What makes a city safe and sound? A common feature of all safe and sound environments is that they promote the wellbeing of their residents. Wellbeing can be understood as having three dimensions — the material aspect of having enough, the relational aspect of being connected, and the subjective aspect of feeling good.
This idea of holistic wellbeing is at the heart of the Relational Wellbeing Collaborative (RWB-C), which advocates a relational approach towards improving wellbeing in social and urban development projects. As one of S²Cities’ global partners and advisory board members, RWB-C brings a relational wellbeing perspective to the programme’s efforts.
In this interview, co-founding partner Shreya Jha talks about the process and work of the collaborative, and how its approach is applied to S²Cities’ efforts:
Sharon Sabu (SS): What inspired you to co-found the Relational Wellbeing Collaborative?
Shreya Jha (SJ): My thinking on wellbeing builds on a foundational training in inclusive mental health and draws together 20+ years of research, evaluation, and programmatic interventions on wellbeing, mental health, disability, gender, children’s lives, and post-disaster reconstruction.
This has driven me to think of wellbeing ‘in the round’ and how it emerges from interrelation among people, processes, and apparently disparate factors, which form the basis of our work at RWB-C.
The idea of a relational approach to wellbeing emerged from extensive research that Sarah White
, my co-founder, and I have jointly undertaken since 2009. Our research has been consciously situated in the global South as opposed to dominant ideas of wellbeing which have emerged primarily from the global North.
SS: How do you define relational wellbeing?
RWB is an integrative approach to understanding wellbeing
that looks beyond individual psychology or behaviour and focuses on the underlying conditions that promote or hinder healthy environments and happy lives.
It targets three forms of underlying drivers of wellbeing: personal, which has to do with personality and personal history; societal, which is concerned with social norms, economy, and culture; and environmental, which looks at the built environment, climate, and ecological sustainability. The relational approach focuses on both wellbeing outcomes and processes.
The relational approach is at the core of RWB. This too has three aspects — relational thinking, relational working, and the idea of people as relational subjects embedded in relationships with others and their contexts.
SS: What is RWB-C’s role in the S²Cities programme? What are the expected outcomes of your contributions?
SJ: RWB-C is part of the global advisory group for S²Cities, advising on strategy, especially regarding integrating the relational approach to wellbeing into the overall programme.
We have also been involved in developing the Theory of Change for S²Cities, especially in defining the impact that the program seeks to achieve. Our ongoing contribution is based on advising partners in ways that move in the direction of these broad goals.
We hope that our engagement with the program will create an example of how a programme can integrate and implement an RWB approach for sustainable development.
SS: Could you describe how you plan to achieve these goals?
SJ: As a member of the advisory group we are not directly involved in implementation. Rather, we hope to engage with every aspect of the programme so as to ensure that there is broad RWB alignment throughout. We are available to all partners as a sounding board to enable this process.
SS: What is the process that RWB-C undertakes when carrying out projects?
is focused on developing sustainable wellbeing strategies, mixed-methods wellbeing assessments, developmental evaluations, and applied social research.
We begin with reflecting on a set of questions that guide in-depth thinking about the problem, desired change, and interventions that could lead to that change. These questions enable us to identify strengths and resources that may support or resist the desired change.
Our work is committed to responding to contexts and their complexity. This involves a reflexive mode of practice, collaboration, and an emphasis both on the process as well as outcomes.
SS: What do you love about working with RWB-C and the collaborative’s process?
SJ: RWB-C’s reflexive approach is at the heart of all that we do — something that I value greatly. We employ an iterative approach to our work based on collaboration with partners.
The range of our work also presents us with opportunities to develop RWB in ways that respond to a variety of contexts. This is both a challenging and exciting journey for us, providing us with intellectual stimulation and practical learning. Presently, we are keen to collaborate with partners who are implementing projects on the ground in order to practically apply RWB.
SS: What excites you the most about the S²Cities program?
SJ: S²Cities provides an opportunity to account for the systems that are involved in the development of young people’s safety. I hope that, through this process, the programme will take account of the inter-relations across urban scapes that affect the lives of young people across the board.
This recognition of inter-relationship, which is central to RWB, offers a chance to learn whether its practical application would indeed produce the exponential effects on young people’s wellbeing that we hope for.
is a co-founder of the Relational Wellbeing Collaborative
which designs sustainable wellbeing strategies to achieve systemic change. Her thinking on wellbeing builds on foundational training in inclusive mental health perspectives and practice and has evolved through 20+ years of experience in programmatic interventions, research, and evaluation on wellbeing, mental health, disability, gender, children’s lives, and poverty and disaster reconstruction. Shreya holds a Ph.D. in the Sociology of Development from the University of Bath, UK, and a Diploma in Counselling Skills from Saarthak, a mental-health organisation in New Delhi, India.
Role: Co-founding partner of the Relational Wellbeing Collaborative and Strategic Wellbeing Advisor for the S²Cities program.