomics.org/about-doughnut-economics

Fernando, J. 2023. Gross Domestic Product (GDP): Formula and How to Use It. Read on 2.5.2023. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gdp.asp

O’Neill, Fanning, et al. 2018. A good life for all within planetary boundaries. Read on 3.5.2023. https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/127264/1/GoodLifeWithinPB_AuthorAcceptedVersion.pdf

Pote, B. 2021. The Doughnut Economics: definition and critical analysis. Read on 3.5.2023. https://bonpote.com/en/the-doughnut-economics-definition-and-critical-analysis/

Raworth, K. 2017. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st Century Economist. New York, New York: Random House Business.

Raworth, K. 2018. A healthy economy should be designed to thrive, not to grow. YouTube video. Published on 5.6.2023. Referred on 1.5.2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rhcrbcg8HBw&list=LL&index=2



DNA. 2018. Scientists decode Charles Darwin’s evolution theory after minister’s ape comment. Seen on 1.5.2023. https://www.dnaindia.com/science/report-scientists-decode-charles-darwin-s-evolution-theory-after-minister-s-ape-comment-2577591

The Deal Team. 2020. Get Animated! Introducing the Seven Ways. Read on 3.5.2023. https://doughnuteconomics.org/tools/2

Wiedmann, Lenzen, et al. 2020. A simplified version of The Doughnut. Seen on 3.5.2023. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-16941-y

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