International Conference on the Policy Uses of Well-being and Sustainable Development Indicators in Latin America and the Caribbean


Remarks by Angel Gurría

OECD Secretary-General

24 October 2019 - Bogota, Colombia

(As prepared for delivery)



President Duque, Alicia Bárcena, Jolita Butkeviciene, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to open this International Conference on the Policy Uses of Well-Being and Sustainable Development Indicators in Latin America and the Caribbean.

I would like to thank President Duque for being here and for his support. I would also like to thank the National Administrative Department of Statistics, the National Planning Department, and the Del Rosario University, for their excellent cooperation in co-organising this conference alongside our esteemed colleagues from the European Commission and ECLAC.


The challenges in the Latin American region require a change in approach

Latin America has made significant progress in recent decades. It has consolidated a middle class, strengthened its institutions, and implemented structural reforms in key areas. It is now crucial to refocus its economic policy, and all other public policies, on the well-being of its people.

As we stressed in the Latin American Economic Outlook 2019 which we presented just last month in this very Auditorium, the socio-economic and institutional gains of recent decades are in danger if governments do not achieve more inclusive and sustainable growth that takes into account all dimensions of people’s well-being.

And the fact is that the region still has much to do in terms of well-being.

Nearly 30% of the region's population still lives in poverty. Around 40% of Latin Americans are part of the vulnerable middle class, which is characterised by low quality, generally informal, employment; insufficient social protection; and low and often unstable incomes, which leave them on the brink of poverty.

Furthermore, the region continues to have the highest levels of inequality in the world . And, frankly, it is very worrying that the trend towards reduced income inequalities in the region is slowing down, and even reversing in some countries. Indeed, the Gini index for Latin America is increasing for the first time in 15 years.

All of this is undermining the confidence of citizens in their political representatives. As a consequence, almost two-thirds of Latin Americans have no confidence in their national governments.

That is why leaders in the region need to take a more integral and more granular approach to identifying their development priorities.


Some countries in the region are putting well-being at the centre of their public policies

Some governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have already begun to focus their efforts on well-being. For example, some countries in the region have established their own well-being measurement frameworks, such as “Buen Vivir’’ in Ecuador, the Quality of Life survey in Colombia, and Mexico’s subjective well-being measurement efforts.

Furthermore, 10 LAC countries have incorporated multi-dimensional approaches in their official poverty measures.

Colombia’s National Development Plan “Pacto por Colombia, Pacto por la Equidad” is also an inspiring example of how to set out a vision centred on people’s well-being that is shared by all government departments. The innovative work and close collaboration between DANE and DNP show how statisticians and policy-makers can work together to make this happen.


More and better statistical data are required

Despite these advances, significant challenges remain in the area of statistics for well-being and development. Traditional measures of progress, such as GDP growth, do not give the full picture. Our growth model is in crisis and has failed to respond adequately for the planet, for people, or even for financial stability and productivity growth. Well-being indicators need to be integrated into both progress reports and policy-making, as well as into government budgets. This has already been achieved by incorporating green and gender budgets. Now is the time to adopt comprehensive approaches, consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals.

An example of good practice is the well-being approach that the New Zealand government is applying to decision-making. Its purpose is to support whole-of-government policy coherence, achieve greater efficiency in resource allocation, and place greater emphasis on inter-generational outcomes. Some Scandinavian countries are adopting similar strategies.

Many countries in the Latin American region are also driving policy innovation in order to achieve the SDGs, for example, through the new budget processes established in Mexico, Uruguay and Colombia.

However, it is necessary to include people-centred comparative statistics. For example, fewer than half of SDG indicators are currently classified as Tier 1, meaning that they are conceptually clear, with standardised methodology, and established data collections.

Inclusive growth and people-centred sustainable development policies require data, indicators and a comprehensive information framework that reflects the most important aspects of people's lives and sheds light on inequalities between different population groups and territories.

We need new analytical tools and new institutional frameworks that put well-being and sustainable development at the centre of public policies.


OECD initiatives focussed on multi-dimensional well-being

This is the approach we have followed in the OECD through the Better Life Initiative, the Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth, Multi-dimensional Country Reviews and the New Approaches to Economic Challenges (NAEC) initiative. All these actions have demonstrated the enormous potential for improving policies and their outcomes, with a focus on multi-dimensional well-being.

Our Inclusive Growth initiative aims to tie in the results of well-being indicators to ensure that, alongside concrete public policies, growth becomes an engine of well-being for all.

The Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth recommends investing in people and places that have been left behind, making labour markets more inclusive, supporting business dynamism, and making government more efficient and more responsive to people’s needs. This will allow advances to be made simultaneously on the three pillars of progress: productivity, inclusion and sustainability, which in turn require the support of sound governance.

For its part, the joint OECD-EC-ECLAC project on identifying Metrics for Policies for Well-being and Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is part of the EU Facility on Development in Transition provides a platform for dialogue to foster more people-focused policy-making in the region.

In Paris earlier this month we held a conference on “Putting well-being metrics into policy action” to reflect and take stock of experiences in OECD countries in this field, and I am delighted that today and tomorrow we can explore the achievements and challenges on this front in Latin America. During the conference, I proposed the creation of a global network of well-being experts and policy-makers, the aim of which would be to exchange knowledge and drive forward this important agenda. I invite the many advocates of well-being here today to join us in this effort. 

President Duque, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me finish with a quote from Gabriel García Márquez: “I am not rich. I am a poor man with money, which is not the same thing”. Indeed, income alone is no guarantee of happiness.

Latin America must concern itself with becoming a region with a high level of well-being. But it needs to modernise its economic policies so as to put human well-being at the heart of its objectives. We have to build a new approach that ensures both the well-being of our peoples and the sustainability of our planet. You can count on the OECD to help build this new approach, and to design, support and implement better policies for better lives.




See also:

OECD work with Colombia


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Orientations stratégiques 2022