The challenge of securing development funding was a major theme of this week’s UNICEF Executive Board session, as resource requirements face diminished government contributions and a shifting donor landscape.
European Union Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs speaks at the first regular session of the 2014 UNICEF Executive Board at UN Headquarters. Beside him are UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt (left) and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake (right).
NEW YORK, United States of America, 6 February 2014 – In the uncertain economic climate the world faces today, investments in foreign assistance come under intense scrutiny. There are concerns about the ability of aid to bring about a point of sustainability in developing nations. The question is sometimes pondered, and at times more forcefully asked: Is it making a difference? These concerns provided the backdrop to many of the discussions at the first regular session of the Executive Board of UNICEF, which closed today.
Progress in the new millennium
Governments, leaders, development organizations and everyday citizens have helped to effect significant gains since the adoption of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, committing nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015, known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The MDGs “helped us to put children at the core of international development aid,” European Union Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs said on the opening day of the UNICEF Executive Board. “They have galvanized unprecedented national commitment and international support towards a set of goals mainly focused on children, women and the most deprived and vulnerable.”
The MDGs set out to achieve measurable progress in a number of critical areas by 2015 – including access to education, improved child survival, HIV/AIDS prevention, and access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation.
• Between 1999 and 2011, the number of children out of school fell by almost half.
• Between 1990 and 2012, the number who never reach their fifth birthday decreased from 12.6 million annually to 6.6 million.
• Between 2005 and 2012, 850,000 new HIV infections were prevented among children aged 0 to 14 in low- and middle-income countries – and for the first time, an AIDS-free generation is possible.
• From 1990 to 2010, more than 2 billion people gained access to improved water sources – halving the proportion of people without safe drinking water, and marking the first of the MDG targets to be met.
Despite these gains, there remain substantial challenges to improving the lives of children around the world. Some 57 million children – 54 per cent of them girls – remain out of school. Around 18,000 children under age 5 still die each day, mostly from preventable causes. Amid decreases in AIDS-related deaths for all other age groups, rates have increased among adolescents by 50 per cent between 2005 and 2012. And by the end of 2011, 2.5 billion people worldwide still lacked access to improved sanitation. In some regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, there have not been enough gains and, in some cases, reversals or declines due to conflict or humanitarian emergencies.
The next era of development
A world in which every child realizes her or his fundamental rights and is protected from violence is the world we all strive toward. But is this ideal the only end against which to measure success?
Strategic investments can yield astounding and sustainable results. Improvements in female education, for example, are linked to significant reductions in child mortality, while the risk of maternal death is 2.7 times higher among women with no education.
What, then, do we stand to gain by prioritizing gender equality across all sectors – and by applying this principle of sustainable development to other areas in which the world still demands greater progress?
It is these types of strategic investments that are driving UNICEF’s work – and, likewise, its funding needs – as it makes the transition to a post-2015 development agenda.
Political will drives pledging event
Just as the troubled economy brings aid under greater scrutiny, it also heightens the challenge to secure adequate funding – a trend to which UNICEF is not immune.
Today, as is customary during the first regular session of the Executive Board, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake opened its annual pledging event for voluntary contributions from Member States with the capacity to provide them.
Core contributions – funding for regular resources from donors – are critical to UNICEF’s ability to carry out its mission. Such contributions are not earmarked for a particular purpose, and therefore they give UNICEF the flexibility to direct funds where they are most needed. In the case of new emergencies, for example, they can bolster UNICEF’s ability to initiate a timely response. They can also allow UNICEF to provide continuous programming so that less visible humanitarian crises do not fall into the shadows.
Mr. Lake acknowledged the challenges governments face and the difficult budgetary decisions they must make as a result.
Learn more about core resources, which are at the heart of UNICEF's ability to deliver results at the local level, on a global scale – changing millions of children's lives for the better.
“We know that financial conditions remain challenging in many countries – making multi-year commitments difficult,” Mr. Lake said. “But we also know that we will not – we cannot – reach our shared results for children without committing the resources to do so.”
Even in the face of these hardships, it is the political will to support global development and humanitarian initiatives that has driven governments to continue funding UNICEF’s work – providing the bulk of resources on which the organization relies.
Overall, US$52 million was raised today, with core contributions pledged by Belgium, Hungary, Japan, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, the Republic of Korea, and Turkey. Other countries may be able to pledge their contributions at a later date.
These pledges, Mr. Lake said, “will help us reach more children who are living their lives without protection … without education … without medical care … and too often, without hope.”
Economic challenges drive alternate sources of funding
Core contributions from governments fell from $646 million in 2011 to $597 in 2012. UNICEF has also seen a decline in regular resources as a proportion of total contributions, falling from 50 per cent in 2000 to less than one third in 2013.
The challenges to secure funding through more traditional channels have provided opportunities to explore new sources of support, particularly from among the private sector. On 5 February, a presentation of the 2014 work plan and proposed budget for private-sector fundraising highlighted these opportunities for members of the Executive Board.
Relationships with private donors not only provide a source of revenue, but also have the potential to promote and advance child rights among new audiences.
“[A]s our work … gains visibility, we send the message that not only governments, but the citizens who provide the necessary political will and financial resources, are part of our common effort to improve the lives of the youngest and most vulnerable children around the world,” said Mr. Lake in his opening remarks to the Executive Board.
But private sources of funding also come with their own challenges, and they are increasingly more competitive to secure. In turn, donors demand higher levels of transparency and accountability from recipients, and many desire a more strategic stake in the relationship.
A critical partnership – UNICEF and the European Union
On 4 February, a special focus session of the Executive Board meeting looked at one of UNICEF’s most important partnerships – its relationship with the European Union (EU).
That day, the EU announced its allocation of €320 million (US$431 million) in support of UNICEF’s work to improve the health and nutrition of children and women in 15 developing countries and to help speed progress in meeting the MDGs. In recent years, as the partnership has grown, the EU has increased its financial contributions to UNICEF’s work, with the latest contribution representing a 350 per cent increase in development funding since 2008.
“Upholding the rights of every child is at the core of UNICEF’s work and makes it one of the most respected and admired development players. Probably the most admired,” said EU Commissioner Piebalgs. “The European Union and its Member States share your ambition.”
Within the scope of more strategic collaboration, longer-term goals have also been laid out for a thematic approach to issues such as poverty eradication, food security, disaster risk reduction, resilience and social protection.
Having long strived to align its policies with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the EU strengthens those efforts by drawing on UNICEF’s expertise as a leader in the promotion of child rights.
EU Commissioner Piebalgs shared his vision of a “world where all people, beginning with children, have access to water, sanitation, energy, education and health services, and again, to peace and security.”
“The question,” he said, “is not ‘Can it be done?', but ‘Do we have the political courage and determination to do it?’ This is not idealism; it is a real, concrete possibility.”