The closing remarks of last week’s UNICEF Executive Board session highlighted the areas in which better results are needed. But they also emphasized the gains the world has made for children – and the motivation we should draw from those successes.
By Kristin Taylor
In its first session of the year, the UNICEF Executive Board looked at key areas for improving the organization's effectiveness as the development system moves to a post-2015 agenda.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Directors Geeta Rao Gupta (left) and Yoka Brandt (right) spoke on the role of gender equality in the context of the UNICEF Strategic Plan and the organization’s work in humanitarian emergencies.
NEW YORK, United States of America, 10 February 2014 – With the obtaining of funding comes a responsibility to turn financial contributions into real results for children – to put the planned aid into action. During its first regular session of 2014, which ran from 4 to 6 February, the UNICEF Executive Board focused many of its discussions on strengthening the programmes and procedures that enable UNICEF and its partners to bring about improvements for the world’s children.
An organizational roadmap: the UNICEF Strategic Plan, 2014–2017
For any child, an unequal chance in life is a denial of fundamental rights. With growing evidence that focusing on the most disadvantaged children leads to more sustainable development, addressing inequity remains the foundation of UNICEF’s response as outlined in the Strategic Plan.
The outcomes of the Strategic Plan are to be borne out in achievements across seven key impact areas: health; HIV and AIDS; water, sanitation and hygiene; nutrition; education; child protection; and social inclusion. The Plan also calls for achievements in two cross-sectoral areas – humanitarian action and gender equality – whose results are integrated across all seven outcomes.
On 4 February, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt and Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes Ted Chaiban led a thematic discussion on the work of UNICEF in humanitarian situations to highlight this important aspect of the organization’s work for the Board.
“As we speak, UNICEF and our partners are responding to four major emergencies requiring full organizational mobilization: Syria, the Philippines, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan,” said Ms. Brandt.
But, she also emphasized, “there are many other situations, less in the limelight, that require humanitarian action. Besides facing a growing humanitarian caseload, we are also providing support to humanitarian action in increasingly diverse and complex contexts.”
In addition, Ms. Brandt stressed the need for greater linking of humanitarian and development programmes, which was a concern raised by a number of Member States during the session.
Mr. Chaiban explained that continuing conflicts as well as a heightened risk of natural disasters, in part as a result of climate change, are driving that increase. “But while there are increasing vulnerabilities in [this] context,” he said, “there are also new opportunities to improve humanitarian assistance.”
In alignment with the objectives of the Strategic Plan, these improvements call for UNICEF not only to save lives and better protect children’s rights, but also to reduce vulnerability to disasters and conflicts by building resilience.
The second cross-cutting initiative outlined in the Strategic Plan – gender equality – was a point of focus during the Executive Board’s annual and second regular sessions of 2013. During those sessions, the Board called for UNICEF to develop a gender action plan (GAP), which would ensure that adequate resources were allocated to the realization of improved equity along gender lines. This year, the Board meetings on 4 February included a briefing on the progress made toward the development of the GAP, which is set to be finalized by mid-April 2014.
Developments include a focus on fewer but more clearly definable and measurable indicators – achieving gender parity in school enrolment, reducing rates of child marriage and increasing access to antiretroviral treatment for AIDS among them. Principal Adviser of Gender Rights and Civic Engagement Anju Malhotra, who led the presentation, explained that countries have the flexibility to align their programmes with the areas that most suit their needs; by focusing on results across a few priority indicators, countries can effect more significant and sustainable gains.
“To achieve results for children, it is essential to address one of the most fundamental inequities found in all society – gender inequality,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta, placing the aspirations of the GAP within a larger perspective. “Promoting gender equality is integral to the equity focus of UNICEF’s work and to our mandate to promote and protect the rights of girls and boys.”
UNICEF country programmes
UNICEF’s country and area programmes are a primary means through which the organization carries out its development work. On 5 February, the Board approved revisions to three such programmes it had previously deliberated at its second regular session of 2013: the country programmes for Mexico and Namibia as well as the Gulf Area subregional programme.
That same day, the Board also reviewed proposed modifications to simplify procedures for the consideration and approval of country programme documentation. These modifications, which the Board approved on the final day of the session, will make UNICEF country programme documents more consistent with those of other United Nations agencies, fostering opportunities for joint analysis and review consistent with Delivering as One, an initiative to strengthen coherence and effectiveness across the development system.
Further, by transforming the current, multi-step approval process into a single-step process, the revisions will result in substantial time and cost savings, provide more time for programme evaluation and allow for quicker approval of programmes. Additionally, analyses of country programmes will now be available in publicly accessible country office annual reports, complementing efforts to strengthen organizational transparency and leadership.
Organizational learning through evaluation
Through regular evaluation of its work, UNICEF has the greatest capacity to meet the goals of the Strategic Plan – and to integrate in future initiatives the knowledge gained from those efforts. To this end, during the first regular session, the Board approved a plan for global thematic evaluations for the duration of the Strategic Plan, 2014–2017.
During that timeframe, the UNICEF Evaluation Office will carry out a range of evaluations – from global thematic evaluation on large-scale issues to more focused analyses on particular programmes. The majority of the evaluations will focus on the priority areas of the Strategic Plan. The findings of these reports will not only inform efforts going forward, but will also foster improved management that draws on quality findings and data.
Closing of the Board
As the first regular session drew to a close, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake recalled the areas in which better results are needed. But he also emphasized the gains the world has made for children – and the motivation we should draw from those successes.
“I find in the numbers of progress … tremendous inspiration for the future because it shows what we can do if we work together,” he said.
Executive Board President Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations, reflected on the decisions made during the first regular session and how they demonstrate UNICEF’s dedication to innovation and learning.
“UNICEF continues to innovate … in order to achieve the right results – and the best results – for children within an increasingly complex and fragile world.” But, he said, “[i]t innovates … because it learns and … it strives to harness its resources … to develop programmes and partnerships to promote and protect the rights of children everywhere.”
The Executive Board of UNICEF adopted four decisions at the first regular session. It will continue to build on the accomplishments made in the past days when the Executive Board convenes for its 2014 annual session, scheduled for 3-6 June.