The divide between rich and poor remains the major potential source of structural instability and insecurity that could upset the balance of our globalised world. This was a key message that Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck, Belgian secretary of state for foreign affairs, carried from the OECD Forum 2002 to the annual OECD ministerial council in Paris in May. In addition to these security issues, the Forum offered an arena for government, civil society, academia and business to debate together the questions of equity, education and growth over two days of discussion that fed into the OECD ministerial meeting.
US First Lady Laura Bush, in a keynote address, argued that education is fundamental to all four of the Forum’s themes, and the cornerstone of development and economic growth. More than 1,200 people attended this year’s Forum, the third such public debate organised by the OECD. More than 70 countries were represented, and speakers included some 20 ministers from OECD countries and beyond, heads and senior figures from international agencies such as UNICEF and the WTO, several Nobel laureates, some 20 business and labour leaders and representatives of two dozen civil society organisations, from Amnesty International to the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).
Opening the Forum, the OECD’s secretary-general, Donald Johnston, emphasised this unique opportunity for civil society to influence the deliberations of those charged with the creation and application of public policy. His words were echoed in the final ministerial communiqué later that week. Mr Johnston stressed that “nobody has a monopoly on the ideas needed to face today’s challenges” and if governments needed input from civil society, civil society also needs support from governments to achieve its objectives.
During 30 sessions over almost three days, some 150 speakers addressed issues ranging from trade to nuclear energy, education to corporate ethics, development to security issues such as money laundering and transport. The Forum also launched its first student essay competition, the eight winners of which where flown to Paris to speak at one of the Forum’s opening sessions.
©OECD Observer No. 233, August 2002