Author: Mendelsohn, S., Stoddard, A., and Mackenzie, M.; UNICEF NYHQ
This report summarizes and synthesizes the findings of two studies commissioned by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)’s Evaluation Office on UNICEF’s contribution to UN Reform and its impact on UNICEF. The two separate but linked documents from which this report draws focus on UNICEF’s experience in the Development Group and the Humanitarian Sector respectively, and examine the institutional mechanisms and relationships associated with those areas in depth. This combined report seeks to provide an overview assessment across the development and humanitarian sectors, drawing on the findings and conclusions of the two reports, while adding a further layer of analysis to reflect on UNICEF as one organization engaging in these different spheres.
UNICEF has made strong efforts toward the achievement of UN reform objectives, provided critical leadership within the interagency community, and filled important gaps. At the headquarters level, UNICEF has provided significant intellectual support in the development of the mechanics of UN reform–related policies and practices. At the country level, and less so but increasingly at the regional level, UNICEF has acted in a timely and proactive fashion to lead or facilitate interagency processes. UNICEF’s level of engagement and leadership on the development side has been one of marked and steady improvement, while on the humanitarian side it has been consistently high, and indeed — according to external informants — unparalleled among the UN agencies.
However, while UNICEF has made a great deal of effort to harmonize its systems with those at the interagency level, the combined effect of the increased workload related to UN reform, and the requirements of both UN Country Teams (UNCT) and UNICEF work activities has resulted in a heavier workload for staff. In order to fight a rising sense of “coordination fatigue” among some staff members, and their feeling that UNICEF’s investment in reform is not matched by a sufficient return, UNICEF needs to further rationalize, not just harmonize, its systems with the interagency systems. This will require a careful assessment of the value added of each of the newer UN reform activities to ensure that they represent true value added to the UNCTs and to UNICEF.
Historically, UNICEF has cultivated a strong brand identification as an efficient, effective aid organization, focused on the rights and needs of children and women in development, emergency, and transition situations. UN reform requires UNICEF to carefully balance the need to retain its unique identity and visibility objectives with the need to work toward broader UN goals of programming, financial systems and procedural coherence as well as accountability for results. Both internal and external perceptions, as reflected in interviews and in evidence from case illustrations, show that this remains a challenge for UNICEF.
Finally, the evaluation findings underscore the fact that although UNICEF is seen as an important contributor to UN reform processes, some outside observers continue to detect ambivalence in UNICEF about UN reform — at least in the development sphere — and at times UNICEF has been seen as a negative force. In both the development and humanitarian spheres interviewees expressed the sense that UNICEF has the capacity to contribute still more than it has; that it could and should provide the leadership to push the system to the next level of system coherence. External observers believe that if UNICEF does not provide its share of leadership and support to help bring about the required changes in the UN system, there is a danger of the UN being further marginalized. Simultaneously, internal personnel have reiterated their concern that UNICEF not lose its focus on its advocacy efforts for the rights of children.
The findings of both studies indicated, however, that ovrall, UN reform has:
Additionally, in the humanitarian sector UNICEF has effectively leveraged its role as facilitator of interagency coordination to position itself as a major humanitarian player alongside agencies with larger humanitarian budgets and programs almost exclusively devoted to humanitarian functions.
As UNICEF looks toward its engagement in UN reform over the coming years, it should be cognizant of the critical catalytic and leadership role it has carved out for itself in both development and humanitarian contexts (and is poised to do in transitions), and the extent to which the interagency system has come to depend on UNICEF serving in this role.
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