Damian Garnys: Australians play an integral role in the OECD


Interview by Molly O'Brien, Marketing & Communications Specialist, Advance  

After a year on a French working holiday visa, Damian Garnys decided that Paris was a city he wanted to spend more time in. As he began his plans for a more permanent Parisian life, he was fortunate to find work at the Organisation for the Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – an international government organisation which he admits that he’d had not heard of before joining its ranks…

Why the OECD? The mission of the OECD was one that resonated strongly with Damian: to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world, providing a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems.

For more than a decade, Damian has been part of this mission by working in a variety of communication and research positions. Currently, his job as a Statistical Editor involves working with a team to improve the dissemination and accessibility of the organisation's internationally comparable data.

Advance spoke to Damian about how Paris became home and why the work of the OECD is important.

What drew you to the OECD initially?

At the time, I was looking for something that would help the greater population. The OECD, as an international organisation like UNESCO or the ILO, means that my employment status is as an international public servant, which fits that objective on quite a large scale. It is a very different setting compared to my previous private sector experience in market research before leaving Australia.

What really drew me to the organisation is that the work that I would be doing would have a greater benefit for society. My background is in social sciences, but the OECD looks at most facets of society. It really does cover everything that the governments are responsible for (with the exceptions of military and sport) and I like that very horizontal view.

That's a huge undertaking!

It's not just one person that does it! There are around 3 000 people from a broad range of nationalities that work for the organisation; it’s a big, vibrant workplace with two main sites in Paris and a handful of satellite offices in capital cities around the world. The main headquarters are a historic chateau located in the inner western side of the city.

What are some of the initiatives you have been working on that have been translated to physical application?

The OECD decides its programme of work by asking every two years its 35 member countries what to focus the organisation’s outputs on. Therefore, there is a high appreciation of the application and relevance of everything that the organisation does by the member countries.

Some tangible examples of initiatives that the organisation works on include the Anti-Bribery Convention and the work on corruption. There's the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing 15 year old students. And the work on tax avoidance is well cited.

My team contributes to projects such as the "Better Life Index": an attempt by the OECD to look at moving the focus of human progress away from the classic macroeconomic indicators like GDP, to internationally comparable measures of well-being. Specifically, we look at how this index is communicated with the public. It's a quite an innovative level of thinking; how we measure progress in society and what we value in society. You should look at how Australia performs on the index!

Do you ever feel pressure working for an organisation that's promoting human progress, given the current global political climate?

My motivation to work for an organisation such as OECD has always been to contribute to human progress – no matter the current circumstances. The organisation too, which has existed for nearly 60 years, has a mission to promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world. It takes innovative and alternative approaches to looking at how we can advance society.

Australia is number two on the Better Life Index – an impressive rating! What role do Australians serve within the OECD?

Naturally! Australia does very well as a country and the Australians that work at the OECD are well regarded. There are Australians in all facets of work at the OECD, making contributions in administration and infrastructure; at the analytical side, there are economists, counsellors and statisticians; and, also the technical side, such as those working in IT. Australians are represented at many levels within the organisation and across a broad spectrum of all job types.

Why is the OECD based in Paris?

Before the OECD, it was called the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC) which was based in Paris. The OEEC helped administer the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. Once non-European countries joined the organisation, the name changed to reflect the membership.

It’s likely that because the OEEC was committed to Europe, it needed to be based somewhere central on the continent, and Paris was very well connected with the rest Europe. I guess that it made sense at the time, when Europe was still trying to find itself after such a tragic event, that a city comparatively untouched would act as a good place to be based.

Would you ever consider going back to Australia?

I'll never say never, but I've lived here for over a decade and now it’s very much home. I live and work with people from all around the world, bringing this wonderful melting pot of different perspectives and ideas. I really enjoy this and feel that it enriches me, and hopefully I can transfer these experiences onto future generations as well. So I can't say I'm thinking about going back any time soon, but I definitely do appreciate what Australia has to offer and I am always sure to tell that to people. It really is a country with a lot of opportunity. 

After being in Paris for so long, do you find you become desensitised to the beauty of the city?

No, I'm not desensitised to it, and I don’t think I ever could be! The beauty I see isn’t just in the physical aesthetics, it's also in the emotion and thoughts that go behind life here.

And I’m obviously not alone in thinking this: France is the world’s most visited country; Paris is often very highly ranked as an international student city and is one of most multi-cultural in Europe with about 20% of the population in Paris being foreign born.

So Paris attracts not only the odd Australian, but people from all walks of life which make it such a vibrant, creative and diverse society to be part of.