It’s one thing to identify a community need. It’s another to take collective action to solve it.
When a need has been surfaced by the community, Wello asks two questions. First, is there a way to address the need or remove the barrier identified by our community? And secondly, and more importantly, if there is a way, are we willing to do it?
Wello uses a holistic well-being framework that wraps around individuals and communities to ensure their basic needs are met while also closing the gaps in the community conditions, including systems and structures, that hold people back from thriving. Because people and communities are multidimensional, approaches to addressing the challenges they are experiencing must also be multidimensional. Focusing on collective well-being is an acknowledgement that the conditions that support health are interconnected: ensuring all people have access to safe, affordable housing; nutritious, healthy food, opportunities to learn and get good jobs; reliable transportation; safe neighborhoods; economic means to support their families; strong, inclusive social networks; healthy, sustainable environments; and more.
Wello believes it is how we do this work together that matters. We try to de-silo issues and shy from a narrow approach that tackles issues one focus area at a time. A collective well-being approach looks for the overlap - where for instance a food access program can also build the capacity of local farms, or where an active community project aimed at getting more people walking and biking can do double work in making streets safer. Wello uses multi-solving to take on the most complex and pressing issues of our time in ways that make the most use of limited resources and provide the broadest, most sustainable impacts.
Too often we can get caught up in an either/or narrative: either address a basic need or catalyze upstream systemic and structural change. But Wello has shown, and believes deeply, that by leveraging a collective well-being framework, you can do both. The special sauce is in how you do the work. Powered by a focus on relationships and trust building, Wello’s community-rooted model starts small to surface and test ideas based on needs identified by community partners. From there we strive to find a strategy that offers wins at multiple levels, and always seeks to shift power and resources to the people who are directly impacted by disparities. Our model is recognition that when done with intention and working up from need, one action can solve more than one problem. In this way, we can generate solutions that serve everyone.
Take the Green Bay Safe Walk & Bike Plan as an example. This plan for making our neighborhoods and community safer to walk, bike, and roll was a central goal of partners Wello, City of Green Bay, and Green Bay Area Public School District. For nearly two years, a plan was curated that prioritized equity and incorporated direct feedback from parents, students, residents, bikers, businesses, elected officials, and others. The result is a short, mid, and long-term actionable plan to increase non-motorized transportation across our community. The benefits? Many. Actively getting to where you need to go increases health physically and mentally for both kids and adults. In fact, a study found that people who biked to work were 52% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease. By designing our community in a way that also is accessible for those who may be wheelchair bound, for example by installing curb-cuts, we increase inclusion and belonging. Reducing traffic congestion means less emissions that contribute to respiratory diseases and conditions like asthma. When we walk around our community, we are more likely to stop and spend our money at local businesses, contributing to our local economy. We create community conditions that encourage connection with our neighbors, spurs community development, and increases infrastructure investments that build a resilient future. And so on and so on. Oh, and we make our streets safer while we are at it.
We feel a sense of urgency around collective well-being. When we stop thinking of well-being as something that is “nice” and rather, as necessary to ensure generations of kids can grow, thrive and flourish in Northeast Wisconsin, we can all win. We hold the power to create transformational change that endures across generations. All we have to do is be willing to do it.
This story ran as our November 2023 Green Bay Press-Gazette column.