Last week, I was delighted to attend the 6th OECD World Forum in Incheon, Korea. The event brought together researchers, policy-makers and business leaders from over 100 countries, including the likes of Joseph Stiglitz, Jeffrey Sachs, Richard Layard and the 8th Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon.
Over two and half days we debated the Future of Wellbeing, discussing the impact of digitalisation, the future of governance, and the important role of the private sector in driving wellbeing. So what are my takeaways?

1. The imperative of building resilience & adaptability in our economy
After many decades of debating the potential impact of technology, it is clear that we are already starting to feel its effects on many parts of our daily lives. The city I stayed in – Incheon – one of the most advanced Smart Cities in the world was testament to that.
However, we stand on the brink of another major wave of technological disruption – an inflection point – where automation and AI in particular will drive dramatic changes in our world; creating many opportunities, but also challenges. We must recognise that we are not impartial bystanders here, and that society needs to have an honest debate about how actively we manage future change.
But we must also enhance our resilience – ensuring we are well placed to adapt to the future. I was privileged to speak about the impact of digitalisation on the future of work (and I share what I said on this topic here). What is clear is that while technology has the potential to bring many benefits and support better quality jobs, workplaces and working practices, we are not yet fulfilling this potential. Further, technological change is unlikely to create good work for all: there will be both winners and losers in our digital evolution and this could drive even greater inequality without careful and concerted management.
This is a call to action for the UK. Currently much focus is given to the promise of technology but, as our ‘Technology, Productivity and Working Anywhere’ research shows, we need much greater emphasis on the more practical issue of how to effectively adopt and operationalise technology, alongside people, in a way that maximises benefits for businesses and workers. Alongside this we also need targeted investment to ensure that no people or places are left behind, rebuilding local capacity and working through local ecosystems.

2. We need to accelerate the inclusive growth agenda and put people at the heart of policy
Responding to the challenges ahead will require strong governance and a restoration of trust in those charged with safeguarding our societies. Amongst the many concerns raised about the current state of political systems and leadership (globally), I also found cause for much hope.
Governments all around the world are embracing the wellbeing agenda and putting people at the heart of policy. From the Republic of Korea’s commitment to being the first ‘Inclusive State’, to the United Arab Emirates appointing a ‘Minister for Happiness’, and the efforts of HRH Princess Petra Laurentien of the Netherlands to ‘humanise’ policy – we are beginning to understand that the old economic model that builds wealth and then redistributes it is broken. That instead we need to embrace a new model that focusses on creating wealth for all segments of society – inclusive growth.
We are making some progress on this agenda in the UK, but reading about the growing use of foodbanks, rising numbers of people that are homeless or sleeping rough on our streets, and the 4 million workers that live in poverty; and seeing many examples of good practice from elsewhere in the world, it is clear we must do much more to push forwards this agenda – both nationally, and locally.

3. This is a shared challenge and we need to catalyse a movement of ‘responsible business’
Finally, we need to acknowledge that this challenge is not Government’s alone; and that business and civil society have an important role to play. At the World Forum, businesses like Danone and Volvo Group spoke about their efforts to embed the Sustainable Development Goals at the heart of their businesses – including environmental sustainability, but going much further to consider how they can offer good jobs, support their supply chain, and promote the prosperity of the communities they serve.
We need a new model of corporate governance – one centred on long-term stakeholder value as opposed to short-term shareholder returns; that includes employees, consumers and communities in the running of the business. This should comprise an integral part of our efforts to enhance business dynamism and deliver sustainable improvements in management practices in this country.
We need more businesses to lead on this agenda – to recognise their vital role as ‘anchors’ within their local communities, connect the ‘bright spots’ of good practice and drive a movement for change; maximising the potential for the industrial strategy to act as an organising framework and catalyst for employer leadership. But we also need to explore ways to improve transparency, strengthen the reporting and regulatory framework, and incentivise socially-responsible business practices; fully exploiting the levers of Government; institutional investors and asset-holders; and civil society.
So with these reflections in mind, and as world leaders meet at the G20 Summit this week to debate how to promote ‘fair and sustainable development’, it feels as if the efforts of the Work Foundation – created in the wake of the first world war to secure better work, in particular for vulnerable people – are more important than ever in preparing us for this future.

About the author

Heather Carey

Deputy Director of the Work Foundation