Author: Stoddard, A.; UNICEF NYHQ
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) commissioned this review of its engagement in UN reform in the humanitarian sector to provide an assessment of the manner and extent to which UNICEF has contributed to the reform process, and in so doing benefited the larger humanitarian system. The goal of the exercise was to provide a basis for the organization to strategize on how to structure its contributions going forward to best serve the interests of the organization and the broader system to achieve the maximum benefit to children.
Key findings and conclusionsOverall, UNICEF’s engagement in the mechanisms and processes of UN reform in the humanitarian sphere and its commitment and contribution to strengthening and harmonizing international humanitarian action can be broadly characterized as follows:
Consistent — UNICEF has been a leader and a driver of humanitarian reform going back more than a decade, beginning with resolution 46/182, and has continued in this role within the current process of reform.
Principled — Since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNICEF has made major strides in reconceiving its mission as grounded in and driven by human rights, and has approached system-wide reform with the same emphasis. In advocating for humanitarian principles and promoting the adoption of the rights based approach to programming in humanitarian as well as development contexts, it is a crucial voice (though not yet loud enough) for promoting the rights-based approach within the wider humanitarian and UN system.
Extensive — UNICEF has contributed more in terms of staffing, time, and supplementary financial resources to interagency coordination mechanisms at the global level than any other agency. Its contributions at the field level have not been enumerated but include a great many examples of secondments; financial, material, and management support to common systems and facilities, and leadership of interagency processes. It has led, co-led, or made major substantive contributions to the vast majority of policy and field-based coordination instruments developed over the past decade, including but not limited to: the system for Regional and Humanitarian Coordinators; the Consolidated Appeal Process and Common Humanitarian Action Plan; country-team related coordination mechanisms, guidelines for protecting human rights through humanitarian action and for the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse in aid contexts, and frameworks for contingency planning and preparedness.
Advantageous — UNICEF has benefited as an organization through its contribution, though the return isn’t always readily apparent. Through its role as facilitator of interagency coordination it has positioned itself as a major humanitarian player alongside agencies with larger humanitarian budgets and programs almost exclusively devoted to humanitarian functions. By most accounts, UNICEF has successfully used its engagement with the broader system to promote its agenda to protect the rights of children and women
UNICEF currently faces a few key challenges to continuing its catalytic and leadership role including:
• Funding constraints, in the absence of a dedicated source for underwriting the financial costs associated with coordination.
• Finite human resources which are reaching the limits of their stretch in terms of secondments and taking on new organizational responsibilities and activities.
• Departure of certain key staff who in their dedication to these processes became synonymous with interagency coordination and humanitarian reform;
• “Coordination fatigue” affecting headquarters staff who have difficulty prioritizing the numerous demands on their time and energy made by interagency mechanisms;
• External pressure towards over-integration/homogenization resulting from new political security environment and from a misreading of the goals of UN reform in humanitarian action by some actors.
Interviews conducted with over 40 UNICEF staff members in headquarters and the field, as well as with individuals representing the senior leadership of other agencies and within the UN secretariat, yielded an overwhelming consensus that its role in UN reform, specifically promoting, driving, and leading humanitarian coordination is vital to UNICEF; that it is fully consistent with or integral to its mandate and it should not be scaled back or allowed to flag in the face of these challenges. They also exhibited unanimous agreement that UNICEF priorities have not suffered from coordination but only stand to gain.
However, as more than one staff member emphasized the fact that UNICEF has done more than others in certain areas, does not mean that it cannot or should not do more. In particular, staff feel UNICEF must use its position in the interagency system to more vigorously promote children’s rights and child protection. UNICEF currently lacks a comprehensive advocacy strategy (as distinct from a communications strategy) including ways to make its voice for children heard louder in the political wings of the United Nations and the Security Council. UNICEF should enable policy staff to interpret the groundwork that has been laid on fundamental rights-based programming principles and take it forward in keeping with goals of UN reform. Policy and advocacy must be able to respond to events quickly, free of cumbersome process constraints or conservative propensities.
An overall theme that emerged was of UNICEF as a bridging organization. Not only does it straddle the spheres of relief and development in its programming, its mandate for children cuts across all sectors, and the underpinning precepts of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law has enabled UNICEF to bridge human rights and humanitarian aid in a more comprehensive and advanced way than many of its counterparts. UNICEF is thus both uniquely well suited to, and well served by, playing a coordinating role. These bridging capacities may also be brought to bear in situations of post-conflict transition, an area where UNICEF has shown leadership potential and stands to play an important role going forward.
In keeping with the overwhelming consensus of staff and external partners, the proposals for framing future strategy presented at the end of this review do not earmark any areas for UNICEF to scale back or de-emphasize its contribution, but rather centre on:
1. Ways for UNICEF to more effectively relate (and promote its agenda) to key actors and mechanisms, specifically the ERC, Special Representatives of the Secretary General, and the RC/HC system, as well as the UN political wing and non-UN actors such as donors and NGOs;
2. Using its influence within coordination systems to push the system to adopt more problem-driven and field relevant approaches, with an eye to minimizing the talk shops and busy work that have hindered interagency coordination and focus on substantive products and results;
3. Carving a leadership role for UNICEF in situations of transition, including fostering new or stronger partnerships with political actors and international financial institutions;
4. Achieving a stronger advocacy voice on child rights and protection, particularly within the context of internally displaced persons;
5. In addition, further developing, clarifying, and promoting its human rights based approach within its own organization, to make more progress in the realization of the concept in field practice;
6. Ensuring that UNICEF’s capacity matches its commitment to UN reform in humanitarian response, by: freeing regional offices and country offices from certain organizational management duties to focus on coordination tasks; strengthening water and environmental sanitation (WES) capacity which is lacking at present; enabling secondees to return and continue on a UNICEF career path; and advocating for a system wide examination and action on the current security dilemma as regards UN humanitarian action.
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