2021 New Year’s Wishes, by the Secretary-General of the OECD


Remarks by Angel Gurría, Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, 29 January 2020
Watch Video recording of the speech

Dear Ambassadors, dear Deputy Secretaries-General, Juan, Rafal, dear Directors, Chair of the Staff Association, Representatives of BIAC and TUAC, dear colleagues past and present:

Every year at this time, it is pleasure to address the entire OECD family in order to take stock of the year gone by, and to usher in the year ahead.

And what a year 2020 was. In our hearts and minds, it will forever be remembered as one of the most difficult and demanding years we have ever experienced.

Back in January 2020, in last year’s address to all staff, we did not imagine the colossal challenge that was about to rattle our lives. We were rolling out our plans for the year, when the most severe pandemic in a century hit our countries and our Organisation head on.

The crisis had a dramatic impact on our economies and societies. The numbers are sobering. In 2020, the global economy contracted by 4.2%, with some of our Member countries facing double-digit contractions; global value chains got interrupted; all the jobs that had been created since the 2008 crisis were wiped out; and tragically, global poverty and extreme poverty started growing again, after 20 years of continued progress.

The OECD adjusted rapidly to the crisis. We closed our Conference Centre, forbid public meetings, put external visits on hold, cancelled missions and travel. We sent our people to work from home, putting their health first.

Luckily, we have not registered any human loss among OECD staff, although some of our colleagues did experience painful losses among their families and friends. I would like us to observe a moment of silence in their honour, and all those in France and around the world – over 2 million – who have been victims of the pandemic.

Thanks to your determination and skills, we adapted to working in emergency mode. Almost overnight, we executed the most spectacular transition to a fully virtual Organisation. We overcame fear and logistical complications and provided continuity and renewed relevance to our work.

I want to thank you for that extraordinary effort. For it was you who kept this ship cruising the storm at full speed; it was you who transcended uncertainty and difficulties to help our Members and partners. I know that teleworking has been challenging for many of you. With the help of our corporate surveys, we have been looking at ways to support your well-being.

The OECD was one of the first international organisations to react to the pandemic and its policy challenges, by launching a Digital Hub on Tackling the Coronavirus, providing a single entry point to the OECD’s analysis on the economic and social impacts of COVID-19. To date, we have published 173 policy briefs and 11 statements in virtually all areas of our work. We also provided technical advice to our Member countries through targeted high-level briefings.

We kept our Committees, special bodies and networks sizzling. Last year, we held 350 committee meetings; we held almost 35,000 zoom sessions with a staggering 835,000 participants; we launched over 380 publications, including 17 Economic Surveys.

We also organised, under Spain’s leadership, three Ministerial Council Roundtables to contribute to the very successful Ministerial Council Meeting (MCM) on “The Path to Recovery: strong, resilient, green and inclusive”. Our MCM, chaired by Spain with Chile, Japan and New Zealand as vice chairs, was attended by a record number of ministers, and resulted in the first unanimously adopted Ministerial Council Statement in four years.

The Statement acknowledged the importance of our work and asked the OECD to develop policies for a strong, resilient, sustainable and inclusive recovery. It also provided for the creation of an indicator dashboard that could go beyond GDP and integrate factors related to sustainability, inclusion and well-being.

We launched the OECD Centre on Well-being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (WISE); we strengthened our collaboration with the G20; we reached an agreement on our Budget for the biennium as well as on the respective budget allocations and, with the invaluable support of the Staff Association and its Chair, agreed on a fair and reasonable framework for the salary adjustments of 2021/22.

We also commemorated the 60th Anniversary of the signing of the OECD Convention, with the physical participation of President Macron of France, President Sánchez of Spain, President Michel of the European Council and Audrey Azoulay, the Director General of UNESCO. She was joined by UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for Social and Human Sciences, our former colleague Gabriela Ramos, who helped build the OECD of today in her 20 years of hard and creative work for the Organisation. More than 100 other Leaders, heads of international organisations and stakeholders joined us virtually from around the globe.

And we kept the OECD going and delivering. We welcomed 35 Leaders – virtually and physically. I delivered 303 speeches and video-messages, and participated in 28 meetings with IGOs, 16 meetings with civil society, 6 meetings with foundations and 6 BIAC/TUAC meetings. Overall, I attended over 600 meetings with Leaders, Ministers and other high-level officials and senior decision-makers. Quite a year!

Now we are facing a New Year with plenty of paradoxes, full of hope and uncertainty; eagerness and fatigue; a return to growth and threats to the well-being of many; an unprecedented demand for effective governments and persisting low levels of trust in our authorities. Thus, 2021 may seem unpredictable, but we will make it a big year for multilateralism, and a decisive year for the OECD.

In 2021, we will help countries develop and improve their vaccination programmes and hopefully reach an international agreement for safe international mobility. We will help governments strengthen their health systems; support SMEs and entrepreneurship; redesign their labour and social protection policies to support the most vulnerable; accelerate the economic empowerment of women; support skills and jobs for youth; adapt immigration and integration policies to the new COVID-19 era; revamp education policies to support the learning of students during the health crisis; reset digital policies to drive the recovery and prevent the COVID-19 crisis from widening inequalities; advance human-centric artificial intelligence; and reach an agreement on the taxation of the digital economy by mid-year.

We will help governments improve their services, their integrity, and their efficiency, to recover the trust of the people. We will help build the foundations for a new social contract and a new model of progress integrating economic with social and environmental considerations. We will help governments revamp their development policies and align their recovery measures with their environmental objectives and their international commitments.
And remember, while our most urgent task is to help countries fight the pandemic and plan the recovery, our single most important intergenerational responsibility is to preserve and protect the planet. Thus, we will support our Members, led by France, to launch a new whole-of-house initiative called the International Programme for Action on Climate (IPAC), while continuing to work against biodiversity loss and environmental degradation.

And we will keep opening to the world and deliver on the much-delayed next round of enlargement. Six countries have been waiting for many years for our members to let them start the process of accession. We cannot make them wait any longer. We do so at our peril.

Dear colleagues, dear friends,

This is the last time I deliver my New Year’s wishes to all staff. I take this opportunity to encourage you to preserve and strengthen the pillars that have given this Organisation its current global significance and utility.

I am certain that the next Secretary-General will do a great job leading this Organisation into the future, under the guidance of our Ambassadors, the Council, the Standing Committees and the Specialised Committees, to whom I would like to express my deepest appreciation and gratitude. But it is you, the staff, the foundations, the roots, who have the knowledge, the experience, the story, the know-how, of the transformation of this Organisation. Because you are that transformation.

Every day I learn something new from what you do. Every day you come up with new approaches, new ways, new analyses, new solutions. Every day I am in awe of what the OECD achieves. What you achieve. Every day I feel lucky to lead the OECD.

Thanks to you, we have become more global, more inclusive, more relevant.

Thanks to you, we have become more agile, more horizontal, more proactive.

Thanks to you, we are now among the leading international organisations in the development of a new economic paradigm, focused on people, well-being, inclusion and sustainability.

I encourage you to protect this legacy, to make it better and to make it matter. I invite you to keep that critical and innovative thinking; to continue deepening and broadening the essence of this Organisation. I invite you to keep making that extra effort to disseminate your most meaningful work, by connecting with Leaders, Ministers, Parliaments, businesses, trade unions, civil society, to turn our advice into policies, reforms, and new realities.

Always remember: for your work and advice to have meaning, it must be transformed into public policies. Always remember: we are a “do tank”. And always remember: our motto is “better policies for better lives.”

Dear colleagues,

The pandemic brought fear and paralysis, but it has also opened fields for renewal; it taught us humility and revealed our vulnerabilities, and the power of solidarity, dialogue and co-operation; it exposed the indivisible unity between nature and humanity; and, most importantly, it proved that many things we took for granted – the way we work, produce, consume, travel, finance, teach – must be reinvented, must be reformed, must be improved. As Pablo Neruda wrote once: “There are wounds that instead of opening our skin, open our eyes”.

So let’s make 2021 the year to build back better, the year to connect economics and people, productivity and inclusiveness, innovation and nature.

May you and your beloved ones stay safe in a happier and brighter 2021!


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