Flourishing in Majority World (Low Income) Countries

Toni Antonucci
University of Michigan


Redress the gap in human flourishing globally by studying how it is achieved in low income countries.
Extant research is overwhelmingly based on minority world research which consistently considers flourishing an individual attribute. By contrast, in other cultures a communal conceptualization of human flourishing best represented by the term ubuntu (I am because we are) is utilized. A lack of sophisticated social structures (health care, education), necessitates a reliance on social systems such as social relations.
Social relations represent a naturally occurring resource or convoy which provides a critical pathway to human flourishing. This initiative focuses on Africa, building on the longstanding relationship of the International Society for the Study of Behavioral Development with African scholars, thus engaging a multidisciplinary international network of scholars. We envision 10 multidisciplinary teams competitively chosen to explore local definitions and conceptualizations of flourishing, the role of social relations, and hypotheses or processes about how to optimize flourishing. At completion, the teams will meet, discuss findings, how to best test supported hypotheses and expand the testing to other low-income countries with a similar solicitation of proposals. At this point the experienced Africans would be engaged as experts to advise the second phase of the project.


We begin with discovery and seek to identify flourishing in a majority world context where reliance on the group is far more common than reliance on self. We will benefit from the emerging science of social relations and increased empirical evidence indicating the critical role a supportive convoy of social relations can provide. Further, we build on long term relationships in Africa and the ISSBD to support unique, multidisciplinary, international teams that will delve deeply into those characteristics the majority world feels are critical to optimizing human flourishing thus meeting a foundation goal to pursue ideas outside the norm.


1. We will give voice to majority world researchers and populations while engaging leading researchers from the minority world. New theories may be resisted by those who developed extant theories. An adversarial collaboration process might work here.
2. Communication in the context of COVID is difficult. Connectivity is the major problem in our experience. Some of this can be addressed by additional technology but weak power grids, etc. remain problematic.
3. Measuring social relations is a sensitive issue and must be approached with care, sensitivity and respect. We will use past experience in similarly sensitive situations to address this issue.

Breakthroughs Needed

We cannot guarantee that new theories and concepts will be surfaced. We will engage process that make these more likely. We will need to approach assessment carefully, using culturally sensitive measures and trusted interviewers. The measurement tool used to assess the social relations convoy has been successful in a variety of cultures and language. Equivalence of translation and meaning will be critical to identify how specific aspects of social relations link to flourishing as defined within the specific target setting or population. A breakthrough sought is how best to define flourishing within a specific context as well as the specific characteristics of social relations most successfully linked to flourishing. We think it also critical to identify those experiences, events and/or communal characteristics most likely to impede it flourishing.
We note that attention to flourishing must identify both what encourages and nurtures it, as well as what discourages and prevents it. The same is true of social relations. Some social relations are supportive and of high quality while others are conflictual and destructive. Any breakthrough must identify both positive and negative influences and identify ways to maximize positive and minimize negative influences.

Key Indicators of Success

Evidence of engagement from key groups, emergence of new concepts, approaches/methods, theories. While these are difficult to specific, examples of potential useful outcomes include the following:
Identification of 'universal' or at least common groups that are most likely to flourish across contexts.
Ongoing evaluations indicating ongoing progress meeting specified goals and timelines.
Consideration and identification of different pathways for different age groups or gender.
Identification of counter-indicators to human flourishing.
Identification of optimal and/or common patterns of social relations associated with human flourishing.
Consideration and identification of factors influencing human flourishing that are parallel in minority and majority world contexts.

Additional Information

Although I am submitting this response to your RFI (Request for Ideas) as an individual, if invited to develop a full proposal I would engage a team of scholars to assist with this project. The ideas developed here, while still in preliminary form, were developed through informal discussions and collaborations with experienced scholars. We will build on the newly evolving science of social relations and the convoy model of social relations to examine how social relations encourage or discourage flourishing.
Previous studies (Antonucci et al.), e.g. in a community based representative sample from the Detroit area, have shown significant links between the quality of social relations and the human characteristics of forgiveness and humility as well as happiness and well-being. We also identified racial and ethnic differences in these links, indicating that while some aspects of social relations are similar across groups, others are different, e.g. the association between social relations, forgiveness and well-being. Differences were also apparent within dyads across racial/ethnic groups wherein those with high quality marital relations were more likely to forgive their partner's transgression if and only if they felt their partner was a humble person. The virtues of humility and forgiveness were found to be associated with the structure and quality of their social relations.
Although mostly in the minority world, we understand that a great deal of research has already been conducted on the concept of human flourishing e.g. the Human Flourishing Center at Harvard, and that measures of human flourishing (VanderWeele, 2017:doi 31:8148-8156) already exist. We plan to benefit from and build upon this work.
My thoughts are based on a wide array of research conducted around the globe including the US, Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East. While much of the emerging research on social relations has been promising in identifying its broad reach (e.g. in the development and progression of Alzheimer's disease; in identifying neurological changes in the brain associated with poor or abusive relationships), little has extended to the question of human flourishing. Taking the ubuntu concept focusing on the group as the source of the success of the individual has the potential reframe how we think about human flourishing. Our focus is on the majority world because so much of the minority world is currently focused on individual success or flourishing which we believe is not actually consistent with the broader, and perhaps higher order form of human flourishing. The conceptual model of the convoy of social relations takes this perspective, arguing that it is our convoy of social relations that supports, encourages, and socializes us to meet the challenges we face. Applying this same reasoning to human flourishing has the potential to change how we think about success, health, well-being, in short, human flourishing.

doi:10.21926/obm.geriatr.2002118; DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gby038; https;//doi.org /10.1146/annurev-devpsych-121318-085212; https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.13307
Possible Collaborators: Dr. Godfrey Ejuu, Uganda; Dr. Etchu Tambe, Cameroon;
Dr. Rose Opiyo, Kenya; Rev. Kwesi Wilson, Ghana. Dr. Pambas Tandika, Tanzania


These research ideas were submitted in response to Templeton World Charity Foundation’s global call for Grand Challenges in Human Flourishing, which ran from September through November 2020.

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