Discontent is rising around the world, reflecting dysfunctions and injustices that have emerged in economic, social and political systems. It is also a response to the damage humankind is inflicting on the world’s natural systems and thus, inevitably, upon itself. The COVID-19 pandemic, during which this report was written, has exposed these defects to devastating effect. As countries plan their recovery from the multiple crises triggered by the pandemic, they have an opportunity to make these systems more inclusive, more sustainable, more resilient and more responsive. This report shows this can only happen with the active participation of citizens in new forms of collective action at the local, national and international level.

This report contributes to the task of addressing discontent in three ways.

First, by analysing the causes of discontent around the world, particularly in developing countries. Such an assessment is urgently needed to deal with a likely continuation (and possible aggravation) of the protests seen in recent years. Yet discontent is not only visible on the streets, nor is it solely driven by day-to-day frustrations. It can emerge as much from the disintegration of societies – from the evaporation of inter-personal trust, declines in civic engagement and polarised political systems – as from citizens’ concerns with their material well-being. Today’s discontent is neither a marginal phenomenon nor a passing phase.

Second, the report explains that countries cannot build back better from the pandemic without closing the cracks that already existed in their societies. To this end, the report outlines directions developing countries can take to strengthen social cohesion at the same time as they promote economic transformation, build capable states and reduce social vulnerability. These approaches need to be co-ordinated through national development strategies that will often have to design and promote new social contracts. And they should be complemented by new models of government that decentralise power and resources, encourage innovation and foster partnerships with civil society, which is increasingly asking for voice.

Third, the report identifies the global dimensions of discontent and demonstrates how these have exposed weaknesses and imbalances in international co-operation. It highlights that development must transition to new realities and new role players. A new spirit of experimentalism is needed; novel institutional configurations, different ways of thinking and a broader range of voices are required within an empowered and empowering multilateral system. Without doubt, these new voices must include the ranks of the discontented.

Mario Pezzini

Director of the OECD Development Centre and Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary General on Development

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