Opening Remarks at the 30th Annual Meeting of DevCom

Remarks delivered in Paris on November 21, 2018.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you to the 2018 Annual Meeting of the OECD Development Communication Network – DevCom. It’s great to see such an experienced group of campaigners and communicators here today.

This meeting marks the 30th anniversary of the first DevCom meeting held in Ottawa, Canada, in 1988. This “birthday” is a much-needed testament to the value of multilateralism, of mutual learning– all of which form the backbone of the OECD.

And this reminder comes at a critical time as multilateralism is under intense pressure. We’re feeling it at the OECD as other IOs and multilateral fora are struggling to make concrete progress as we might once have done.

We’re seeing countries opting for isolationist rhetoric and intolerance, rather than international co-operation.

With rising global inequalities, we’re also seeing citizens losing trust in institutions because they do not believe status quo forms of governance can deliver for them.

Our world is becoming multi-polar and multi-actor, but many of the new players do not feel included in global processes.

All of this has provoked deep reflections at the OECD:

We have been advocating the need to rethink the growth model and move away from grow-first-distribute-later attitudes: growth must be more inclusive and focused on wellbeing, not just income. We must ensure that the benefits of globalisation are more widely shared.

Our Inclusive Growth Initiatives and New Approaches to Economic Challenges offer alternative models and solutions.

But it would be a mistake to only rethink what we communicate—we must also adapt how we communicate in a more modern world characterized by digitalization.

Digital communication provides us with around-the-clock access to unprecedented amounts of information. One quick search or click and we are inundated with stories, opinions, thoughts about any topic of interest. When researching a subject for a school report, children anecdotally report anxiety as they do not know where to finish their research, they can just keep clicking on more links that provide a never-ending stream of information.

However, digital communication also plays a role in facilitating the isolationist and distrustful sentiments I just mentioned. Today, there is little oversight of what is read and communicated digitally, often leading to misinformation and confirmation of specific biases. At best, fact-checking is often skipped in the interests of time, or at worst, is purposefully left out to manipulate messages or spread untruths.

Social networks produce echo-chambers where individuals can surround themselves with like-minded others, filtering out information or facts that may prove contradictory to their world views or come from the particular “experts” they feel have left them behind. It is not that people do not what to listen to what it is “true’”, it is often that the lines between fact and fiction become blurred.

These echo-chambers provide comfort for those who feel left out, face inequality of income and opportunities, and generally do not trust institutions that are meant to be providing for them. If we are honest, we are all members of certain echo-chambers.

But they also create fertile ground for populism and extreme messages, as these messages can often be packaged in overly-simplistic, bite-size pieces easy to understand and share.

This can create barriers to international cooperation, social cohesion, and political stability.

Let’s take one of the most heated policy debates as an example: migration. Earlier this year, I launched a network of organisations seeking to communicate better about migration. According to a 2017 Ipsos poll, only 21% of citizens think immigration has a positive effect on their country.

38% believe their country should close its borders to refugees entirely. [1]All this despite OECD data and analysis showing that when effectively managed, migration can have a very positive effect on societies and economies.

Another example where we see the power of misinformation and manipulation of non-facts is Brexit. As a Mexican I can clearly see the benefits of the European Union, but it was clear that the communication in the run up to the UK Referendum was complex for people to understand, and only overly-simplistic arguments were able to cut through.

In both cases clearer communication about the benefits of migration and the European Union could have been used to speak to people, succinctly and with respect for their perspectives.

In a broader sense, we need to build narratives that people can buy into, and find better ways to reach and engage with citizens.

We need to convince citizens of the value added of global efforts, and to reassure them that we are working in their best interests. Today we will be discussing two areas in which improved communication can play a pivotal role in creating impact:

First, this morning, you will explore how communications can empower women and help close gender gaps. Better communication is part of the essential measures to change attitudes and influence behaviours.

It is true that more countries are making political commitments to eliminate gender inequality, for example, passing laws to abolish discrimination and protect women from gender-based violence.

However, our latest analysis – which is still under embargo, so please don’t tweet out just yet – in our new Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) found that new laws do not always translate into real changes for women and girls.

For example, SIGI tells us that, since 2014, 15 countries have strengthened their laws on early child marriage yet the statistic of 1 in 6 girls aged 15-19 having been married or in an informal union has remained the same.

Young women often leave school with better qualifications than young men, but are less likely to join the work force, find a job and earn the same salaries.

We also have documented a global digital gender divide. Women worldwide are 26% less likely than men to have a smartphone and access mobile internet.

This mismatch between legal progress and actual impact for women can largely be attributed to persistent cultural views and attitudes. Luckily, we do see evidence that perceptions and gender norms can be changed.

For example, SIGI tells us that attitudes about domestic violence are changing among women. Can you believe that, in 2018, 27% of women globally declared that it was justified for a man to beat his wife? Although a shocking figure, but it is actually down from 37% in 2014.

But, if we really want change, we have to work harder to change the cultural attitudes that drive the gender disparities. We have to look at the way women are portrayed in the mass media, the perpetual images of traditional roles and stereotypes in adverts, soap-operas, music videos, etc.

We need public campaigns and better measures to promote positive images of women to change attitudes in both men and women.

We also need to be aware that negative images about women and femininity are not just internalized through interactions with media. But rather these views are reinforced in families, at work, and at school. Thus understanding and combatting these biases,  by checking in with our own thoughts, is crucial in order to increase the appeal of positive attitudes towards women.

Then this afternoon, you will discuss how to engage businesses as SDG advocates.

The business case for all of the global goals is strong.

The OECD Emerging Markets Network (EMNet) finds that engaging with the SDGs can help businesses access new markets, increase technological innovation and attract talent.

Indeed, businesses with high environmental, social and governance standards tend to outperform the market in the long term.[2]

We also know that today’s consumers have high expectations from businesses.

We know that 66% of consumers – and 73% of millennials – are willing to pay a premium for sustainable products. And consumers in emerging markets are more willing to pay a premium than in developed economies.[3]

Almost two-thirds (64%) of citizens think that CEOs should take the lead on change, rather than waiting for governments to impose it.[4]

We should leverage market instruments to incentivize businesses to act for the common good.

Businesses should respond to consumer demands and recognise the importance of more sustainable practices. Indeed, many are, last week at the Paris Peace Forum, I launched a new platform with Danone called Business4Inclusive Growth, where the OECD will partner with business to achieve more sustainable outcomes.

And I am encouraged when I hear that in a survey of CEOs in 83 countries, 25% said their company had changed its sense of purpose to take into account its broader impact on society. 60% said that top talent wants to work with organisations that share their social values.[5] So things are changing, but we need to harness this, better communicate it and embed it into public policies to effect real change.

This afternoon, you will be joined by business representatives who are working to put the SDGs at the core of their companies’ strategies. It will be important to discuss with them how they are communicating about the SDGs with the outside world, and how are companies reporting on their SDG performance. Specifically, what are they doing to help customers become more aware of sustainability?

We should not underestimate the complexity of the SDG’s. The robustness and complexity of the SDGs are great strengths of the framework, however they make it difficult to create effective messaging about them. We need to advance them separately in our communications to streamline processes and drive more efficient change through business.

To conclude, as multilateral cooperation is being highly contested today, it is important to reflect on what brings us together.

Isolationist and protectionist sentiment is in fact a consequence of dissatisfaction with the state of the world, a feeling that society does not benefit everyone equally.

So, as communicators, we need to create narratives that people are inspired by, that they can believe in, to empower people to contribute to a better world, rather than giving up.

DevCom is your community to find better ways to do just that. Here at the OECD, we stand ready to support you in any way we can. I wish you very productive discussions and a happy birthday to this important network!

Thank you

[1] Ipsos. “Global Views on Immigration and the Refugee Crisis.” September 2017.

[2] McKinsey & Company. “Profits with purpose: How organizing for sustainability can benefit the bottom line.” July 2014.

[3] Nielsen survey conducted in 2015

[4] According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer

[5] PricewaterhouseCoopers study, 2016


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