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OECD Week 2013: Opening Speech

Opening speech by His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon at the opening of the 2013 annual OECD Week, Paris, May 28 2013.

Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning! It ’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me to OECD Week – and thank you to Angel Gurría for your kind introduction and committed leadership of this important organisation.

It’s a pleasure to be back in Paris, the birthplace of ideas about universal human rights. These ideas were developed in an era of widespread violence, repression and power-seeking, and yet they have become the foundation of our understanding of people as having equal worth and of the principle of sovereignty of the people.

Many countries, including my own, were influenced by these ideas. The founders of modern Norway were inspired by the French constitution and the US constitution and Declaration of Independence. In 1814, in the wake of the Napoleonic Wars, Norway gained its own constitution, one of the most democratic of its time. We are proud of the history of our constitution and will celebrate its 200th anniversary next year.

It’s a pleasure to be here at The Château de La Muette. This Château can serve as a symbol of the powerful forces that were at play during the last century. Baron Henri James de Rothschild, who built the new Château in the early 1920s, had to flee during the Second World War, because he was Jewish. It was taken over by the US Army after liberation and subsequently became the headquarters of the Organization for European Economic Co-operation. This organisation, which later became the OECD, was part of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after the war.

The first part of the 20th century was one of the most brutal and destructive periods in human history. In the last decades of the century, however, more people were lifted out of poverty and freed from dictatorship and oppression than ever before. The organisation helped Europe to leave behind a period of destruction during which its countries’ economies were in deep crisis, and to move on to growth and prosperity.

And finally, it’s a pleasure to be at the OECD. The organisation still deals with the issues of economic crisis and economic growth, but there are two things that strike me about the OECD in 2013:

The first is the remarkably multidisciplinary structure of the organisation. Almost every policy area is covered, which is a tremendous asset in a time when the global economy is so interconnected and complex. We need to seek solutions in a variety of fields at once. The leading role that the OECD has achieved within the field of education and skills over the last ten years puts it in a unique position when seeking new approaches to economic challenges.

The second is the rather unknown “softer” side of today’s organisation. Many people will probably think that the OECD is concerned with the market economy and economic growth for a group of affluent countries. And even if there might be some truth in this, it is encouraging and interesting that the signals coming from the OECD in 2013 are in line with the strong ideological and value-based trends that laid the foundation for our thinking in the last century. Those values, philanthropy and ideologies are now also considered important in an economic context.

I would think that many outside this organisation would be surprised to learn that the OECD is involved in the following:

•  Ensuring that every child, regardless of ability level and parental background should have access to the same, high-performing school system
•  Increasing access to early childhood education and care – of high quality and at the lowest possible cost
•  Promoting gender equality
•  Improving people’s physical and mental health
•  Combating the growing inequality in our economies

Just to mention a few areas.

In addition, for more than 50 years the organisation has been working on development issues and now has a very ambitious development strategy. The Environment Policy Committee was established more than 40 years ago.

The title of this year’s OECD Forum and Ministerial Council Meeting, “It’s all about people: Jobs, Equality and Trust”, is highly relevant to our current time. The topics covered under this heading are of immense importance to a great many people in the world today.

All the four key words in the title – people, jobs, equality and trust – are closely linked to the concept of dignity.

Some years ago, Professor Pekka Himanen, John Hope Bryant and I founded an organisation called Global Dignity. Representatives of the organisation visit schools and hold Dignity Day events and workshops with pupils. We ask them to tell stories of dignity from their own lives, and ask them what they intend to do in the coming year to strengthen someone else’s dignity.

The concept of global dignity includes the following five principles:

1. Every human being has a right to lead a dignified life.
2. A dignified life means an opportunity to fulfill one’s potential, which is based on having a human level of health care, education, income and security.
3. Dignity means having the freedom to make decisions on one’s life and to be met with respect for this right.
4. Dignity should be the basic guiding principle for all actions.
5. Ultimately, our own dignity is interdependent with the dignity of others.

Last October Global Dignity Days were celebrated in more than 50 countries.

I always enjoy very much talking to young people, and every time I participate in a Dignity Day event or workshop I leave touched, uplifted and with a renewed sense of optimism. My personal experience is that young people of today are sympathetic, empathetic, clever, forward-looking and wise.

Now, with this in mind let's go back to the title and topics for this year’s Forum and the Ministerial Council Meeting: “It’s all about people”.

Dignity is all about people. Dignity is intrinsically – we’re all born with it. But dignity is also relational and is created among, and between people. Many of us don’t think about this, or notice it in our daily lives. But that’s only because we, our families and friends are fortunate enough to live relatively privileged lives. And because it can be difficult to establish the number of people living in difficult conditions – and their voices are less often heard.

The OECD compiles statistics, indicators and analyses involving large quantities of numbers. GDP in euros, health spending in dollars, school drop-out rates, years of education, unemployment figures. But behind all these numbers, there are individuals – people.

If you think about it, 100 does not always equal 100. There is a considerable difference between a group of 100 people full of self-confidence, with trust in each other and good basic skills, and a group of 100 people with low self-esteem, a lack of trust and poor basic skills.

With the first group you can certainly achieve success in the traditional way. With the latter there might be more hurdles to overcome.

Most people consider it important to be able to support themselves, to have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and to have a certain level of security. A steady and decent job is often essential for achieving these goals. A period of long-term unemployment may therefore be damaging to people’s self-esteem and sense of dignity. The unemployed – and especially the young people among them – need our support. Our societies have to work hard to create jobs, to establish labour market programmes, to provide access to social benefits and to equip the unemployed with adequate skills.

I mentioned that the first Norwegian constitution was among the most democratic of its time. But democracy – in the modern sense of the word – was not truly established anywhere 200 years ago, because only some men and no women were allowed to vote.

It may be that 200 years ago women did not feel a lack of dignity because they didn’t have the right to vote. No woman in the world had that right and thus it may have been considered natural. 120 years ago, pioneering women began to feel that the denial of their fundamental civil rights simply wasn’t right. They were being treated as inferior, and in two weeks’ time, on 11 June, Norway will celebrate the centenary of women’s right to vote in Norway. Norway was the fourth country in the world to introduce universal suffrage, with women and men enjoying equal democratic rights. Our fellow OECD members New Zealand, Australia, and Finland took the lead. 100 years ago it was a controversial and pioneering decision; today of course it would be unthinkable to reverse it.

Today, though, when all our countries have universal suffrage, the “equality challenge” has moved into other arenas. There’s still a lot of work to be done when it comes to gender equality in all countries, and a lot remains to be done to ensure that your background doesn’t restrict your possibilities unreasonably.

Now, let’s move to one of this session’s central topics: Trust. Trust is essential to community, economic interaction and democracy. If a substantial proportion of people – especially young people – lack trust in relationships, in society and in institutions, it will become harder to build robust and viable societies.

Trust develops on the basis of people’s experiences and expectations. If you have a feeling of being treated fairly and with respect – by people, institutions or governments, then you are more likely to trust them.

For young people, schools and the education system will play an essential role in fostering trust – or in the worst case – mistrust. Schools are unique institutions. In all our countries, our children are obliged to spend most of their day in school for a considerable number of their formative years.

If, during all these years, they feel that the school is there for them, feel accepted and protected, then they are able to really participate in activities. In addition, they develop a sense of independence, a sense of belonging, and key skills. And if they also have good relations with teachers and other students – then the chances are greater that they will develop a general trust in their community and in their country’s economy and democracy.

If the opposite is true, they may withdraw from school life, and become disaffected with both school and society.

Some years ago, my mother founded a prize called Queen Sonja's School Award. The prize is awarded each year to a school that has demonstrated excellence in its efforts to promote inclusion and equality. All students should feel that they are valued participants in the school community. At the same time, the schools must provide a high-quality and fair education.

She tells me that she is amazed and impressed by what a school can achieve in fostering positive values and relationships. And because good values and relationships also facilitate learning, the schools concerned also achieve solid academic results.

Two key factors characterises the schools that have been awarded the prize: strong leadership, and hard and persistent work.

And this, I think, provides us with three lessons that can also be applied to other organisations and to societies.

•  Lesson number one: If the foundations are made of values such as dignity, trust and equality, the building above will be more solid.

•  Lesson number two: Wise and committed leadership is important and a leader must lead – and stand as an example – also when it comes to softer, interpersonal areas. The issue of dignity should be fundamental, not just the icing on the cake.

•  Finally, lesson number three: The quest for a more inclusive, civilised and humane society is never-ending. We have to work persistently every day – independently and together with others. The task is demanding, but extremely rewarding.

I hope that the programme for this week here at the OECD will give you an opportunity to discuss important questions with colleagues from other countries. I have enormous respect for the complexity of the tasks that many of you are carrying out. There is no quick fix.

I wish you every success with the Forum and the Ministerial Council Meeting – and with your important work to create better policies for better lives.

It’s all about people.

Thank you.


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