This document was written by Ron Gass for the 40th Anniversary of the Local Employment Initiatives Programme (ILE) and the Local Employment and Economic Development Programme (LEED). The anniversary was celebrated at the OECD Local Development Forum held in Cork, Ireland on 15th-17th June 2022. Mr Gass was OECD’s Director of Social Affairs, Manpower and Education at the time of the launch and early development stages of the ILE/LEED programme.
PART I – LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE
It is a pleasure for me to send this Message to the OECD Local Development Forum. In 1982, under the impact of the first oil shocks, Jean Auroux, the French Minister of Labour, was frustrated because top-down macroeconomic policies were at the helm whereas he, as Minister of Labour, was held responsible for growing unemployment. He sent his Director of Cabinet to see me to ask whether other Ministers of Labour would join him in launching a programme of Local Employment Initiatives, thereby giving labour ministers a means of action.
“THINK LOCAL, ACT GLOBAL”
Today, in Cork, The OECD Local Development Forum involves thousands of individuals from more than 70 countries across the world. Just as gloom and doom dominate the debate about the future of the globalized economy, this network vibrates with creativity and optimism. Why? Is it because, as E. F. Schumacher asserted, “small is beautiful?” Rather, it is because the complex crisis, now amplified by the Russian aggression of Ukraine, has revealed the resilience of a plural and decentralized economy. The credo at the time of ILE’s creation, “think global, act local” is being reversed to “think local, act global”. In a sense globalisation is being impacted by “localism” because proximity and territorial identity respond to people’s aspirations when the geo-political world shifts beneath their feet.
THE SOCIO-TECHNICAL IMPACT OF THE 4th INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
In effect, this revolution now poses a clear question. Do we want a society dominated by the high-tech giants that can compete with nation states, authoritarian as well as democratic? Or do we want a society that controls gigantism, and puts technology at the service of the people? Roberto Unger (see his book on The Knowledge Economy) has launched a social innovation movement based on the fact that the 4th Industrial Revolution, unlike the Industrial Revolution, favours the spatial decentralisation of production and responds to the widespread aspiration for a “larger life”. One could argue that this meeting of the OECD Local Development Forum exemplifies this movement.
THE FUTURE OF WORK
Such a social innovation movement could not advance without re-defining work. Work is paid for because it is “leisure foregone”, so says the founding doctrine of the existing régime, as in Bertrand Russel’s text “In Praise of Idleness”. But the ILE/LEED movement that we are celebrating today is founded on a contrary principle: i.e. that life satisfaction can be built on work satisfaction. Arnold Toynbee, who spent his life on the history of civilisations, has summed it up as follows: “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play”.
As the world seeks a way out of the present crisis, it is clear that the conflict between the democratic bloc led by the United States and the authoritarian bloc led by China is about values. Toynbee goes on to argue that “civilizations die from suicide, not by murder”. So, behind the geo-political crisis lies a deeper challenge: how to rise on the tide of new technological revolution without social protest and even revolution. After all alienation engendered by the system of production has made history. According to Yuval Noah Harari (Homo Deus: A Brief History of the Future), new forms of alienation are growing, and the choice is now between trans-humanism and a new humanism. Elon Musk foresees a world run by robots and artificial intelligence rather than by humans. But George Orwell is back in fashion because his 1984 book predicted not only “Big Brother”, but also the good sense of the common people as the antidote. I vote for Orwell rather than Musk!
THE RISE OF PEOPLE-POWER
Thus, neither nation states nor the market can alone rise to the Harari challenge. Ever since the massive OECD study of the technological gap between Europe and the United States, it has been clear that a national technological strategy cannot succeed without an innovative population. And this time round the new technologies can be mastered by the woman and man in the street to create international networks, of which this Cork Forum is a good example. Of course, the impending apocalypse foreseen by the philosopher Gunther Anders because of the nuclear threat and trans-humanism cannot be ignored. But nor can the civic movements of protest across the world. The case of Ukraine is a shining example, because civic society is already reviving towns and villages, and even before the frontier of war recedes.
People Power is indeed manifesting itself in numerous ways as people react to geo-political shocks and the Covid-19 pandemic. The rising youth generation is at the front of ecological protest and is seeking more interesting work so as to escape from the rat-race of big companies which give priority to short-term profit. Women, often via feminist movements, are actively pushing to escape from the patriarchal glass ceiling. The aged are reacting to isolation and social exclusion. All this is finding expression in social innovations which are no doubt amply present at this meeting. The reason is that local communities, cities, towns and regions are more apt to respond to the complex interactions between the economy, society and the environment that the new technologies are imposing. We could say that “small is nimble”, but more is at stake than that. In the neoliberal régime, flexibility was the central value. Now it is resilience based on entrepreneurship and intra-preneurship, the ability to withstand shocks and to “build back better”. Homo-Sapiens is, according to the neurosciences, becoming Homo-Creator, and often a woman!
A NEW PARADIGM OF “POSITIVE ADJUSTMENT”
The result is that People-Centred policies are now centre-stage, as in the OECD Well-being agenda, and in the UN sustainable development goals (SDG’s). The phenomenon of people and whole communities being “left behind” is imposing Place as a second leg of the new paradigm. Third, Purpose is said to challenge profit as enterprises, including the SME’s, integrate environmental, social and governance constraints (ESG’s) into their strategies. And fourth, Process, because values cannot be imposed, and change comes best from a democratic process which is bottom-up as well as top-down. This 4P Framework (People, Place, Purpose and Process) will enable ILE/LEED to play a role in the period of policy experimentation that lies ahead. As such the local level could be the arena for successful experiments to be translated to the national level as part of a process of “rolling reform”.
THE OECD’s ROLE IN AN INTERDEPENDENT BUT DIVIDED WORLD
All the components of the 4P Framework (Partnerships, Place, Purpose and Process) are to be found in current OECD work programmes. This is not surprising because virtually all the independent, academic reports on OECD history come to the same conclusion: that from the Marshall Plan to the fall of the Berlin Wall and now to the crisis of globalisation, the OEEC/OECD has been a successful innovator of new policy ideas, and capable of translating them into “best practice” via networks which reach into all the corners of the world.
As the 2022 Statement of the OECD Council on the Russian aggression of Ukraine says: “Working with over 100 countries, the OECD is a global policy forum that promotes policies to preserve individual liberty and improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.” This Cork Forum on Local Development knows well that such values are forged and defended at the grass roots of local communities, SME’s, towns, cities and regions, not only in the higher reaches of monetary and fiscal policies at the national and international level. The pubs of Cork testify to that, as does James Joyce in The Dubliners! It is therefore important to note that the OECD Council has agreed to raise the status of the OECD Committee on SMEs and Entrepreneurship and that an agreed framework for the development of the social economy is in the offing. This is important because the Editorial to the 2021 OECD “Going for Growth” report makes it clear that existing economic measures “will not fix the underlying structural problems, which left us vulnerable in the first place”.
These massive structural problems, such as climate, the Covid-19 pandemic, the energy transition and now the food crisis, cannot be resolved without the involvement of enterprises, the ONG’s and indeed the public at large. Macroeconomic models are still needed to provide an overall picture of the effects on growth, employment and income, but complex systems analysis using biological, engineering and social models is needed to make structural progress. As the Director General of IIASA (the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) has said: “we have all the models and data banks we need, but we do not know what society wants. No doubt humankind will go to the Moon and Mars, but do we want a ‘winner takes all’ economy dominated by the GAFAS or a plural and decentralized socio-economic, and even political, system that enshrines a new humanism?”
To answer that question, the OECD needs to apply the theory of complex, innovative organisations to itself: that is to say, strategic vision of the OECD leadership, combined with intra-preneurial capabilities of the Committee/Directorate structures. Thereby ILE/LEED will find its place.
PART II – NARRATIVE ELEMENTS
At the start of ILE, the emphasis was on youth. Mister Shirt was a boy from the West Indies living in London. At that time smart shirts were in fashion, and he wanted to design and sell them. These were the days when Chris Brooks was the first Head of ILE because he had founded the Association “Youth Aid” in the UK. To get from social exclusion to insertion was not easy and the case of Mister Shirt was used to highlight the fact that it was a process and not a simple decision. We drew on the work of Adam Curle, a cultural anthropologist who did a study of the problems of returning prisoners of war who could not get back into society. His proposal was “transitional communities” to help them to make the journey. This led to the idea of “enterprises d’insertion” and many other measures to help youth to take the plunge from unemployment to self-employment. They are still in vogue today.
THE ISLAND OF SYMI IN GREECE
Antonia Moropoulou, the Greek member of the ILE Directing Committee, was involved in throwing out the Greek colonels, as a member of the Technical University of Athens. The new Papandreou government rewarded her by making her Minister of Youth and giving her the island of Symi to develop a Greek model of island development. She invited all the international organisations to a meeting in Rhodes, and then embarked them on a liner to head for Symi. As we arrived, we looked down on the crowds amassed below, and Tonia thrust a microphone into my hands to speak to them. What to say? I said we had come to help the development of the island and offered Development Fellowships for young people to join the project. Would that be possible today?
WOMEN AS ENTREPRENEURS
A woman PDG (name forgotten!) became an enthusiastic supporter of ILE and with her help we organised a High-Level Meeting. I asked Secretary-General van Lennep to open it. He had doubts because he could not understand why, as entrepreneurs, women were different from men. I replied that the pool of talent was like a coal mine. The male seam of coal had been worked out, so it was time to turn to the female seam. On that basis he agreed to open the Meeting!
I asked Secretary-General Kristensen whether he would authorise me to get in touch with student leaders to ask them to state the problem. To cut a long story short, there was a meeting at the Abbaye de Royaumont with student delegations from all OECD countries. The Secretary-General came to the closing session, at which a “gun” was put to his head by the American populist during his speech. He did not bat an eye lid and drew his own conclusions in a note to the Council on The Problems of Modern Society. Unlike the students on the streets of Paris, the Royaumont gathering concluded that they were ready to participate in capitalist production, but on the condition that they participate in defining the functions of production. That posture has influenced the evolution of ILE/LEED and is relevant today. What it means is that a new humanism has to go in hand with a new capitalism. There are now many cards on the table to that end.
THE CENTRE FOR ENTREPRENEURSHIP
This Centre was created after my retirement, but it was the logical outcome of many initiatives in which Sergio Arzeni was the motor. What it represents is that we are moving into a world in which an Empowering State, working with all the actors, makes possible the reconciliation of social dynamism and social protection.