Chhavi Breja: How to Spend Two Weeks in Paris - the Right Way

The OECD Forum was the largest and longest conference that we, as a delegation, attended, however it was not the only one. We engaged in several meetings, workshops, and conferences over the two weeks we spent in Paris, which will be elaborated on in this blog. Of course, we also fit in some sightseeing (it would be rude not to), which may just be a topic of further reflection in a different piece. 

Organisation visits and conferences:

TUESDAY: Sciences Po
WEDNESDAY: Sciences Po

Sciences Po Science and Policy Conference was hosted by Sciences Po, the university, on the 22nd and 23rd of May. The conference explored the overlap between science, innovation, enterprise, and policy. There were several interesting takeaways from this conference, especially regarding the need for social innovation, and policy not lagging behind advancements in technology. For the second day, we were at L'Université Paris Descartes, in the medical faculty, hearing from staff, doctors, professionals, and researchers working in medicine. There were sessions on the latest cancer research, gene therapy, and cardiac surgery, which all explored the role and future of technological innovations for procedures. This conference, while very academic content-wise, also presented some great opportunities for networking, through which we made several contacts in France and abroad, some of whom we would go on to see again on our trip.

THURSDAY: Parallel Displacements Workshop
On Thursday, we headed to the University of London Institute in Paris, where we partook in a refugee and migrant displacement workshop. This one-day workshop was co-ordinated by ULIP's Erasmus Research Fellow, Idil Onen, and Dr Seref Kavak, lecturer at Sciences Po. This was an extremely eye opening visit that exposed us to the harsh realities and position of Kurds in the Middle East and the Armenian genocide. Personally I feel like we in New Zealand, due to our remoteness, often only hear about refugees through sporadic, bleak news segments which are followed by items such as the latest celebrity breakup, and then swept away until the next tragedy hits. What this session made me realise is that in Europe, which is a destination for a lot of refugees, these topics are discussed a lot more, and the tone with which they are talked about is different. We learnt from academics who had spent time in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan working with Kurdish migrants, and also in France with refugees. They not only made us aware of some people's everyday lives as refugees but also some of the ways in which they show resiliency and spirit in the face of conflict. Their research makes for some interesting reading if you wish to explore this topic further. 

On Thursday evening we caught up with Steffi, who works at the Neoma Business School, and Faisal, whose background is mainly in energy economics, with an interest is in public policies regarding decarbonisation. This was a great casual meet up in which many interesting topics, such as the Zero Carbon Act, education, media, and New Zealand's future popping up in the discussion. It was great to draw on Steffi's expertise in organisational change, technologies and boundaries, the changing nature of work, new media, and NGOs. It was also great to see Faisal, a New Zealander living in Paris, who shared his perspectives on New Zealand's role in the climate change movement, and the importance of parallel policy integration. 

FRIDAY: UNESCO, OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate, OECD Education Directorate
We had the privilege of going to UNESCO headquarters, where we met another Parisian New Zealander, Tim Francis, who works at UNESCO as a campaigner and an Associate Programme Specialist. Firstly, we were taken through what UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, est. 1945), does, and how communications, media, and culture are aspects of the important work the organisation does. We spoke about the role of politics in the media, and subsequently, how one can influence the other. We also spoke about the different initiatives UNESCO was implementing in various countries to promote gender equality, scientific outreach, and education accessibility globally, including the #Unite4Heritage programme. Education is the biggest area in UNESCO's broad portfolio, and we discussed the importance of media literacy, and access to information being pivotal aspects of this. Terrorism and the media, how they are linked and how they can influence entire populations was also a topic of conversation, with one idea being particularly interesting to me; when it bleeds, it reads. This refers to the concept of news distributers using gore and bloodshed to capture audiences and sell papers, distorting people's viewpoint of certain events. 

We then had the opportunity to go to OECD headquarters, to meet with Kelsey Burns, Counsellor in the Director’s Office of the Trade and Agriculture Directorate at the OECD. Kelsey is responsible for global relations and partnerships in Asia and serves as the primary TAD liaison with the Office of the Secretary General. Prior to joining the OECD, she worked for the United States government in the International Trade Administration and at the Office of the US Trade Representative, and was responsible for engagement with APEC, and for bilateral trade relations between the US and Indonesia. Her and her colleague, Emily Gray, who has a background in Agricultural Economics, taught us a lot about the relationship between trade and agriculture, with a focus on New Zealand.
I really came to appreciate how much our economy relies on free trade, and that import and export are essential, especially for our small country. More than that, though, we learnt about the workings of the OECD as a whole, and realised just how much important analysis they do. the TAD alone publishes several books a week, which are created, revised, edited, and reviewed in a short timeframe, and contain a lot of accessible and important data for governments to use. This visit really showed me how integral the OECD's work is, moving towards a more pragmatic and evidence based approach when creating "better policies for better lives."

Our final meeting on this packed day was with the OECD Director for Education and Skills, and Special Advisor on Education Policy to the Secretary-General, Andreas Schleicher. This meeting still stands out to me as a highlight, as I was invigorated by the discussions we were able to have with Mr. Schleicher, a statistician and physicist, who had some pretty revolutionary ideas surrounding education and what the school system should look like. He spoke with us about how the Directorate does not tell countries what to do with education, but rather informs them of what other countries are doing, to promote a multilateral approach in which teachers know what other teachers are doing. He also mentioned the need for making teaching a more diverse career with opportunities for development, something New Zealand could work on a lot more. Teachers should be given more status, and given the capability to become lifelong learners themselves, so they may foster the same skills in students. He gave examples of other countries and regions around the globe who have adopted this approach to teaching, and this is then shown in the PISA results for schoolchildren in those places.
I personally resonated a lot with these ideas, on a basic level because my own mother is a teacher and I realise the need for teachers to be held at a higher regard in our society, but also because I think education in New Zealand is the one thing that binds us, that shapes our formative years and gives us what we need to build our lives for ourselves (in theory).
Mr. Schleicher also spoke about the advent of technology in schools, and the need for a more progressive, skills based approach. It is not enough to teach young kids coding as early as age 3, since by the time they reach their twenties and thirties, coding will have given way to the next big innovation, and a whole generation will need to undergo re-educating and re-skilling. This is not to say tech literacy is not important, but the lens through which it is taught should be different. Children should be taught how to navigate problems critically and algorithmically, as a precursor to learning things like coding, so they may use these skills to learn about other new advances when they come up. However education is based on a socially conservative model that is very resilient to change, so it will be intriguing to see how open and receptive governments are to recommendations made by the OECD in the future. There was more discussion as well, around the future obsolescence of universities, and this was such a rich session that I could write a whole research project about it, so I'll leave it there for now. 

After a free weekend which we used to see more of Paris and beyond, it was straight back in to another conference, this time the Latin American and Caribbean Economic Forum, held at the French Ministry of Economy and Finance. This was a very interesting conference regarding trade, economic growth, and social progress, specifically for France and Latin America/ the Caribbean. The Finance Minister also gave a speech regarding not being dependent on countries like China and the USA for trade, and rather growing medium sized companies to grow market shares and making the middle class more prosperous. This sentiment was echoed throughout the Forum, and a multilateral approach was mentioned by almost every speaker. The idea of justice being just as important, if not more, than economics was also brought up, and Ángel Gurría, the Secretary General of the OECD, also mentioned the need for more sustainable and inclusive societies. I was happy to see an equity lens being spoken about at an economic forum, and the idea of 'inclusive growth' becoming more and more prevalent throughout the talks.

TUESDAY: OECD Forum and meeting with Minister Parker
Finally, on Tuesday we arrived at the OECD Forum, the focus of our trip and the conference all these meetings had been leading towards. I expanded on both days of the conference in a separate blog piece, available here. One meeting we had at the OECD was with Ambassador Jane Coombs, and Hon David Parker, Minister for Economic Development, Environment, and Trade and Export Growth, and Associate Minister of Finance. It was amazing to be able to meet with such a knowledgeable Member of Parliament who was very patient and willing to answer our questions and queries regarding trade, the climate, and the local vs global economy. He raised points about the need for a facts-based energy strategy for NZ, and the drive towards greener transport to cut back on our biggest source of emissions. He also elucidated the idea of small, incremental policy changes over time being more effective than a big, sudden change in policy without the proper infrastructure to back it up. The concept of regulation, that we should not be too free but also not over-regulate when it comes to technological advancements was also discussed, with the example of RocketLab being cited as an initiative which allowed our space industry to thrive. Once again, inclusive growth was talked about at length, including measures of child poverty, legislation of which is currently going through Parliament. The growing disparity between the top 20%, who own more financial assets (excl. property) than the bottom 80% combined, was also a topic of discussion, as well as the diminishing middle class in New Zealand. Circumstance at birth has become an indicator of wealth outcomes in the future, and under the 'equality of opportunity' rhetoric, this should not be the case. This meeting touched on many topics, and provided us with insights regarding how far we've come and how far we still have left to go.

THURSDAY: Embassy Human Rights Visit
After the OECD Forum, we were lucky enough to be hosted by the New Zealand Embassy in France for a discussion with Antoine Madelin, the International Advocacy Director for the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). This was an amazing talk which really gave us perspective regarding human rights violations and the way they are addressed on a global scale. the FIDH develops advocacy strategies and has offices in Geneva, Brussels, and NYC. we spoke about the International Criminal Court, which is an appeals court of sorts for member states who are a part of the treaty. The ICC is an option for victims to go beyond domestic provisions, on occasions the highest national court of the member state has failed to provide an adequate ruling. However rulings made by the ICC are not binding, that jurisdiction is with the UN Security Council only. We discussed progress in the form of removing certain countries' veto power, and the need for corporations to uphold human rights, especially following the human rights movement boom in the past three decades. The power of fake news, censorship, and regulation of freedom of speech vs. freedom of expression were also discussed, leading to the conclusion that in matters as multifaceted as these, there is often no one clear solution. There are things we can do as a starting point, however any lasting change will come as a result of a multilateral global movement. 

Through the power of some insider intel, Twitter, and sheer luck, we were able to meet with former New Zealand Prime Minister and former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Helen Clark. She met with us in a café following a busy day of chairing meetings and was very gracious with her time, allowing us to speak candidly over drinks about our time in Paris and what she thought of topics such as inter-governmental cooperation, education, social enterprise, and of course, New Zealand. As she spoke, it was impossible not to be amazed by her vast experience and knowledge in relation to diplomacy and politics, something which she shows no sign of giving up any time soon. After hearing her itinerary for the next five weeks, we were shocked and inspired by just how much Mrs Clark manages to pack in to her days, and how much travelling she is required to do. It was an impromptu visit, but one that we will always remember fondly and tell our future generations about. 

FRIDAY: Meeting with NZ's Permanent Mission to the OECD
We fit in one final meeting on our last day in Paris, this time with members from the Permanent Mission to the OECD, who spoke with us about a range of issues, and the relationship between NZ and the OECD. NZ is a member state of the OECD, which has a reputation as a 'rich countries' club', however this is slightly misleading, as member states are not required to solely have high GDPs, but also a commitment to implementing evidence based policies and having citizen engagement at the forefront (note: Singapore and Gulf States are not members of the OECD, Colombia and Latvia have recently joined). There is a place for diversity in the OECD, if only to reduce the Euro-centric approach, which would be good, especially for New Zealand. We also discussed trade, tariffs (in light os the recent news out of the US), and global value chains, with a final emphasis placed on the fact that protectionism is not a good approach to take in relation to the above, and that the unilateral approach is not the way to go as citizens are the ones who have to pay. This was a great visit that allowed us to reflect on our time in Paris and in particular the OECD, which, as an evidence and analysis based organisation, is something I think the world desperately needs right now. 

That is the basic summary of how we spent two weeks in Paris, not just taking in the sights, but also taking in new knowledge that will allow us to be better equipped when making decisions and creating change. Most of these sessions were over 90 minutes long, and as such I haven't been able to transcribe fully the depth we went into for some of the above topics. I can confidently say I've done what I wished to do at the start of the trip, which is gain more knowledge and broaden my horizons to become someone who now fully appreciates the power of knowledge and evidence when creating policies. I cannot overstate the impact this trip has had on me as a person, and also my thoughts regarding my future career, as I see so many more open opportunities which I had not considered before. 

Until next time. 

All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences