Today we mark the 58th anniversary of the establishment of the OECD Development Centre, at a time when the world faces health, social and economic crises on a scale it has never seen since the post-war period. COVID-19 is erasing years of development progress and global extreme poverty will rise for the first time in over 20 years, adding as many as 150 million extreme poor by 2021. The work of the Centre has never been more relevant.
An adequate representation of today’s world
In May 1961, John Fitzgerald Kennedy called for the creation of an “inclusive” table, where OECD Members and non-Members would all engage with one another on an equal footing. The OECD Development Centre was born and formally established on 23 October 1962. Since then it has evolved and adapted to a changing world. Quick to recognise fundamental shifts and especially, powerful transformations in the Global South, the Centre was a pioneer in promoting the "voices" of non-OECD countries to address global challenges and advance common interests. Its evolution has been quite visible ever since: from 25 members in 2005 (fewer than the OECD), it has grown to counting over 50 current members. The Centre has also sought to maintain a balanced geographical distribution and today counts 14 Latin American member countries, 11 African, 9 Asian and 22 European countries.
Development strategies that go beyond sectoral policies, underpinned by strong multilateral co-operation
Driven by the knowledge that there is no single path for sustainable development, the Centre has provided an inclusive platform for government and non-governmental actors to discuss their experiences, learn from each other and identify the forms of international co-operation they need for almost six decades now. The renewed multilateralism that the Centre has embraced does not seek to influence developing countries, but rather aims to build consensus on structured policy experimentation, through learning by doing and monitoring among "peers", and ultimately co-create solutions. These experiences have revealed that marginal improvements to existing national sectoral policies are not enough to resolve persisting structural traps and unbearable inequalities among people, regions and countries. And the recent worldwide wave of discontent has further stressed the urgency for shared, strategic and multidimensional long-term visions.
Measuring what we care for
The SDGs illustrate that economic growth and development, although connected, are not synonymous. Indeed, inequalities have reached unbearable levels and prior to today’s crisis, extreme poverty had started to rise again, independently from growth rates. A large part of the criteria for distributing aid is based on calculations relating to GDP. And yet, persisting development traps and threats like global warming or insecurity continue to operate even at high income levels. Development measures need to go beyond GDP. The Centre has been a pioneer in generating indispensable evidence on issues that are “hard to measure” and that aim to improve well-being, leaving no-one behind, above all.
Negotiating a new deal for development
Having demonstrated its capacity to adapt and respond swiftly to new challenges and emergencies, the Centre is ideally positioned to co-design, with its Members, an ambitious response commensurate to this crisis. One that tackles the global challenges of COVID-19 and enables countries at all levels of development to recover and rebuild. For this, we need a New Deal for Development. A deal that places resilience, inclusion and co-responsibility at its core.
Despite these challenging times, let’s take a moment to celebrate these achievements together.
Director of the OECD Development Centre and Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary General on Development