Innovative Approaches to Poverty Reduction, Social Cohesion and Progress in a Post-2015 World


Remarks by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, delivered at the Global Forum on Development 2013

Paris, 4 April 2013
(As prepared for delivery)

President Obasanjo, Ministers, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to the OECD and to this very timely Global Forum on Development. This year’s meeting is taking place at a critical moment in time. The global community is looking beyond the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) into a Post-2015 world, at a time when we are beginning to see a positive, albeit fragile, outlook for the global economy.

In this complex international context, we have organised this Forum to bring you together – the experts, stakeholders and policy-makers – in an inclusive exercise which aims to advance our common development goals, promote a better understanding of the current shifting dynamics of poverty, and explore ways forward.

A more ambitious Post-2015 vision.

We are fast approaching a critical juncture. Over the next two years, the international community will seek to reach agreement on issues of major global relevance for humanity. Some of the most important include the global development framework to follow the MDGs, the follow-up to Rio+20, and the financing for a development agenda.

It is therefore crucial that we work together to put forth a new and more ambitious vision for a Post-2015 development world. In our view, this new vision needs to be global, holistic, measurable and meaningful.

“Global” because the developing and the developed divisions between North and South no longer reflect our growing interdependencies. “Holistic” because we must address both the sustainable development goals and the poverty and human development agenda. “Measurable and meaningful” so that we can achieve high levels of transparency, hold ourselves accountable in our future actions, and focus on outcomes geared towards improving peoples’ lives.

Over the next three years, the Global Forum on Development will devote its work to shaping the Post-2015 agenda. The OECD’s Development Strategy (adopted in 2012) can be of great help to move in this direction, as it provides the necessary tools to strengthen evidence-based dialogue and knowledge sharing, and to mainstream development into all the strands of the OECD’s work.


Important progress in fighting poverty.

The 8 MDGs established over a decade ago provided us with a clear roadmap, targets and common goals. Undoubtedly, we have made significant progress on reaching many of these goals. Poverty has declined globally. Thanks to sustained economic growth, innovative policies and a remarkable contribution by migrant workers and remittances, there are 620 million fewer extremely poor people in the world today than in 1990.

We are better equipped today than in 2000 to tackle poverty. Brazil, Bangladesh, and my own country, Mexico, pioneered innovative approaches to target poor households, like the cash-transfer programmes Progresa and Oportunidades; similar programmes have also been replicated in Kenya, Yemen and Cambodia.

Access to health has also improved:  the number of deaths of children under the age of five declined from 12 million in 1990 to 7 million in 2011. This figure is still unacceptably high, but progress is undeniable. According to the UN, the number of worldwide AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.7 million in 2011, down from 2.3 million in 2005.

We have also witnessed that well-designed social protection programmes produce a wide range of positive outcomes, such as increased nutrition and food security and improved school enrolment, to name but a few. These are remarkable achievements, but they are definitely no cause for complacency.


In spite of all this progress, we are facing huge challenges.

Economic growth has played a major role in lifting people out of poverty. However, there is increasing evidence that many of these people did not move up to the middle classes but into an intermediate state of “vulnerability”. According to World Bank estimates, globally there are about 4.2 billion people living on less than 5 dollars a day.

Poverty continues to affect millions of people around the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa, half of the population still lives on less than $1.25 a day. Access to basic services still remains a serious global challenge; close to 2.4 billion people around the world lack proper sanitation facilities, and 1.1 billion people lack a safe source of drinking water.

Economic growth has not automatically translated into job creation. The numbers of informal, poor quality jobs remain high in many developing countries. The youth are particularly affected. In Africa, they represent 60% of the total unemployed.

Furthermore, the distribution of wealth remains quite unequal. Our Perspectives on Global Development report reveals that inequality within developing countries has decreased but it is often still at very high levels. This is a concern for OECD and emerging economies as well. Data from our Divided We Stand report showed that in Mexico and Chile the richest 10% of the population have incomes 27 times those of the poorest 10%; while in Brazil this ratio stands at 50 to1.

Our efforts to curb poverty are also being threatened by climate change. Our Environmental Outlook to 2050 rang the alarm bell on the non sustainability of our current growth model. And according to the UN Human Development Report 2013, the number of people living in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless urgent action is taken to tackle environmental challenges.

And most of these numbers still do not account for the social impact of the crisis. Although the crisis did not originate in developing countries, their economies and labour markets have not remained unaffected. The rapid rise in global unemployment has triggered an increase in vulnerability, especially in developing countries without comprehensive social protection.


So we still have a long way to go.

Poverty reduction is still an enormous challenge and it must remain at the heart of any future development framework. But we must look at poverty through a new lens that sees beyond absolute income poverty and considers other dimensions that matter to people. These include the ability to participate in social life, access to justice and community support, and fighting inequality among others.

The OECD has been looking at poverty in a more comprehensive manner. We are developing new ways to measure well-being and progress both in terms of average achievements and inequalities.  In this respect, our Better Life Initiative plays a critical role in the international dimension of “well-being”, going beyond income poverty to account for other basic needs, such as access to quality education and healthcare, the availability of clean air and water, the support of the community and life satisfaction.   

The interplay of social inclusion, mobility and social capital, or what we call “social cohesion is also a useful approach to measure and address poverty. The OECD is making a contribution in this area, both in OECD countries (where our work with Korea is a key example) and in developing countries (where the first Social Cohesion Policy Review for Vietnam is another key example).

Embracing a new approach to growth is also crucialA considerable amount of work is currently being done at the OECD and around the globe on achieving sustainable and green growth. The focus of green growth strategies is to ensure that natural assets can deliver their full economic potential on a sustainable basis. It is a practical and flexible way of achieving concrete and measurable progress along economic and environmental lines.

We are exploring also new ways to make growth more inclusive. The OECD is launching an important initiative on that supports our work on New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) and promises to lead the way towards a new economic paradigm that is truly inclusive: pro-growth and pro-people. And we are helping countries to better equip their people for the 21st Century with tools like PISA and initiatives like our Skills Strategy.

Implementing the necessary changes in these areas requires good data and information. Only through measuring progress and through sharing best practices we can accurately analyse and fine-tune our policies and their effectiveness. For this we will need to further strengthen national statistical capacities in a number of countries. And of course we are very happy to host PARIS21 today, a global partnership of many international organisations, developed and developing countries aimed at strengthening the statistical capacities of low-income countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Our rapidly evolving and interdependent world, with its complex emerging challenges, creates a necessity for us to act with a renewed sense of drive and responsibility. We have an obligation to explore new ways of developing and implementing targeted policies. In designing a Post-2015 world let’s target inclusive, green and sustainable growth; let’s devote more attention to higher standards and to outcomes that improve the quality of people’s lives.

There is an emerging convergence on what the goals for a new development framework should be; we should, therefore, now double our efforts on achieving them. The OECD, as always, stands ready to work with you to make it happen.

I wish you a productive Forum. Thank you.


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