Teaching Economics by Creating a Human Doughnut

Part of a student-led class at UNC-Chapel Hill, students learned about doughnut economics by creating a human doughnut

As part of the student-instructed C-START course, "Alternative Economic Visions", at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students learned to think like 21st-century economists by learning about doughnut economics. As part of this 15-week course, students are introduced to multiple social and ecological models for development based on real-life experiences exploring doughnut economics in Amsterdam, community currencies in Costa Rica, and Buen Vivir and rights of nature laws in Ecuador.   

Sophia Manolis and Eugenia Chow (student-instructor) at AUAS, Amsterdam

Before introducing the doughnut, we watched Kate Raworth’s TED talk on the importance of creating economies that are designed to thrive, not grow. This led into a conversation about the seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist:

  1. Embrace the 21st-century goal
  2. See the big picture
  3. Nurture human nature
  4. Think in systems
  5. Be distributive (by design)
  6. Be regenerative
  7. Aim to thrive rather than grow 

To illustrate the doughnut model, students were each assigned one of the 21 dimensions—either a social foundation or ecological ceiling. Collectively, they created a human model of the doughnut to visualize the relationship between each component. 

Students discussing dimensions of the doughnut

To facilitate critical thinking about the relationship between different dimensions of the doughnut, students were then asked to discuss the following prompts (inspired by this workshop) and share with their peers:

  1. Think about the outer boundary of the doughnut - the space of ecological overshoot - and share with the other person a global problem that fits into these categories.
  2. Think about the inner boundary of the doughnut and the hole in the middle - the space of social shortfall - and share with the other person how this social foundation relates to ecological overshoots.

Students were finally encouraged to reflect on a gift or skill that they have that could help  help humanity get into the safe and just space within the doughnut. People mentioned their interests in education, hard skills in community organizing and advocacy, and simply reorienting individual values to influence behavior. 

After each person shared a gift, they were then given a gift…


To summarize:

  • The doughnut invites us to reflect on the connections between social and ecological needs and how interconnected the challenges and crises of the 21st century are.
  • The doughnut is a framework to invite everyone to be a part of the conversation about how we meet the needs of all within the means of the living planet .
  • The doughnut invites us to find our role in re-imaging and recreating a new economy.

Throughout the class discussion, several thought-provoking questions came up, including: 

  • Is there anything missing from the doughnut? If so, what?
  • How is the distribution of the causes and effects of ecological overshoot represented in this model?
  • How productive is this model? Is it an economic tool or merely a way to measure progress for already ‘developed’ countries?





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