Dear Members of the Forum Network,
Thank you very much for your contribution that made the 20th anniversary of the OECD Forum a success, whether you shared your thoughts here on the Forum Network, or played an active role at the event in Paris! Over two days, we gathered more participants than ever, coming from 76 countries and many more young people than in past years. We brought together almost 300 speakers, half of which were women, who contributed to over 100 debates. The Forum garnered extensive media coverage, with over 20,000 online articles published between 20 and 23 May, and generated high social media engagement, with over 110 tweets per hour.
The Forum‘s roots lie in the Organisation’s desire to include engaged and informed citizens in the shaping of policy, as Ministers gathering in Paris in 1999 realised that policy makers alone could not address the “political, economic and social challenges of the next century”. In designing this year’s Forum, World in EMotion, we reflected on the many parallels and paradoxes of both periods and sought to draw inspiration from the past, for the future.
While globalisation was in full swing a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was also a time of considerable protest against the impact of increasing economic and social integration – a phenomenon we are still witnessing today, spiralling into wider distrust of the processes of multilateralism and more broadly international co-operation. At OECD Forum 2019, participants stressed that, in light of the magnitude and complexity of challenges we face, spanning issues such as trade, competition, climate change or global inequality, we need more international co-operation, not less, and more multi-stakeholder approaches and set-ups.
The Internet age was burgeoning some 20 years ago, and non-governmental organisations were harnessing the web to hold governments to account as informed, proactive and “wired” world citizens. Today, digital transformation is stirring people’s anxieties, sometimes breeding divisive emotions and driving people apart. Yet, it has also brought about tremendous benefits, and has the potential for major improvements in well-being, fighting disease, climate change, helping reach global goals such as the SDGs and paving the way for more deliberative forms of civic engagement. The new OECD Principles on Artificial Intelligence – the first set of global principles adopted by 42 governments and endorsed by the G20 – were commended as a key first step, and participants called on the OECD to be an inclusive platform for dialogue on these issues, involving policy makers and policy shapers alike.
As in 1999, citizens around the world are coming to the fore, coalescing around issues that require co-operation, wide social mobilisation and stronger partnerships. In the words of Forum opening speaker, 17-year-old climate activist Anuna De Wever van der Heyden, “The hope that I have is that we have a future. Right now, there is a revolution going on, powered by so many young people. All these people coming on the streets every week do it because they believe in their future, and they are ready to fight for it”. Participants made a clear call to develop the contours of a “new societal contract”, beyond the “social contract”, and taking account of not only new rights and responsibilities, but also environmental and ethical considerations in today’s digital age. They urged for many voices to be involved in deciding what this contract would look like, rather than a select group only.
OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría opened the Forum with a call for everyone to help create this new vision for our world: “We need to understand the frustrations of our people, the anger behind populisms, the feeling of unfairness of the many left behind. To design a new set of policies, to create a new social contract, a better and fairer economic system, a more inclusive and sustainable digital era, it will be crucial to add emotions to the policy-making mix. Any policy that does not appeal to human passion is a dead policy. Any reform that does not generate people’s engagement will make little difference. Any policy that does not connect with people’s dreams will never get the necessary traction to succeed”.
The closing session of the Forum provided valuable food for thought as we chart our future, ahead of next year’s OECD Forum. I was reminded that it is precisely at times of rapid transformation, and when we face new, urgent challenges, that we most need to learn from each other. Participants called on us to reflect on the notion of the “future of humanity”, and how we might best harness our collective wisdom to make difficult choices about the ethics and values that provide the foundations of the societies we want to live in. As we embark on the start of a new cycle, I draw inspiration from the many manifestations of collective and individual responsibility at this year’s Forum, and people’s desire to take action on a wide range of complex issues, whether at the helm of a global organisation or as an engaged citizen.
It is essential that we at the OECD listen to your concerns not only during the Forum but also throughout the year, through more contact and dialogue in all areas of our work. The Forum Network is a prime vessel to help achieve this vision. The issues we seek to address at the Forum all require inspiration, co-operation and co-creation. I look forward to refining solutions and developing new ideas with you in the months to come. As a start, I would be very interested to hear your comments on what you learnt and what inspired you at this year’s event.
Over the past 20 years, the Forum has helped the OECD take the pulse of the external environment: listening to key concerns, ensuring our work resonates with our stakeholders, and ultimately addressing the challenges all of us are facing through inclusive and effective policy making.
We hope you enjoyed the Forum this year, and that you will join us for the next 20!