The Future of Well-being


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

6th OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy

Incheon, Korea - Tuesday 27 November 2018

(As prepared for delivery) 



Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the 6th OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy. Allow me to begin by thanking Statistics Korea, and Commissioner Kang Shin-wook, for the excellent co-operation in organising and co-hosting this event. And, of course, thank you also to Deputy Prime Minister Kim Dong-yeon, as this Forum would not have been possible without the generous support of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.


Korea has consistently positioned itself at the leading edge of societal and technological change. Nowhere is that more visible than here in Incheon, an ultra-modern, forward-looking city by the sea. I’d like to thank Mayor Park Nam-choon for the warm welcome to this city.


We have made progress in our efforts to go beyond GDP

We have come so far since the first World Forum in Palermo 14 years ago. The OECD has not only developed new well-being metrics on GDP and beyond and the Better Life Index, it has also mainstreamed well-being across every aspect of our work. Look at the New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) and the Inclusive Growth initiatives, the OECD Action Plan on the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Going Digital horizontal project. The Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) commitment to “leave no-one behind” shows the extent to which going GDP and beyond has gone global.


However, we are in the midst of a complex moment for international co-operation. Our countries face important cross-border challenges like digitalisation, climate change and demographic change, to mention a few. At the same time, in an era of overwhelming information and the proliferation of fake news and unfounded political statements, we need to keep strengthening and modernising our statistical tools and capacities. We have to stand strong, including at the multilateral level, to keep pushing our measures and indicators that inform on real people’s conditions on GDP and beyond.


This Forum focuses on three critical trends that will determine the success of countries in delivering well-being - the digital revolution, the new modes of governance, and the role of the private sector as an important actor for ensuring sustainable and inclusive well-being. Let me address each in turn. 


Digitalisation is touching almost every aspect of our lives. New technologies are transforming how we engage with the labour market, with society and with public services. Recent OECD research has found that around one-half of all people across the OECD have accessed public services or health information online. Digitalisation is enabling one-fourth of all workers in the OECD to work remotely, and e-health technologies have the potential to transform patients’ experiences and health outcomes.


But it is also exposing people to new risks in terms of privacy, cybersecurity, misinformation and addiction-forming content. Children are particularly vulnerable. OECD data has found that a quarter of 15-year olds, on average, spend more than six hours a day on the Internet on any given weekend, and around one-in-ten say they have been a victim of cyber-bullying. This is alarming.


In terms of the future of work, digitalisation is bringing disruption that will impact well-being. About 14% of jobs across the OECD are estimated to be at a high risk of automation, and an additional third of all jobs are likely to change significantly in the way they are carried out, with the low skilled most at risk. Basically one-half of the workforce will suffer some kind of disruption.


These trends present challenges for well-being, which is why the OECD has identified indicators, experiences, integrated strategies, and innovative policy practices to harness the digital revolution for growth and well-being through our new Jobs Strategy, our National Skills Strategies and our Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth.


Ensuring that no-one is left behind will also pay huge trust dividends and enable new modes of governance for a complex world. Trust is essential for well-being and governance: trust in government, trust in public services and authorities, trust in safety standards and regulations, trust in the banks and the global economic system as a whole. However trust has plummeted. Only 43% of the citizens in the OECD trust their government. And in more than half of OECD countries, trust in government has fallen since 2005. Distrust breeds a feeling of being powerless and of being disconnected from society. One-third of the people in the OECD feel they don’t have a say in what their governments do.


To restore trust, governments need to invest in the regions and places that have been left behind. They will also need to take account of the less well-measured aspects of well-being – such as dignity, respect and recognition – and address the challenges involved in measuring these. It is by exploring these issues that we will find tools and modes of action that will “empower” citizens and restore their sense of being in control of their lives.


This is what the OECD’s Trustlab project is all about. It is providing new measures of trust and its determinants, allowing to explore the ways in which governments need to operate differently to regain citizens’ confidence. Trustlab experiments, which compare people’s responses to survey questions with their behaviour in experimental games, shows that the values and intentions that guide government action – and in particular integrity and fairness – are amongst the most important drivers of trust in public institutions.


Building on these findings, the Forum will provide the OECD with a valuable opportunity to deepen its reflection on the role of the State and Society in the 21st Century. Understanding and measuring social and psychological drivers of trust can open up new means of action for governments and help rethink and strengthen the ‘social contract’ in the age of globalisation and digital change.


Last but not least, I want to address the key role which the private sector plays in shaping people’s well-being. We need businesses on board. The discharge of corporate responsibilities will help define our success for the future of well-being.


Companies that focus on the well-being of their workers, of their consumers, of their suppliers, of the environment, and of the communities in which they operate, are visionaries. More needs to be done to improve corporate governance and strengthen responsible business conduct. Tools such as the OECD/G20 Principles on Corporate Governance, the OECD Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises and the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Business Conduct are already helping many firms make important strides forward.


Just two weeks ago, in partnership with BSR and Danone, we launched the OECD Business for Inclusive Growth Platform, to facilitate the dialogue between companies and governments and to promote a business model that places people’s well-being at its heart. We have been working also with the business community on a project for Measuring the Impacts of Business on Well-being, a key pillar of the Platform. I invite all the businesses represented here to join us in this mission to improve the future.  


Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Forum is about the future. It is about exploring where we could find ourselves in 5, 10 or 15 years. Therefore I encourage you all – speakers and participants – to think through what the future could look like for well-being. Ask yourselves how the world could look different from today and different from what we are already expecting. Adopt a strategic foresight mind-set and imagine a range of plausible future scenarios to help us see beyond our current assumptions. By exploring the future (and its potential surprises) we can generate new thinking about the measures and policies needed to improve well-being in a rapidly changing and uncertain world.


In the words of the North American novelist, William Gibson, “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”. We have to ensure that new technologies benefit everybody! This means empowering people with skills and opportunity; it means making well-being the ultimate goal of our policy.


As the world changes around us, we need new ways of measuring, thinking and acting. We need strengthened international co-operation and coordination not just on the policies themselves but on how we measure the success of those policies based on their impact on well-being.


The OECD stands ready to help governments and businesses shape the future of well-being, by designing, developing and delivering better data for better policies and better lives. Thank you.




See also:

OECD work with Korea

OECD work on Statistics



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