OECD Wrap-Up by Sabina Lim

Sabina attended the 2016 OECD Forum and represented the University of Melbourne Faculty of Business and Economics. 

I recently returned from the OECD forum in Paris. Held every year, the forum is an opportunity for government, business, civil society and academia to come together and discuss the pressing social and economic issues of our time. During one of the many panel sessions OECD Chief of Staff Gabriela Ramos, stated: “Agreements make the headline; implementation makes the change.” As a sceptic of multi-national organisations I was critical of the ability for these meetings to effectively create change. Her words stayed with me.

I did learn some of my scepticism was valid. Deputy Secretary-General Mari Kiviniemi spoke of the challenges selling major policy reforms to member countries. Many were reluctant or struggled to adopt the measures in their home countries, which the OECD’s work and analysis indicates are necessary for long-term economic wellbeing. 

It was at times frustrating to listen to discussions on policies for youth and inequality and ideas for creating inclusive economies. The general consensus was something should be done but we were left wondering if anything would really change and when. Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s Finance Minister criticised the ‘lack of urgency, initiative and political leadership in the [economic] climate today’.

John Evans, Chief Economist at the International Trade Union Confederation, offered a compelling argument for stronger political leadership. Effective change needs to have a ‘social buy in’ or else societies face a brick wall, rising populism and in some cases authoritarianism. Governments need to do more to construct a clear, convincing narrative for why policy matters – and to communicate this to their citizens in a way that unites, not alienates, all people.

Yet the experience also showed me some of the successes, and why global collaboration is more important than ever before. Kelsey Burns, an OECD Counsellor at the Trade & Agriculture Directorate, put it best when she told us that, “Today, domestic issues are international issues”. The panel discussions reinforced this. The migration crisis goes beyond integration challenges in individual countries, and certainly beyond Europe. It starts with root problems in a refugee’s home country. The way they are treated in one European society has flow on effects for the migration patterns to others. Similarly, changes in what drives economic growth in one country has big implications for the global economy. A change in China’s demand for iron ore affects Australia’s exports.

In this interconnected world, I see the value of the OECD. It is an organisation that brings countries to the same table and provides comprehensive economic analysis for them to act on. Its strength is its ability to acknowledge domestic issues for each member country, but also to look beyond them and provide a platform for co-ordinated, global economic action. In a world where short-termism is rampant in politics, I found the forum a critical voice for the long-term changes that are necessary, but which often get buried by short-term priorities.

My time with Global Voices at the OECD challenged some of my preconceived notions, reinforced other beliefs, and opened my mind to new ideas and challenges. Most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to discuss issues and possible solutions with field experts and those who are leading the change. I learned an incredible amount during my week in Paris, not only about the economic challenges we face, but also about where I see myself in the future. Gabriela Ramos’ words have stayed with me, and I know I don’t just want to be an advice giver, but someone who is implementing the policies that will make the change.