Former Executive Directors at UNICEF
Bearing the torch of compassion and commitment for the rights of children.
The Executive Director of UNICEF works on behalf of the United Nations children's agency to help children around the world survive and thrive by advocating for and protecting their rights. They are appointed by the United Nations Secretary General. Below are profiles of all our Executive Directors since 1947.
Maurice Pate (1894-1965) was UNICEF's first executive director. At the time of his joining, millions of children were suffering in the aftermath of World War II. Pate made it a condition of his service that UNICEF support those in vanquished as well as victorious countries. As a result, UNICEF helped distribute milk and other supplies to children all over Europe, and soon after helped bring relief to children affected by various conflicts in China, Greece and the Middle East.
There are no enemy children.
The first landmark of Pate’s directorship was in 1950, when UNICEF was mandated to include working with children and families throughout the developing world. In the following decades, Pate helped UNICEF take up the challenge of fighting poverty in newly independent countries of the developing world.
Sweden, 1950. Maurice Pate shares a park bench with children in Stockholm.
Pate was characterized by his successor as UNICEF's architect and builder and as a renowned practical idealist. He died in January 1965, a few months before he was to retire.
American attorney and diplomat Henry R. Labouisse (1904 - 1987) brought extensive international service experience to UNICEF. The major conflicts and natural disasters of the late 1960s and 1970s would lead to an upsurge in UNICEF’s emergency relief operations. During this time, he guided UNICEF’s vision towards helping children and families in developing countries gain access to health and education.
Children know no political barriers.
Under Labouisse's leadership, UNICEF emphasized community-based initiatives for health, nutrition, formal and non-formal education, and water and sanitation. As part of promoting primary health care, UNICEF supported low-cost, decentralized services aimed at bringing basic health services to all. The organization also focused on hard-to-reach rural areas and urban slums and began to address women's needs independent of their role as mothers.
Norway, 1965. Henry Labouisse (left), receives the Nobel Peace prize medal on behalf of UNICEF, presented by Nobel Committee Chairman of the Norwegian Parliament, Gunnar Jahn, at the prize ceremonies at Oslo University.
In accepting the 1965 Nobel Peace Prize on UNICEF’s behalf, Labouisse declared that the prize had ''reinforced our profound belief that, each time UNICEF contributes, however modestly, to giving today's children a chance to grow into useful and happier citizens, it contributes to removing some of the seeds of world tension and future conflicts.''
James P. Grant (1922 - 1995) was an energetic advocate for children and a visionary who insisted on strategic action and measurable results.
He led UNICEF in a campaign to combat what he called a "global silent emergency," — the deaths of millions of children each year from easily preventable illnesses. Launched in 1983, this global initiative mobilized to bring lifesaving, cost-effective techniques to children in developing countries, including immunization, oral rehydration therapy to prevent death from diarrhoeal dehydration, and breastfeeding. By the end of the 1980s, this child survival and development revolution was estimated to have saved 12 million young lives.
Morality must march with capacity.
Grant helped expedite another milestone for children in 1989 when the UN General Assembly adopted the ground-breaking treaty The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into international law within a year. This further inspired UNICEF to become a driving force behind the 1990 World Summit for Children, the largest gathering of Heads of State and Governments up until then. Out of this was born a global Plan of Action and concrete goals for children's health, education, well-being and protection.
New York, 1990. James Grant, together with children representing several countries around the world, addresses the Outdoor Forum, held on the North Lawn at United Nations Headquarters in celebration of the World Summit for Children.
To help reinforce the promises made and to further mobilize the world's leadership for children, Grant successfully urged countries to formulate national plans of action. For the first time, the global community began work on international goals — at the highest political levels — to reduce rates of mortality and disease, malnutrition and illiteracy, and to reach specific targets by the year 2000.
Carol Bellamy became UNICEF’s fourth Executive Director after a distinguished career that included the private sector and public office. Under Ms. Bellamy's leadership, UNICEF became a champion of global investment in children.
During her tenure, Bellamy focused on five major priorities: immunizing every child; getting all girls and boys into school and getting all schools to offer quality basic education; reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS and its impact on young people; fighting for the protection of children from violence and exploitation; and introducing early childhood programmes in every country.
...in serving the best interests of children, we serve the best interests of all humanity.
She encouraged the General Assembly to allow children to take part in the UN Special Session on Children in May 2002, and hundreds did, meeting directly with Heads of State to discuss the issues affecting their lives. The ground-breaking summit adopted new global goals for children and provided world leaders with ideas and inspiration for achieving them.
Sri Lanka, 2005. Carol Bellamy speaks with children in a camp for people displaced by the tsunami, set up in the Al-Manar Primary School in the village of Maruthamunai.
Ms. Bellamy left behind a fiscally sound organization with strong internal controls and many notable advances for children including a 99 per cent reduction in polio since 1988 and a greater number of children in school than ever before.
Under Ann Veneman’s leadership, UNICEF launched initiatives to improve business practices, transparency and collaboration to ensure that the agency's programmes reached the most vulnerable and that its resources were utilized efficiently to protect, save and improve the lives of children around the world. These strategies included establishing a results-based approach to programme management and scaling up the use of integrated packages of interventions to the health and development of children.
Haiti, 2010. Ann M. Veneman greets a girl toddler at the Notre Dame des Victoires residential care centre while reviewing ongoing UNICEF aid efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake in January of that year.
Veneman travelled to more than 60 countries to review the plight of children and UNICEF's work to assist them. She witnessed the devastation caused by natural disasters, conflict, disease and exploitation – experiences that redoubled her sense of hope, passion and urgency in advocating for children.
Few things have more impact than nutrition on a child's ability to survive, learn effectively and escape a life of poverty.
Veneman co-chaired Mothers Day Every Day, a campaign launched by CARE and the White Ribbon Alliance supporting access to basic health care and maternal services for women around the world. Her leadership, vision and emphasis on a culture of continuous improvement to help achieve lasting results for children were recognized both nationally and internationally. In 2009, she was named to the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women list, ranking 46.
Anthony Lake came to serve as UNICEF’s sixth Executive Director with more than 45 years of public service experience. His career included foreign policy, national security, humanitarian and development issues at the most senior levels.
His long-standing ties to UNICEF dated back to 1993, when he worked with UNICEF’s third Executive Director, James P. Grant, on the organization’s presentation of its flagship publication, The State of the World’s Children, at the White House. From 1998 to 2007 he served at the US Fund for UNICEF, with a term as Chair, after which he was appointed a permanent honorary member.
The SDGs present an opportunity to apply the lessons we have learned and reach the children in greatest need – and shame on us if we don't.
At UNICEF, he was active at effort to refocus investment towards the most disadvantaged children, and reducing child mortality.
Peru, 2014. Isa Rate, a girl from the indigenous Shipibo group, uses rectangular plates bearing letters of the alphabet to teach Anthony Lake how she spells her name in her native language.
During his eight-year tenure as Executive Director of UNICEF, Lake dedicated himself to realizing a world where the rights of all the children would be fully respected and contributed to promoting human security.
Previously, Lake worked with leaders and policy makers across the world and as senior foreign policy adviser to the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, a role he also performed during the Clinton presidential campaign.
Henrietta H. Fore became UNICEF’s seventh director, having worked in economic development, education, health, humanitarian and disaster relief as a public servant, for more than four decades. She was the first woman to serve in the US Government as Administrator of the Agency for International Development (USAID), and Director of US Foreign Assistance.
Together, we can get the job done.
Fore oversaw UNICEF’s critical role in the global response to COVID-19 that began with the rapid delivery of water, tests, supplies and PPE around the world and equipping and training healthcare workers to deliver vaccines. Under her leadership UNICEF played a central role in the COVAX facility, providing procurement, airfreight, and in-country delivery and training to help save lives in the largest vaccination drive in history.
Lebanon, 2018. Henrietta Fore on her visit to Bar Elias Elementary Public School in Bekaa, accompanied by Lebanese Minister of Education Marwan Hamadeh.
The UN Secretary General lauded Fore for her commitment to “reimagining education” and to the safe return to classrooms across the world. She championed Reimagine Education, Generation Unlimited and GIGA – initiatives that aim to connect 3.5 billion students to world-class digital solutions for learning by 2030. In her last year at the helm of UNICEF, GIGA had mapped over 1 million schools and connected 5,000.
Fore led the pivot UNICEF needed to make inorder to adapt and meet the needs of children in a fast-changing world. Climate change is an example of this adaptation. Under her leadership, UNICEF introduced the Children’s Climate Risk Index – the first comprehensive analysis of climate risk from a child’s perspective.