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UNICEF Executive Board

UNICEF Executive Board focuses on reimagining education and joint efforts to support refugee children and host communities

UNICEF Image: UNICEF Executive Board online meeting

New York, United States of America, 14 September 2020 – The UNICEF Executive Board’s final formal session of the year closed on Friday. 

In her remarks at the opening of the virtual meeting, UNICEF Executive Board President H.E. Ms. Rabab Fatima, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Bangladesh, invoked the “collaborative spirit” with which UNICEF and its Board members had navigated the unprecedented circumstances created by COVID-19. 

“The pandemic has upended lives everywhere,” she said, “and children’s lives have been deeply impacted.” Focusing on the pandemic’s heavy toll on education, she noted the serious impacts of learning disruptions on child protection, nutrition and mental health, and the particular risks to girls. “It is imperative that we get the maximum number of children back into a learning environment, and soon” she said. “With more than one billion students still affected by school closures, this is no easy task.

 Emphasizing the importance of collaboration, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore highlighted UNICEF’s work with its partners to devise innovative solutions in education. She stressed the importance of both responding to the disruptions caused by COVID-19 and addressing the global learning crisis that predates it. Even before the pandemic shuttered schools across the world, 250 million children were out of school, and half of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries were unable to read. 

“The pandemic,” said Executive Director Fore, “underscored that we need nothing short of a revolution in learning, education and skills training.” Without urgent, large-scale action, UNICEF has warned that nearly 7 million students could drop out as a result of the pandemic’s economic impacts, leading to a loss in earnings for this cohort amounting to US$10 trillion, according to World Bank estimates. 

“A generation of young people needs our support to shape their minds and skills for the future,” stated Executive Director Fore in a prepared statement made available to the Board in advance of the session. “We will not let them down.” 

UNICEF Image: A student in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. UNICEF is working hand in hand with Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (MoEYS) to help every school in Cambodia to reopen.
© UNICEF/UNI368157/Seng
A student in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. UNICEF is working hand in hand with Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to help every school in Cambodia to reopen.

Working across countries to transform education

Education was the common thread across Thursday’s presentation of 10 new country programmes for Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Serbia and Kosovo (under Security Council resolution 1244 (1999)), Timor-Leste, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uganda. A panel discussion featured as guest speakers the Minister of Education and Culture of Indonesia, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for Uganda; a partner from McKinsey and Company in Colombia, and a UNICEF child rights advocate from Kosovo (under UNSCR 1244 (1999)). 

The session offered Executive Board members insight into how UNICEF works to respond to the impacts of COVID-19 on education systems, and to help them recover and enhance their resilience – while seizing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform learning, and ensuring that marginalized children are not left behind as schools reopen in some contexts and alternative learning measures continue in others.  

Since the onset of the pandemic, UNICEF has scaled up a diverse range of high- and low-tech solutions, including digital learning tools like the Learning Passport. Through initiatives like Generation Unlimited and GIGA, which aims to expand Internet access to every child, every community and every school by 2030, UNICEF has deepened its engagement with partners ranging from sister United Nations agencies to mobile phone companies, to spark innovative thinking and adapt education programmes to reach the most vulnerable children. 

An evaluation of UNICEF’s contribution to education in humanitarian situations was discussed during Wednesday’s meetings. The management response highlights ongoing UNICEF initiatives to strengthen its work in this area, including to reach children in protracted crises. 

UNICEF Image: UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore (second left) with UNHCR High Commissioner Fillippo Grandi (left) in Lebanon, 8 March 2018, hear direct testimonies from Syrian women and girls who were forced to flee the conflict.
© UNICEF/UN0172093/Haidar
UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore (second left) with UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi (left) in Lebanon, 8 March 2018, hear direct testimonies from Syrian women and girls who were forced to flee the conflict.

Closing gaps in the humanitarian-development nexus

The update on humanitarian action focused on UNICEF’s capacity for programming that links humanitarian action and long-term sustainable development. Guest speaker United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi reminded the Board that the UNICEF/UNHCR partnership was “one of the oldest and most crucial partnerships in the UN system and in the humanitarian system.” Collaborative efforts between both organizations span the areas of child protection; health; education; water, sanitation and hygiene; statelessness issues, particularly related to newborns and children; as well as more recent work, together with the World Food Programme, on cash transfer programmes. 

Recalling a joint visit to Lebanon with High Commissioner Grandi [in 2018], Executive Director Fore considered the ways in which the refugee children they had met there, along with millions of others worldwide, miss out on their rights to grow, prosper and develop. 

The needs of refugee children have become even more acute with the rapid spread of COVID-19 and meeting those needs is key to safeguarding their well-being and future potential. 

The UNICEF-UNHCR Blueprint for Joint Action seeks to strengthen national systems to deliver improved education, child protection, and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services to refugees and host communities. Being launched in 11 focus countries – two of them current members of the UNICEF Executive Board – that are hosting more than 20 per cent of the world’s refugees, the initiative is slated to further expand to all countries in which both agencies work. 

“If we are able to roll it out, it will be of benefit to almost 2.5 million refugee children,” said Mr. Grandi. Over two years, this joint effort aims to reach an additional 10 million children and families with durable and sustainable solutions. 

A priority area of the initiative is increasing school enrolment. Mr. Grandi reported that the rate of refugee children attending primary school is consistently about half the rate for non-refugee children, with only 23 to 25 per cent attending secondary school, and about 3 per cent enrolled in tertiary education. UNHCR will rely on UNICEF’s experience, energy, networks and partnerships to increase those rates. 

The UNICEF Director of Emergency Programmes, Mr. Manuel Fontaine, said that the ambitious goals laid out in the Blueprint can’t be realized without “a paradigm shift in the way we actually do business.” With a division of labour that streamlines collaboration in programming, innovation, data, advocacy and resource mobilization, the Blueprint is intended to reinforce the reform of the United Nations system. 

Mr. Fontaine presented preliminary findings from a 10-country internal review of UNICEF’s humanitarian-development programming, highlighting the areas where UNICEF has a clear comparative advantage across several emergency contexts. 

“This is really where we feel we stand out,” said Mr. Fontaine, reporting that UNICEF’s humanitarian approach has focused on strengthening the capacity of national systems to respond to crisis. “Our teams seemed always to have in mind the need to empower and champion, rather than…replicate and replace.” 

UNICEF Executive Board adopts key decisions

The Executive Board adopted 11 decisions during this session, contributing to a total of 24 decisions adopted in 2020, including the two decisions on the midterm review of the Strategic Plan and of the integrated budget that were adopted at the annual session in June.   

In closing the session, Executive Director Fore thanked the members of the Board for supporting the work of UNICEF and for sounding the alarm on children’s needs in their capitals.

She said, “the pandemic has changed our work, but has not stopped it,” adding that UNICEF was “marching forward with hope and optimism and using this moment to reimagine every aspect” of the organization. 

 “I believe that the momentum for positive change is of a good cadence [and] bodes well for preparations for the next Strategic Plan,” said Ambassador Fatima.” UNICEF is involved in many promising initiatives aimed at mitigating the devastating impact [of the COVID-19 pandemic] and helping Governments and communities to build back better.” 

 In concluding, the Ambassador urged that the Member States continue their support to UNICEF, so that the achievements made thus far towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are not threatened. 



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