The OECD Forum is 20 this year. More than an anniversary, it is a coming of age. It is also a chance for us to look back and look forward: What have we learned and achieved? Where to next for the OECD Forum in a changing global context?
The Forum was created in 2000 in response to public pressure for more transparency and dialogue in policy making. The internet age was burgeoning: non-governmental organisations had harnessed the web to exert a new influence on the political scene and hold governments to account as informed, proactive and “wired” world citizens. Globalisation was in full swing a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, with China about to join the WTO world of open trade and investment. This was also a time of violent protest on city streets when, in November 1999, 30,000 protesters in Seattle stopped the WTO in its tracks a year after the OECD’s efforts to achieve a multilateral investment agreement were ground to a halt. Dislike for the multinational power of major brands, the steamrolling of culture and identity, sweatshops, and the gaping divides that globalisation revealed between rich and poor countries all generated a demand for real accountability and transparency.
The OECD got the message: out of this crucible the OECD Forum emerged. But it was not an easy birth. OECD officials and diplomats felt uneasy. Although most in the OECD acknowledged the demand for more transparency, and engaged in limited consultation with civil society, many remained convinced that discretion was essential and if the OECD had to engage, it would be to convince the naysayers of the unquestionable virtues of globalisation. The OECD Forum was both a risk and an opportunity.
20 years later the OECD Forum is thriving. It has made a valuable contribution to transforming the OECD. It is growing into a platform fit for a fast-changing world. And in the last two years the global political landscape has shifted again. Uncertainty, division, impatience and polarisation are widespread, and street protests are back too.
The initial motivation for the Forum remains just as strong, and the need as great or greater in a World of Emotion. The reticence of 2000 has been displaced by an eagerness, a duty, to listen to all voices, and build better policies. The Forum continues to both project into the future and focus on past and present challenges. We continue to encourage frank, evidence-based, debate but, in 2019, we must strive to harness the emotional forces that drive us forward to a positive end.
Each year we seek to develop an agenda that resonates with the evolution of our times, and our world looks quite different in 2019. Where we used to focus on strong, sustainable economic growth, we now need inclusive growth that places people at the core of our approach and policies. Issues such as gender equality, the integration of migrants, ageing in poverty, youth unemployment, access to affordable housing and healthcare and the fairness of tax systems existed as concerns 20 years ago but have more acute relevance today.
Over the years, we have welcomed policy makers, bringing together Ministers and policy shapers alike from across the political spectrum; with the full range of civil society campaigning on issues varying from human rights and child safety to tax and privacy; union leaders pursuing better rights for workers; global and local CEOs rising to the challenge of building more inclusive and sustainable business models; ground-breaking media voices using their platforms to comment and chart the evolution of the world; and cutting-edge researchers and academics providing their expertise to develop innovative, concrete solutions. They all contribute to conversations that push the envelope and take us out of our comfort zones around issues and questions we feel a responsibility to put on the agenda.
This community is an essential ingredient of the “Forum chemistry” – individuals the OECD is committed to serving from all parts of the globe, and who bring their wealth of experience, views and ideas. Starting with just a few hundred all those years ago, last year saw 4,000 of you join us in Paris and many more online and through social media across the globe. We hope to include even more voices, and mobilise our collective intelligence to address the world’s pressing challenges in an open, dynamic and creative space.
On 20-21 May the 20th edition of OECD Forum will focus on a World in EMotion, reflecting a time of great societal, economic and political change, upheaval and disruption, amplified by the dual forces of globalisation and digitalisation. Recent events are indeed challenging our understanding and ability to forecast the future. “What can I do?”; “What I can do!”; “Tell me what to do!” These are some of the dilemmas we all face at times as we grapple with such complex problems on such grand scales.
Individuals can be vibrant agents of change, as we have seen across the globe, holding world leaders accountable for their physical safety, the protection of our planet and the respect of all, regardless of their ethnicity and gender. Taken together, small actions can become powerful forces of disruption and change. Our ambition at the Forum will be to explore how to transform these increasing expressions of uncertainty and anger into collective commitment for positive action.
As we begin our preparations, we want your help to co-create the agenda. We consulted you last year and drew inspiration from your thoughts, all of which enriched our thinking and became a part of the Forum programme.
These are some of the themes and issues we are currently considering and on which we would value your ideas and input:
- What would a New Societal Contract look like? Core to a new societal contract will be our ability to address how notions of ethics, human values and even privacy are evolving in a digital age. As in past years, we will also continue to explore ways to promote more inclusive growth, ensuring opportunity for all, and especially for those who too often are left behind in our societies (such as youth, women, migrants, older generations and people with disabilities) through better access to education, employment, finance, housing, and health. We’re also interested in looking “beyond capitals” given the strong regional component to the growing divides in our economies and societies.
- How can we prepare for Digitalisation and the Future of Work? The OECD’s priority is ensuring that the digital transition we are living will be positive for both well-being and growth. In this context, Forum discussions will include a strong focus on the Future of Work, including the type of education and skill set, safety nets and support networks that will provide the confidence and resilience to face this new future.
- Why is International co-operation important for our time? All 2019 Forum themes will be linked to the SDGs, and we plan an increased focus on the urgency of addressing climate change. We foresee a strategic discussion on the need for a new type of leadership in today’s volatile, fast-paced world: the challenges of globalisation, technological change, immigration issues and the rise of populism all demand strong, determined leadership and responsibility from governments, but in partnership with CEOs, mayors, and civil society.
We will also examine the potential of Artificial Intelligence and other new technologies to help address some of the world’s most challenging social and environmental problems, as well as the ethical dimensions and risks that must be carefully considered for these technologies to realise their full potential.
The Forum Network is your space to tell us what matters to you and ours to listen, reflect and act on those views. Please join to comment in the box below!
In a World in Emotion, as long as the OECD Forum faces forward and listens carefully to people from all backgrounds and places, we will be an invaluable source of enrichment for better policy making and better lives.
By joining us at OECD Forum 2019, and engaging with us on Forum Network, you too can help us mark our coming of age and work with us towards a brighter future. Here’s to the next 20.