Welcome to the 2020 OECD Interns! Intern Circle Welcome Event


On 11 February 2020, I welcomed the new cohort of 2020 interns with the Secretary-General. Always a pleasure to have our interns at the OECD. They provide great support to the heavy work that our directorates conduct, but also bring a breath of fresh air and new ideas to our work!

First, I want to give you my warm congratulations on entering this 2020 intern cohort from 43 countries! And two-thirds of you are women! You should all be proud of yourself.  As much as you will benefit from this programme, the Organisation learns from you, from the perspectives of creative, passionate young people.

Thank you Secretary General for sharing this wonderful message about how leadership matters to ensure we drive change with compassion. I want the interns here to keep this in mind. It is important to have a vision, develop your mission, and never lower your ambition. Make sure to find your passion and commit to it. If you care about what you are doing, the rest will follow.

First, let me say “welcome” to you all. Welcome to this event today and welcome to the OECD. We are so grateful to have you here. As much as you will benefit from this programme, the Organisation learns from you, from the perspectives of creative, passionate young people. Your valuable contributions, and those of interns before you, help make the important work we do here at the OECD less heavy. Especially in today’s context, where multilateralism is being challenged and we see greater polarization of views in our societies, we need your support now more than ever. You make our work less heavy, but you also bring enthusiasm, a “can do attitude” and a breath of fresh air, new ideas! You also contribute massively, along with our other young staff, Young Professionals, Young Associates. In the cabinet, for example, I do not know how we would do it without Alexis, Alex , Mathis, Claudia, and Ebba!

11 February 2020 Intern Welcome Event OECD Headquarters, Paris, France Photo: OECD/Andrew Wheeler

I was asked to speak today to give advice or guidance as you move forward, in these internships but also beyond. You chose the OECD because you want to pursue a career in international relations, diplomacy, economics or any expertise that this house offers – to make an important and positive impact on the world we live in. I have given lectures at many universities, and in fact the OECD is starting an Economic Diplomacy course with the support of Sciences Po and other partnering universities around the world this summer. My key message to young talented people like you is always the same – understand the dynamic change the economy and society is going through, find your passion, and develop global skills needed to make a positive change. First and foremost, we need to remember that such skills mean nothing without a passion they can be mobilized toward. As you develop your skills, always contextualize them in something you are passionate about. Find your passion and don’t let anyone stop you from pursuing it.

Allow me to share three experiences that were key to building my confidence to push forward in a tough environment. The first one happened when I was working at the Mexican Foreign Ministry and I received a Fulbright grant. I had to pick three universities that I wished to attend as part of this program. As I was making my decisions, Luis Miguel Diaz, the Legal Counsellor of the Ministry, also a Harvard alum, was passing by and immediately why I had not included Harvard in my list. I, of course, responded that there was no way I would be accepted to Harvard. It was a school for geniuses! He immediately became upset asking why I was putting obstacles in my own way. Why was I stopping myself? He advised that I should never put up my own obstacles. The world will put those obstacles up for you. Do not stop yourself. Of course, I included Harvard in the list of three schools, but was not convinced. Soon after, I was accepted. He was so right! Don’t put up any unnecessary obstacles in your own way, the world will do that work for you.

The second example is one I reflect on often. I remember very clearly the first Sherpa meeting I ever attended. This was back when the OECD was still testing the waters of its relationship with the G20 and G7 groups. Not to mention, I was still figuring out how to fit into my new role as Sherpa. At the first dinner of the meeting, I spoke and got very strong negative reactions from the Chinese and the Indian sherpas. Disgruntled, I called the Secretary General and told him everything that had happened, asking him whether I should be a bit more reserved the next day. The SG kindly listened to my rant. In hindsight, I realize he must have thought, “Who did I send as our Sherpa?!” Once I finished grumbling, the SG said “Gabriela, when in doubt, push!” That was all I needed. Four words and all the wisdom to make a difference. And now look at what we’ve achieved: successful partnerships with all G20 and G7 presidencies, the launch of our B4IG platform last summer, the 25 by 25 gender target, international commitments on action for biodiversity, to tackle online violent and extremist content.

11 February 2020 Intern Welcome Event OECD Headquarters, Paris, France Photo: OECD/Andrew Wheeler

Finally, I want to reiterate the principles of the 5Ps: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance . This is the mantra at the Cabinet, that comes from the SG. I hope that when you leave the OECD, you will keep this mantra in mind. Equip yourselves with skills, evidence, data, best practices, knowledge that you need to advance your passions.

But today, we are seeing a major shift in demand for skills, largely due to digitalisation. What kind of skills will you need for the future? Traditional professions and activities are changing in nature and scope, and new professions are being invented. Your generation will likely not have a job for a lifetime, but rather several occupations, and change will be the only constant. You are likely already seeing this among your peers. This is extremely exciting of course but also emphasizes the need for lifelong learning and adaptable skillsets. In the meantime, other professions are being invented. For example, big data architects, cloud service or digital marketing specialists did not exist until recently. Even if jobs do remain, the skills required will be completely different. Take an architect for example, design now has very little do with paper and pencil, rather digital tools.

So you need good writing, reading, math, and science skills, as always. But the demanding digital environment is advancing so quickly that what we truly need are to bring back the skills and instincts that make us human, to both balance and shape the technical changes arising as a result of digitalisation:  we need socio emotional skills, critical thinking, a collaborative spirit, open minds, and the need to understand the perspective of others in a highly integrated world.

These skills are particularly important given the challenges that our societies are facing whether it be growing inequalities, mistrust in institutions, environmental destruction and climate change. These challenges need innovative, empathetic solutions. We live in a convoluted world so the skills of the future are not those that only focus on preparing for the labour market, but those that prepare for life. At the OECD we call these skills « global competencies » . Global competencies are the capacity to examine and take into account global and local perspectives, tolerance to other views, values and cultures and to act for collective well-being and sustainable development.

Empathy, compassion, open mindedness are key.  Thinking beyond our own good lives and jobs. It sounds obvious, but at this very moment in history, we seem to be in great shortage of these qualities, particularly among leaders in many countries. The most sought-after skills are those that help you understand each other. You must of course go forward with empathy. But beyond empathy, you must have compassion. Empathy is about felling the pain of others. Compassion is doing something about it.

I often think of Kailash Satyarthi, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize who has dedicated his life to rescuing hundreds of thousands of children from slavery, and a great friend of the OECD. Kailash once said, “Today we live in a world of rapid globalisation, information technology, markets, production, and knowledge. I hope that we can also globalize compassion.”

Thank you all for being here and I wish you the best of luck in your internships.

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