Can we change an entire population for the better?

South Australia’s goal: To be the world’s first Flourishing State. Gabrielle persuaded state leaders to adopt this audacious goal and is now tasked with finding and implementing state-wide strategies to improve mental health.

Denise talks to Gabrielle Kelly about taking wellbeing to scale.



Gabrielle Kelly is the Director of the Wellbeing and Resilience Centre as a part of the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAMRHI). She believes in working with purpose, understanding how humans and systems change. Gabrielle is also a founder of the Australian International Documentary Conference to support an industry crucial to a healthy democracy and a self-aware society.


The lowdown

To make large scale wellbeing changes we need to have wellbeing models, concepts and language that people can relate to and are happy to use. Clear messaging is particularly important when working with whole populations, taking into account the different ages and stages of the people we aim to reach.

Seligman’s PERMA model (Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, and Accomplishment) was selected and adapted to PERMA+ for the South Australia whole state project. The + added physical activity, nutrition, sleep and optimism.

Measurability of interventions was an important factor for this project. During the development stage, an evidence-based intervention was selected. The United States Army Comprehensive Soldier Fitness resiliency training programme was the chosen starting point because it was the largest scale measured intervention carried out to date. A similar training programme was the developed specifically for the state.

5000 people have been through the SA resiliency training programme and the feedback has been positive. The clear, step by step format has ensured the key concepts are being easily picked up by participants.

Consideration of how to deliver the key message – that psychological health can be built – was critical during the planning stage. The program has since been carried out through South Australia through schools, banks, and aged care institutions. These are just a few examples of how SA is trying to reach its communities.


Additional resources

Check out the SAHMRI Wellbeing and Resilience Centre website:

Watch Gabrielle’s TedX talk about building a state of wellbeing: