Nearly two decades ago, in May 1994, Mexico became the first Latin American country to join the OECD. Not long after, in 1996, the secretary general of the OECD at the time, Jean-Claude Paye and the then Mexican minister of foreign affairs and current secretary-general, Angel Gurría, opened the OECD Mexico Centre. Initially, our job was to promote OECD publications in Mexico and throughout Latin America. But that mission has grown since, to include “disseminating, promoting and making accessible better policies, to governments, economic and social actors throughout Latin America, for better lives of their citizens”.
The OECD and Latin America have got to know each other far better during this period, thanks largely to the Internet which was also born around the same time.
Take information itself. Previously, the dissemination of OECD work was mainly carried out through printed books, which limited our distribution in Latin America. However, online subscriptions, notably via OECD iLibrary, have helped us build growing audiences in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Venezuela, Peru, and more.
Meanwhile, the Mexico Centre and other partners produce more and more Spanish and Portuguese translations of OECD publications every year, which audiences can access via iLibrary. Online traffic to OECD iLibrary from Latin America grew 38% in 2012 compared with 2011.
In addition, the OECD Mexico website has become the OECD gateway for Spanish speakers. The traffic to the website has doubled over the past three years, to over half a million people.
Social media has been a major asset in helping our dialogue with Latin American citizens. The Twitter account @ocdeenespanol now has nearly 20,000 followers, and we see that number continuing to grow. Such innovations have not only helped us to communicate directly with ordinary people, but also to position the OECD at the heart of important debates. During recent heated discussions and demonstrations on Chilean education reform, for instance, the “OCDE” became a hub of knowledge and data, allowing us to trend on Twitter.
But with visibility and interaction comes responsibility. There is an interesting paradox in all this. IT has transformed OECD relations with non-OECD countries as well as with members such as Chile and Mexico. But this has also brought these countries under more scrutiny. And the more governments seek an active engagement with the OECD, the more citizens and the media become involved, and informed. They see how their country is performing, over time and can compare it with others. They learn about the challenges. And they use OECD information to hold their governments to account for their actions (and inaction) regarding key public policies.
This activity might make government officials feel uncomfortable at first, particularly if confronted with unfavorable international comparisons. After all, it is not easy to be up against the world’s best performers in so many policy fields, particularly for developing countries. But then again, that is what reality checks are for: not to limit, but rather to encourage a better performance. Just look at Mexico, which after 18 years of being subject to such scrutiny and public debate, seems finally to have entered a virtuous cycle of progress. It is proof that better policies do indeed lead to better lives.
Our growing and promising co-operation in Latin America is just beginning. As well as our many publications–the Latin American Economic Outlook is already a milestone after six editions for instance–the newly launched OECD Latin American and Caribbean Initiative is already producing valuable results, thanks to constant dialogue and intelligencesharing in the fields of taxation, innovation, investment and public services.
Latin America has transformed since 1994, and the information revolution continues to play its part in nurturing this new knowledge society. If this momentum is built upon, then the next 10 years could truly become “the decade of Latin America”.
©OECD Observer No 293 Q4 November 2012