Remarks by Angel Gurría,
Be'er Sheva, Israel, 1 February 2016
(As prepared for delivery)
Minister Steinitz, Professor Carmi, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to receive this Ben-Gurion Leadership Award.
I know that I am joining a small, and exceptionally distinguished circle, including President Shimon Peres, whom I have welcomed personally to the OECD in Paris. A giant of international diplomacy, a fighter for peace and prosperity. To be invited to follow in his footsteps, in his own country, is an honour that will stay with me for many years to come. I send him my best wishes for a full and speedy recovery.
I am also touched because it is the year that we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Israel’s membership of the OECD. The accession of Israel to the OECD was a very important achievement of my first mandate. This award constitutes a symbol of our enduring friendship, and our shared commitment to a prosperous and inclusive Israel.
In these short five years, Israel has become an important contributor to the OECD’s work. Its expertise on key areas of our economies, like water management, “clean tech”, innovation and entrepreneurship, has become a source of best practices.
We have even worked together on "Clean-Tech Clustering as an Engine for Local Development" here in the Negev Region, underpinned by the research capacity and quality at Ben-Gurion University.
The OECD and Israel also worked together on “Employment and Skills Strategies in Israel”, a report we launched last year, to help disadvantaged groups access labour market opportunities, to deliver more sustainable and inclusive growth.
And we are working closely to complement GDP figures with indicators of well-being. We share the strong conviction that any understanding of progress, whether it be social progress or economic progress, has to be about well-being. This was one of the lessons of the crisis. But to promote well-being we have to be able to measure it. Break it down into multiple dimensions. And compare it.
In December 2012, the Israeli government adopted a resolution to develop indicators on well-being, sustainability and national resilience. The OECD helped shape this agenda, through our Better Life Index (BLI), and has been at Israel’s side throughout.
Just yesterday I had the privilege to launch a new OECD report with the Minister of Environmental Protection, Avi Gabei, called “Measuring and Assessing Well-being in Israel”. This provides an international baseline allowing Israel to compare its performance with that of other OECD countries across the 11 dimensions included in the OECD's well-being framework, and makes recommendations on how Israel could raise its scores in ways that would also yield more inclusive growth.
I mention all this, not only to emphasise the extent and the depth of our relationship with Israel, but also because these areas have been cornerstones of my own leadership of the Organisation and of my vision for its future.
And leadership is what this award recognises. I am deeply gratified and touched by this honour because I see it as an endorsement of that vision, for a more global, more relevant, more far-reaching OECD; one that can learn the lessons of the crisis and redefine the growth narrative, reverse the growing inequality and put the well-being of people at the centre of our efforts.
Throughout my more than 45 years as a public servant, from my first very modest jobs at the Mexican petroleum and electricity state companies to my years as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance, and now at the OECD, I have learned the value of leadership, the need for strong and accountable leadership to make a difference, to improve the world, to turn great ideas into policies and reforms and then to turn those reforms into new realities. To reform the reforms. To make reform a state of mind, a way of life.
Leadership is also key to upholding one of the most precious assets that a country can have: trust. Trust is the cornerstone of effective governance, the main ingredient to promote economic growth and social progress. But like never before, our countries are running dry of this precious asset. Like never before, our citizens have doubts about their government’s capacities to make the right decisions, to address MY problems! And like never before, we need effective, tireless, committed leadership to recover that confidence.
And to do that we also need our leaders to promote progress through more inclusive growth. Inequalities are undermining our economic systems and our social fabric.
In OECD countries the average income of the richest 10% is now almost 10 times that of the poorest 10%. 25 years ago, it was 7 times: that’s a 40% increase in one generation. Here in Israel the latest figure stands at almost 15 times. And, here, like in my own country, Mexico, around 20% of the population was classified as ‘income poor’.
This is not only a human tragedy, it’s also increasingly evident that it’s bad for economic growth. Armed with this insight, the OECD has been leading the way to understand, measure and promote better quality growth, more inclusive growth.
Both our New Approaches to Economic Challenges Initiative (NAEC), which we created in 2012, and our Inclusive Growth Initiative draw lessons from the crisis and propose a new type of growth, focused on people's well-being, on the planet's sustainability, on reducing the gender gap and integrating vulnerable groups.
We are helping countries achieve inclusive growth by measuring and promoting skills; skills; skills, through our Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and our Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC); through our flagship Skills Outlook and through our targeted support for national skills strategies, such as the report on Employment and Skills Strategies mentioned earlier that we just produced with Israel.
We have also been working intensely to help address issues high on the global agenda: informing and shaping the debate on migration, showing that migration is an asset, not a liability. Israel is an example! We have delivered an overhaul of the global taxation architecture, through our Base Erosion and Profit-Shifting Project (BEPS), endorsed by G20 Leaders in Antalya last November, and through our new global standard for the automatic exchange of information between tax authorities worldwide. In 2016, we will be working together with particular intensity in the areas of responsible business conduct as well as in anti-corruption efforts to improve global governance.
We are happy to have Israel, who sits on over 150 OECD bodies and committees, working with us in all these areas.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This recognition from Ben-Gurion University gives me the encouragement and determination to continue taking the OECD in new directions, to continue growing our membership, to continue going beyond GDP, to continue empowering people with education and skills, to continue tackling inequality, to continue recovering the trust of our citizens.
I accept this award on behalf of all my colleagues in the OECD who work day in and day out to drive this vision forward. We will keep working with Israel, to ensure that this aspiration for a more inclusive society can become a reality.