Launch of the OECD WISE Centre, 25 November 2020


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

Paris, France, 25 November 2020

Your Royal Highness Princess Laurentien, Ministers, Distinguished guests,

This is a milestone moment. After years of hard work, we are launching the new OECD Centre on Well-Being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (WISE).

This launch comes at a particularly difficult time for our economies and societies. The COVID-19 pandemic is the worst health, economic and social crisis in our lifetime. The latest OECD projections suggest that the global economy will contract by 4.5% in 2020.

The crisis has hit labour markets hard, wiping out the jobs made since the Global Financial Crisis. By April 2020, the unemployment rate for the OECD had reached 8.5% - the highest in a decade. In September, at 7.3%, it was still close to 2 percentage points above its pre-crisis February levels. And this was before additional measures were taken to contain the second wave of the pandemic.

The crisis has increased hardship for the most vulnerable. Across the OECD, 22% of children from the lowest socio-economic background did not have access to Internet during lockdowns. The burden of unemployment has been unevenly distributed. Young people are currently twice more likely to be unemployed than the general population. Women are over-represented in the most affected sectors and bear the brunt of accrued care responsibilities. The low-educated are similarly exposed.

Emerging evidence also points to worrying trends in social connectedness, psychological well-being and mental health. Around 31% of people in OECD countries live alone and have most likely been confined alone. Between April and October, around 20% of residents in OECD countries reported feeling anxious, depressed, and having little pleasure in doing things nearly every day.

The sense of having strong social support is generally lower among older populations. Older people are thus more exposed to the physical and social risks created by COVID-19.

To support these vulnerable groups, it is imperative that we ‘Build Back Better’. At our 2020 Ministerial Council Meeting, OECD members committed to ensuring an inclusive, green and resilient recovery.

Multidimensional tools, like the OECD Well-Being Framework, are essential to tackle these challenges. So are multidisciplinary perspectives. Public health responses to COVID-19, for instance, have increasingly relied on collaboration between epidemiologists, economists, data and behavioural scientists.

WISE is conducting a high-frequency evidence scan of the impacts of COVID-19. With this more granular picture, policy-makers can design better responses and long-term strategies for building more resilient societies. WISE is also working on the impact that the pandemic is having on people’s perceptions of inequalities. Doing so will help us better understand how people’s expectations, demands and priorities are evolving and make public acceptability a key part of our recovery strategies, where Governments must remain ambitious.

As mandated by OECD Ministers at the last Ministerial meeting, we need a dashboard of high-quality indicators to monitor the post-crisis recovery and ensure we invest in the areas with the greatest social returns.

Stronger partnerships with the private sector are vital to effectively deliver public goods. And we will also need to recognise the key role that citizens and social partners have played in combatting the pandemic and to listen to their demands.

WISE will contribute to these objectives. It will extend pioneering OECD analysis on inequalities, child well-being, the multidimensional impact of policies and the public acceptability of reforms. It will contribute to better connect public policies and business action and improving the measurement of social impact by working with innovative platforms such as B4IG and the Inclusive Growth Financing Forum.

Last but not least, WISE will contribute to the UN 2030 Agenda by carrying forward OECD work on Measuring Distance to SDG targets and collaborating with our Development Cluster to support well-being and inclusive growth agendas beyond OECD membership.

All this work will be overseen and guided by two bodies: the OECD Committee on Statistics and Statistical Policy and the OECD Employment Labour and Social Affairs Committee.

Esteemed guests,

The creation of WISE comes at a historic moment. Its work and analysis will be paramount in helping us tackle the many challenges we face and deliver policies that are economically sound, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable.

New realities demand new ideas, new institutions, new tools.

WISE is the OECD’s response to such demands.

Thank you.


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