Day 1 - "Young people are biologically revolutionary, if they’re not then it is a contradiction”

Greta Bartels, RMIT University

Day One, started with a quick walk over the border from France to Switzerland; as Uber is not allowed to operate in France. Our Uber picked us up next to a green paddock and dropped us off, with stark contrast, at the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel.

The first item on the agenda was a meeting with Peter Varnum and Craig Hodges, who both work with the World Economic Forum in the area of mental health. This meeting kicked off a theme we have begun to notice: we’re constantly learning about health issues that we had no previous knowledge of and/or no idea about the depth and severity of the issue. For myself, doing an international studies degree, and therefore having no medical background, hearing about other pressing health issues – such as antimicrobial resistance - over the past two days has been incredibly concerning. That topic in particular, was mentioned at the pre-WHA72 briefing for delegates and again during the opening sessions of the Official Plenary. Learning about how antibiotics are being abused has been eye-opening, whether preventatively in cattle feed or over-prescribed to patients with no real need, and has emphasised how seemingly independent acts like these all contribute to significantly increasing the risk of super bugs.

The High-Level Plenary itself was amazing; with each seat having earpieces with multiple different translations and seeing all of the country delegations below, it created such an energy that had us all excited. And Youth representative Natasha Mwanza only further increased the energy in the room.

As a young Zambian woman of only 18 years of age, Natasha began her speech explaining that she wouldn’t be using a large amount formal language, but that we would “get the point, right?”. This was met with a huge amount of applause and welcome from everyone in the room, an attitude that continued throughout her speech. A point she discussed that really stood out to me, was the need to create a youth-friendly arena rather than an arena with a youth-friendly area. With over 50% of the world population under the age of 30 years, I couldn’t agree more; we are an essential part of creating the solution to our global problems. We’ve been lucky to be able to engage with quite a few other youth organisations while we’ve been here, which has been incredibly insightful and engaging. The question of youth engagement was also brought up at today’s meeting on community and civil society engagement for the Global Action Plan on SDG 3: Universal Health Coverage, demonstrating how important youth involvement and engagement is in the health arena.

Interestingly, as we discussed in our Uber ride back to our hotel, the civil society and community events tend to be more heavily attended by females, whereas the more governance-focused events are more heavily attended by males. For our last session of the day this was particularly evident. Eating more delicious desserts and drinking fresh juices, we heard from community health nurses from Liberia and Uganda, among others, sharing their experiences in educating their communities about good health. The Ugandan Minister for Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, highlighted to the audience that there is a real need for community health nurses to be paid, yet another issue to add to the complex problems. What was interesting was the majority of the audience was women, and those that were very annoyingly talking throughout the presentation were mostly men. It will be interesting to see if these trends continue throughout the week.

Finally, I’m super excited to start hearing more about humanitarian crises and climate change in tomorrow’s sessions, as these relate directly to my policy paper topic and will provide me with ideas and information to support my recommendations for the Australian context.

Expanding my horizons: reflecting on the Global Voices experience

Rebecca Field, Curtin University

Grateful and motivated…and a little jet-lagged. That’s how I feel following a week in Paris as part of the Global Voices Scholarship Program.

Just past the half-way point of my PhD, visiting the OECD felt like an opportunity for me to lift my head up, look around and expand my horizons. The life of a PhD student can be really isolating. Most days it’s just me, the screen and a cup of coffee. I entered the Forum being a little bit unsure if I would ‘fit in’. I’m a social worker and a qualitative researcher that can barely use Excel, let alone have an intellectual understanding about trade and economics. I didn’t feel I had anything to contribute. I wasn’t sure I had a place at the same table.

 Attending the OECD Forum 2019 was enlightening and inspiring. It was wonderful to be immersed in a space dedicated to understanding, developing and sharing progressive ideas, policies and practices with the hopes of inclusive growth towards global well-being: “Better policies for better lives”. This was exactly my motivation for starting postgraduate study. It was almost unbelievable that there would be an organisation on such a level pursuing the same goal. Thanks to the Global Voices networking we had meeting after meeting with OECD staff. From one of the Deputy-Secretary General to a student interning for a few months, all were committed to that same goal. The OECD renewed my faith in multinational organisations.

The Global Voices team achieved exactly what they claim to do: “Connecting young Australians to the world...” But it goes even further than that. I have returned to Perth connected to five other scholars. I have met people with skills, knowledge and experience I would never have: an esteemed law student from Brisbane, a vegan economics student from Melbourne, a passionate future teacher from regional Queensland, an experienced policy influencer in Sydney and a totally talented social media guru from Adelaide. What do you get when you put these people around a table? The most engaging and thought-provoking conversations. I am grateful to them for sharing with me and helping to expand my horizons. I now I have contacts around the nation for life, I know can work together on common goals and support each other.

I also feel more connected within myself. On Thursday 23 May the eight of us sat down with the Tamara Krawchenko and Anna Piccinni, who are policy analysts at OECD. This was one of the highlights of the experience for me. I listened to these two accomplished women share findings on migration research and policy development. Their work had many similarities to what I’ve been working on for the last two years, which I was able to share with them. Yes, I do fit in. I do have something to contribute. Furthermore, we had candid conversations with OECD staff and other diplomats day after day. I felt honoured and respected that people would be so open and honest with us. Thus, this experience reaffirmed the important contribution that myself and other people under 30 can and should make to our society. Now the question is: what will that look like? Thanks to Global Voices I now feel like it could be locally, domestically or internationally.

Wrapping up the OECD Forum 2019

Brandon Barrio, Queensland University of Technology

Yesterday we saw the conclusion of the official OECD forum. It was a truly eye-opening experience which exposed me to a range of different viewpoints and cultures which I had yet to experience. Some of the key takeaways that I realised from the OECD forum was the focus on technology, particularly AI, and the importance of understanding emotions. The theme of emotion was something I was particularly sceptical on prior to attending the OECD forum, which was most likely attributed to my background in the law. However, after engaging with the presentations and participants at the forum, I have realised the importance of having high emotional intelligence to identify problems and subsequently create appropriate evidence-based solutions. 

However, my learning did not stop with the OECD conference, as this morning we were fortunate enough to speak with Brendan Berne, the Ambassador for Australia in France in his picturesque living quarters at the Australian Embassy. During our discussion he shared his insight into importance of the French and Australian relationship, particularly in light of our new submarine contract. Brendan also shared his insight into Australia’s historical relationship with a variety of countries. Most interestingly to me was our discussion on China and the impact that this economic giant may have on the international trade landscape in the years to come. We were also fortunate enough to receive some inspiring career advice from Brendan, of which the most notable comment to me was to do something that I am passionate about, because passion drives innovation and innovation is what makes you stand out.

This inspirational messaging continued throughout the day to our meeting with Josee Touchette, the Executive Director of the OECD. Josee reassured us of the importance of the youth voice and how we are the key to creating solutions to develop the ‘glue’ that ensures all groups in society feel enfranchised and cared for by institutions. Personally, as a law student myself I found her insight into the transferable skills she learnt from her law degree, such as the ability to ask probing and analytical questions, to be extremely interesting and motivating.

Last but certainty not least, we also met with Anthony Gooch, the Communications Director of the OECD. This meeting was particularly interesting to me because we were able to reflect on the key themes of the conference such as distrust in institutions and the concept of ‘emotion’. Anthony also allowed us the opportunity to discuss our policy papers and our justification behind our elected topics. The discussion of ‘populism’ and topics such as immigration were also intriguing to me as they are also rather controversial issues within Australia.

Overall, the OECD forum and accompanying meetings I have experienced through the Global Voices Scholarship have been extremely enlightening. I am looking forward to what tomorrow brings and using the knowledge I have accumulated throughout my trip in Paris in developing my final submission of my policy paper.

Adding Emotion to the Mix

Isabella McDougall, University of Sydney

“It’s crucial to add emotions to the policy making mix, if it doesn’t connect with peoples dreams, the policy will never have traction.” This was a defining closing remark made by OECD Secretary General Angel Gurría during his opening address at the 2019 Forum in Paris.  

The theme of this year’s Forum, ‘World in eMotion’ is reflective of the immeasurable opportunities of digitalisation and globalisation today and into the future, and the need for people’s emotions to interact with this new wave. The Secretary General impressed upon the audience that there is an urgency to  harness the inevitable change occurring around us, rather than be driven by it. We were asked to consider digitalisation and globalisation as a catalyst to create and deliver inclusive growth, sustainable growth and improve the lives of all in society. Conversely, as this progress presents itself we must be very aware that it comes with an array of challenges. Globalisation and digitisation are producing dangerous fault lines in our society that is driving fear, anxiety and distrust in the standards and norms we are accustomed to. 

The Secretary General’s opening remarks moved me to investigate how I live my own life and my emotional response to policies and initiatives happening around me and for me. In this ever transforming world, the OECD Forum 2019 call to action transcends the two day event, “What can I do? What can we do? What can we do together?” now and into the future. 

Reflecting on the first day of the Forum, a striking feature was the interactive nature of the panel and workshop discussions that sought to engage the perspectives of all thirty-six OECD countries. Further too was the percentage of female speakers ,at 40%, an OECD record, and the strong youth engagement from Canada, Brazil, Germany and Australia. 

As someone who is currently in the professional environment, I am learning and experiencing leadership styles amongst teams, managers and executives. A session which strongly resonated with me, was ‘CEO Activism and New Leadership’ featuring CEO of Engie, Isabella Kocher and CEO of Randstad, Jacques van den Broek. 

These two CEOs of leading Fortune 500 companies spoke on the qualities of what makes effective and successful leaders today. In a simplistic view, they are listeners, optimistic, and hardy people. To drive growth and people, they spoke of their belief in the need for purpose, to have courage and be patient, especially if you seek to reform the agenda. Ms Kocher surmised, there is no point being a sole CEO activist, rather those fortunate enough to be in executive positions need to share. Sharing will deliver action and action brings hope and change. 

While these are only a few take aways from day one of our four day opportunity here in Paris, it is clear that this event will have a lasting impact. One that will require me to consider and reflect on how to incorporate emotion for good into my everyday. 

90jours: The innovative smartphone app tackling climate change on a micro-level

Erin Gear, University of South Australia

This year sees the OECD hosting its 20th annual multilateral forum in Paris, which I have so fortunately been able to attend. The OECD is a dynamic intergovernmental organisation comprising of 36 member states that aims to achieve equality and well-being at a global scale by providing the framework to shape better domestic policies.

Highlights from the second day at the OECD Forum included meeting with the Deputy-Secretary General Ulrik Vestergaard-Knudsen in the Chateau, sitting in on discussion panels on the role of media in reinvigorating democracy and achieving the United Nation’s sustainable development goals, as well as meeting with Australian delegate and Deputy Permanent Representative at the OECD, Simon Cramp over lunch.

This year the OECD has placed a particular emphasis on including youth voices in their discussions on preparing for, and safeguarding the future, with twenty-somethings from the likes of Canada, Sweden, Korea, and of course Australia, in attendance. The Forum has been progressive and inclusive between generations, with near equal representation between men and women. This diverse and equitable representation has enabled participants to come together to discuss and produce unbiased and realistic ideas for the future of OECD nation countries.

One aspect of the second day I would like to draw attention to is a session that was not originally on my agenda to attend, but I am so glad I happened upon it. The OECD’s Better Life Index branch hosted a civic innovation hub that provided entrepreneurs with projects in sustainability, equality or inclusivity, a platform to share their work. Elliot Lepers, a digital designer and environmental activist, introduced his enviro-friendly app, 90jours, which challenges and motivates users to practice more sustainable living. Much like the 90-day mindfulness, weight-loss and budgetary challenges we’re all familiar with, 90jours is an app that customises daily eco-friendly challenges based on users’ level of motivation.

More than 600,000 people have already downloaded the app and pledged to take the challenge, which is specifically designed so that users are able to continue practicing their new environmentally sustainable habits. Climate change and the destruction of our environment is an overwhelmingly large and complex issue, and 90jours provides a platform that demystifies it by bringing it to the individual, micro-level, to find solutions in the everyday. The philosophy behind the app is to inform people of better habits for sustainability, and to provide them with the tools to continue on an environmentally-friendly life path. While this app is in French, it has undoubtedly sparked an interest, and English versions are sure to come soon.

In a time of social, economic, political and environmental uncertainty, it has been incredibly uplifting to be able to discuss the direction of the future with innovative, like-minded thinkers at the 2019 OECD Forum.

Reflections from the first two days of the OECD Forum

Stefano Gunawan, University of Melbourne

“The thing that surprised me the most about the growth of the OECD over the last 20 years is how far it’s stretched away from economics. These days we talk about migration, the environment, climate change, jobs, AI; it’s far from being just an economic forum. And in terms of the countries involved, too, the OECD is so open, and even my country too [Peru] is trying hard to get in.”

- a Female OECD attendee in response to the question, ‘What surprises you about the OECD today that wouldn’t have been the case 20 years ago?’

The OECD Forum of 2019 has been a mixed bag. Over two days here, I have attended sessions ranging from Morning Mindfulness and Peace, to Migrants’ Integration, to Artificial Intelligence, to Political Nostalgia and ‘weaponisation of the past’ and so, so many things in between. It has been inspiring, it has been entertaining, and perhaps most importantly, it has been eye-opening. 

In a meeting with the Deputy-Secretary General of the OECD, Mr. Ulrik Vestergaard Knudsen, I put forward the question: “What are the shortfalls of GDP as a measure of wellbeing, and how might that compare to the Bhutanese measure of Gross National Happiness?” In the context of the question I also mention an example put forward by a friend in earlier conversation, that when a car crash happens in society, GDP still goes up, and yet evidently a car crash is not synonymous with increased societal wellbeing. The Deputy Secretary-General responded in kind, “Yes, most certainly, GDP has its shortfalls and it is far, far, far from being an effective measure of wellbeing.”

After some further elaboration, Mr. Ulrik directed my attention to a promising new sector in the OECD, known as NAEC (New Approaches to Economic Challenges). I learn that indeed, people in the OECD are aware of the flaws in our economic measuring system, and know that there must be better ways to track the things that really matter - sense of wellbeing, connectedness to community, satisfaction and fulfilment in life and each own’s life purpose. 

NAEC, admittedly, is just the name of a new OECD department, but for me it touches on perhaps the most important facet of our time: we don’t know how to maximise wellbeing in this crazy and frenetic modern world. We have become swamped by so much digital technology and mass media and smart phone obsession that we just can’t keep up. And yet, in an age characterised (still!) by vast inequality, corruption, climate change, broken systems and mass public distrust, we just can’t afford to waste the time that we presently are; we can’t afford to be measuring things; to be paying attention to things, that don’t actually matter. 

This might sound pessimistic, but it is fair. I think it is for this reason that the range of topics covered at the OECD has been so diverse. It is because we know; everybody knows, that we haven’t figured it out yet. We’re all aware that something needs to change; something big. It’s because of this looming pressure on the great thinkers and actors and policy makers of our time, that this great forum held in Paris each year is so important - it’s because we all need to figure out what to do next.

What’s my takeaway from all this? Keep an open mind, learn new things and stay curious. But perhaps most importantly, in all your efforts to try and make the world a better place, don’t forget to enjoy the process, otherwise you might lose sight of how beautiful life already is.