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Meet the Doughnut and the concepts at the heart of Doughnut Economics

Who would have thought that doughnuts could change the world?

by Joanna Tomkins

They certainly get our attention, don’t they? In the same way we may ourselves once have been addicted to eating doughnuts, our policies are still addicted to promoting growth, even if it harms us each and and every time.

But… now we have got your attention, as you will see hereunder in the graphics, the doughnut in this model is in fact the shape that represents a “safe and just space for humanity”

The text hereunder, originally published on the DEAL website, offers a comprehensive and convincing introduction to the Doughnut or Donut model. This umbrella is very exciting because its design has enough strength and simplicity to allow policy makers to regroup under it. I personally studied international business at university in France and Spain and I was so put off by some of the contents of the studies, particularly the economical theories, seminars with bankers and practicals in marketing, that I swore to never work for a large corporation. Much later, after I rerouted my career towards arts and also started to work in Africa as a wilderness guide, I went back to university in Barcelona to study Post-developmental African Studies. This was before I moved to Cape Town, wanting to learn about some of the original philosophies on the Continent and the forces at work behind the neocolonialism that still stifle them today. I rallied around the ideas of Serge Latouche (Farewell to Growth, 2007) and his peers. Since the 1980s, voices such as his have been loudly coining terms such as “economical footprint”, “eco-feminism, “overshoot”, etc, and claiming urgency. Yet, those voices have been drowned by the constantly renewed pressure from the Industrial Growth Society.

Finally, in the last few years, at the same time as a larger part of humanity starts to call for socio-economical justice – the one with the privilege to do so and be heard- , some strong, credible and conscious voices have created new alternative economical models that can be understood by many. They are now becoming mainstream and can offer politicians solid solutions to build resilience in the communities whose welfare they are responsible for. Gratitude.

If you are interested in learning more, please read some of the Stories on DEAL. This one for example about how the model has been adopted by 5 major cities around the world:

If you know how this model could be introduced to the University of Cape Town, or the City of Cape Town, please get in touch with me, I’d love to get involved.


The Doughnut offers a vision of what it means for humanity to thrive in the 21st century – and Doughnut Economics explores the mindset and ways of thinking needed to get us there.

First published in 2012 in an Oxfam report by Kate Raworth, the concept of the Doughnut rapidly gained traction internationally, from the Pope and the UN General Assembly to Extinction Rebellion.

Kate’s 2017 book, Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist,  further explored the economic thinking needed to bring humanity into the Doughnut, drawing together insights from diverse economic perspectives in a way that everyone can understand. The book has now been published in over 20 languages.

This 2018 TED talk gives a summary of the book’s core messages, and you can read Chapter One here..

The Doughnut’s holistic scope and visual simplicity, coupled with its scientific grounding, has turned it into a convening space for big conversations about reimagining and remaking the future. It is now being discussed, debated and put into practice in education and in communities, in business and in government, in towns, cities and nations worldwide.

Kate Raworth

The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries.

What is the Doughnut?

Think of it as a compass for human prosperity in the 21st century, with the aim of meeting the needs of all people within the means of the living planet.

The Doughnut consists of two concentric rings: a social foundation, to ensure that no one is left falling short on life’s essentials, and an ecological ceiling, to ensure that humanity does not collectively overshoot the planetary boundaries that protect Earth’s life-supporting systems. Between these two sets of boundaries lies a doughnut-shaped space that is both ecologically safe and socially just: a space in which humanity can thrive.

What is Doughnut Economics?

If the 21st century goal is to meet the needs of all people within the means of the living planet – in other words, get into the Doughnut – then how can humanity get there? Not with last century’s economic thinking.

Doughnut Economics proposes an economic mindset that’s fit for our times. It’s not a set of policies and institutions, but rather a way of thinking to bring about the regenerative and distributive dynamics that this century calls for. Drawing on insights from diverse schools of economic thought – including ecological, feminist, institutional, behavioural and complexity economics – it sets out seven ways to think like a 21st century economist in order to transform economies, local to global.

The starting point of Doughnut Economics is to change the goal from endless GDP growth to thriving in the Doughnut. At the same time, see the big picture by recognising that the economy is embedded within, and dependent upon, society and the living world. Doughnut Economics recognises that human behaviour can be nurtured to be cooperative and caring, just as it can be competitive and individualistic.

It also recognises that economies, societies, and the rest of the living world, are complex, interdependent systems that are best understood through the lens of systems thinking. And it calls for turning today’s degenerative economies into regenerative ones, and divisive economies into far more distributive ones. Lastly, Doughnut Economics recognises that growth may be a healthy phase of life, but nothing grows forever: things that succeed do so by growing until it is time to grow up and thrive instead.

Dive deeper into the seven ways to think like a 21st century economist with our series of 90-second animations

The five layers of organisational design.

Why design matters

What would make it possible for an organisation to become regenerative and distributive so that it helps bring humanity into the Doughnut? DEAL has run workshops with enterprises, city departments, foundations, and other kinds of organisations that want to explore this question, and the implications are transformational.

At the heart of these workshops is a focus on design: not the design of their products and services, or even of their office buildings, but the design of the organisation itself. As described by Marjorie Kelly, a leading theorist in next-generation enterprise design, there are five key layers of design that powerfully shape what an organisation can do and be in the world:

Purpose. Networks. Governance. Ownership. Finance.

Together these five aspects of organisational design profoundly shape any organisation’s ability to become regenerative and distributive by design, and so help bring humanity into the Doughnut. 

Doughnut Principles of Practice

To ensure the integrity of the ideas of Doughnut Economics, we ask that the following principles are followed by any initiative that is working to put the ideas of Doughnut Economics into practice.
Embrace the 21st Century Goal

Aim to meet the needs of all people within the means of the planet. Seek to align your organisation’s purpose, networks, governance, owner-ship and finance with this goal.

See the big picture

Recognise the potential roles of the household, the commons, the market and the state – and their many synergies – in transforming economies. Ensure that finance serves the work rather than drives it.

Nurture human nature

Promote diversity, participation, collaboration and reciprocity. Strengthen community networks and work with a spirit of high trust. Care for the wellbeing of the team.

Think in systems

Experiment, learn, adapt, evolve and aim for continuous improvement. Be alert to dynamic effects, feedback loops and tipping points.

Be distributive

Work in the spirit of open design and share the value created with all who co-created it. Be aware of power and seek to redistribute it to improve equity amongst stakeholders.

Be regenerative

Aim to work with and within the cycles of the living world. Be a sharer, repairer, regenerator, steward. Reduce travel, minimize flights, be climate and energy smart.

Aim to thrive rather than to grow

Don’t let growth become a goal in itself. Know when to let the work spread out via others rather than scale up in size.

Be strategic in practice

Go where the energy is – but always ask whose voice is left out. Balance openness with integrity, so that the work spreads without capture. Share back learning and innovation to unleash the power of peer-to-peer inspiration.

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