Skip to main content

Why Evolved Social Foundations Are Key to a Regenerative Economy

Why Evolved Social Foundations Are Key to a Regenerative Economy


Our global future depends on how we define basic human rights and needs (the social foundations) and how we help all people live above and beyond the social foundations. There are countless legal frameworks and schools of thought on this subject - bridging the gap is certainly not an easy task. However, agreement on the first principles can help us create a unified vision and make significant progress toward a sustainable, just future.

Let's dig into the details to get insight into the social foundations.

What are considered to be the social foundations?

The social foundations represent the twelve basic human needs. Established through the Sustainable Development Goals, these make up the globally agreed-upon standard of essential care that everyone requires.

The 12 basic human needs are as follows:

  • Water
  • Food
  • Health
  • Gender equity
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Income and work
  • Networks
  • Energy
  • Peace and justice
  • Political voice
  • Social equity


In addition to understanding what the social foundations are, it is also important to know how they relate to doughnut economies. Expert Kate Raworth visualizes the concept of social foundations as a doughnut, where twelve basic human needs take shape. These needs exist under an ecological ceiling - limits imposed by Earth's life-support resources, which we tap into to fulfill our needs.

The resulting system creates definitive social and planetary boundaries. These include climate change, biodiversity, ocean acidification, pollution and so on. Coming short of fulfilling the social foundations has devastating consequences such as poverty, mortality and more. At the same time, using too many resources to tackle these issues makes us overshoot and harm the environment. The ultimate goal is to fulfill our needs and uplift the standard of living of others while staying within the doughnut of sustainability.

In other words, Raworth's concept creates an impactful and easy-to-understand framework of how human needs impact the global economy and environment.

How does this contribute to a regenerative economy?

Our social well-being is dependent on the health of the economy and the environment. Likewise, a healthy economy is dependent on just social standards and sustainable environmental practices.

In other words, a regenerative economy suggests that healthy social and environmental systems are critical for an economy to thrive. Raworth’s Doughnut Economics Action Lab further explores this notion of the economy and how the social foundations play a role in a more sustainable and fair future.

Yet, this standard of equality can still be higher and we will challenge our preconceived ideas and expand the boundaries of the social foundations.

How to uplift communities above the social foundations

The social foundations serve a critical role in our successful future. Thus, it's necessary to create meaningful ways for businesses to uplift communities to live above them. We can challenge corporations and governments to create a world where every person can live above the social foundations, move beyond any limiting factors and thrive.

Here are some suggestions to get started:

  • Embrace ethical sourcing. While this can apply to individuals, the biggest impact can be made by corporations focusing on sustainability and purchasing, producing or shipping goods in socially responsible ways. Such behavior would set an example and help cause a shift in the economy.
  • Empower social entrepreneurs. Businesses should invest in social entrepreneurs within their organizations, which helps cause change internally and globally. Furthermore, even on the ground level, leaders and organizations can help recruit and teach social entrepreneurs.
  • Create local initiatives. Change starts in communities - encouraging people on the local level to understand and affect change in social foundations with education, financial aid and organizational efforts will trickle into the global economy over time.
  • Adopt sustainable practices. Reducing negative impacts on the environment can be done without harming the economy. Embracing renewable energy, zero-waste policies and recycling can all be promoted as viable alternatives that raise our collective standards.
  • Advocate for collective community action. We're more connected than ever in history - taking advantage of that can help lift everyone up. Social media campaigns, demonstrations, and even direct messages to friends and family can help.
  • Hold businesses and companies equally accountable. Unsustainable business practices such as overproduction and pollution run rampant. Holding everyone in the economy accountable is the way forward.

By taking action, we can help build better businesses and lifestyles to uplift people and protect the planet.

How can we raise the standards for the social foundations?

The key to success in our pursuit of a more just and sustainable future is dependent on developing the social foundations. This is why Net Impact's Regenerative Economy series aims to establish a new understanding of these basic needs.

Common human rights issues like equality, resilience, safety, and accessibility to other basic needs like affordable housing and good employment should be prioritized. It's time that these basic needs are also considered fundamental components of a healthy society.

Learn more about how Net Impact's Regenerative Economy virtual event series is growing the concept of the social foundations. You too can play a part in creating a more fair and sustainable world.