Social and welfare issues

Putting well-being statistics to work to transform policies and change lives


Remarks by Angel Gurría,

Secretary-General, OECD

5th OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy

Guadalajara, Mexico

Tuesday, 13 October 2015



Governor Sandoval, Director of INEGI, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am delighted that you could join us here to open the 5th OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy. I am very glad that this event is taking place in Mexico, a country that is doing great efforts to keep improving its statistics. I would like to thank INEGI and its Director, Dr. Sojo, for all their support throughout the organisation of this event, as well as Governor Sandoval for hosting us.


I would also like to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Angus Deaton who was awarded yesterday the Nobel Prize for Economics for his work analysing ‘consumption, poverty, and welfare’. Angus’ success shows that the kind of work we are doing here at this Forum is making an impact at the very highest level of the economics profession. Angus could not join us today but we are all very pround that he is a member of our High-level Expert Group on Economic Performance and Social Progress (HLEG).



Putting the focus on well-being to overcome deep challenges


Almost eight years on from the greatest economic crisis of our lifetimes, the state of the world’s economy remains extremely fragile. The extraordinary economic expansion seen in emerging markets over recent years, which has for so long acted as the motor of the global economy, has begun to falter. Whilst many advanced economies remain stuck in low gear.


This is happening against a backdrop of high unemployment, especially among the youth, and with little manoeuvre on the fiscal front to provide support to the most vulnerable. The social scars of the crisis will take a long time to heal.


But reviving growth alone is not the answer. Our recent publication, In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All, shows that in the last three decades, the bottom 40% have hardly benefitted at all from economic growth in many countries, and in some cases low earners have even seen their incomes fall in real terms. When such a large group of the population gains so little from economic growth, it is clearly time for a change.


And all of this is taking place as the carbon clock ticks down to a potential environmental disaster. At COP21 in December we face an era-defining moment: if we do not reach a meaningful agreement in Paris, to keep global temperature rises below 2°C by the end of the century, we countenance the very real prospect of climate change on a catastrophic scale, that will cause untold damage not just to our natural environment, but to people’s lives and our economies.  


But we now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to take action. The Sustainable Development Goal Agenda (SDGs), adopted last month by 193 countries, provides the international community with a bold and comprehensive framework to end poverty, and to chart a more prosperous, inclusive and sustainable future for all.


The SDGs keep the necessary focus on poverty reduction, but also encompass all the major social, environmental and economic aspects of people’s well-being and the requirements for a healthy and sustainable planet. The SDGs embody universal aspirations, and it is the shared responsibility of countries at all levels of development to ensure their implementation.


By any standards, that is some to-do list. But rather than being intimidated by the size of the task at hand we need to take action. And each of you seated here in this room today has an important role to play.



The OECD is playing a vital part


At the OECD we have been at the fore of efforts to change the way things are done. For over a decade, the OECD World Forums have led the drive to put well-being at the heart of policy-making. By underscoring the role of statistics in shaping action, we have driven a re-orientation of policies to look ‘beyond GDP’ to focus on the many aspects of well-being that matter in people’s lives.


In 2011, we launched the Better Life Initiative to make well-being measurement and analysis a core output of our work. And later today, I will launch the third edition of our flagship publication of well-being measurement, How’s Life?


The third edition of How’s Life?, underlines that the impacts of the crisis in the worst affected countries were not limited to stagnant incomes and higher unemployment, but were borne out in lower life satisfaction, lower trust in institutions, and stalled fertility rates.


The report also casts light on the enormous inequalities that exist in people’s well-being. Strikingly, it highlights how better-educated people tend to live longer, and that at age 30, tertiary-educated men in the OECD can expect to live anything from 4 to 18 years longer than their primary-educated neighbours!


That is clearly not acceptable. But know what’s wrong is just the first step. If we truly want to change people’s lives for the better, we also have to transform the way we design policy. We need new tools and approaches, to avoid repeating old mistakes.



We’ll need new tools and approaches


At the OECD, we are acutely aware of this, which is why we have been pioneering different ways of doing things with our work on  (NAEC) and our All on Board for Inclusive Growth initiative which both seek to analyse complex multidimensional policy settings to highlight potential trade-offs and synergies between different policy goals.  We have also launched a major project on job quality, and we use our well-being framework in a range of analysis including Economic Country Reviews, Regional Well-being analysis, and Multidimensional Country Reviews of countries such as Myanmar, Uruguay, Peru, Kasakhstan or Morocco.


Going forwards, the SDGs present us with a gilt-edged chance to put well-being at the heart of policy making. At the OECD, we are taking the responsibility of the SDGs very seriously and we are committed to being a key partner in achieving these ambitious goals. The breadth of our work, and the relevance of our expertise to all seventeen of the SDGs, means we are ideally placed to help countries implement new policies and monitor the world’s progress towards the 2030 deadline.


In promoting a policy process which has well-being at its heart, it is also important that countries count on each other too. We all have a lot to learn from each other, which is why events such as this Forum are so important. For the next three days, we will be hearing from people from a diverse range of experiences from around the world, showcasing how new approaches are being made a reality in different sectors and in different national contexts.



Merece lo que sueñas


I cannot think of a better place to do this than in my home country of Mexico. We thank President Peña Nieto and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Antonio Meade, for proposing Mexico as a host. Mexico has been an active member of the OECD for over two decades now, and is engaged in work across the board to improve the well-being of its people and the functioning of its institutions.


Pioneering partnerships have been established with Mexican regions such as Chihuahua, Morelos, the Valle de México Metropolitan Area, and Tlaxcala and Puebla, to apply the OECD Regional Well-being framework to policy-making in practice. Jalisco has been a key partner in the organisation of this Forum and we also hope to start working with them on these issues.


INEGI will tomorrow launch their website Measuring Regional Well-being in Mexican States, in collaboration with the OECD. The results make for compelling reading - the difference between the best and worst performing states in life expectancy is 4 years, while those in the richest states are 7 times more likely to complete their education than those in the poorest ones. These data will be of great use to stimulate and design policies that improve the well-being of Mexicans.


Ladies and Gentlemen,


Transforming policy to change lives means reforming institutions and political structures that have been with us for a long time. This is no easy task. But what is valuable is never easy. As Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz once said: “Deserve your dream”.


At the OECD, we are dreaming big, now together let’s put in the work to make sure we build better policies for better lives today and for the future generations.


Thank you.