Investing in children makes ethical and economic sense
Remarks by Siwon Choi, UNICEF Regional Ambassador for East Asia and Pacific and NextGen Principal, at the ASEAN Business & Investment Summit 2023 in Jakarta
"It has been four years since I became a part of this great journey, and I am always grateful to have the role of UNICEF Regional Ambassador for East Asia and the Pacific. One of the most honorable jobs on Earth is to advocate for children and their rights.
"This time, I also speak as a UNICEF NextGen Global Principal to the theme of "ASEAN 2045: The Era of People.
"I would like to start by sharing my vision.
"I envision a region where every child grows up healthy, well-nourished, and safe from diseases. A region where every child is protected against the devastating effects of climate change. Where every child is safe and protected, including online spaces.
"Where every child is learning the skills they need for the future.
"I envision a region where every child can pursue their dreams without any roadblocks.
"I share this vision with you because I believe it is a vision that we can achieve together - through strong social commitment and collective action.
"Why invest in children? I have seen it with my own eyes as I have traveled through this region: when we help children, there are ripple effects throughout their entire families. These ripple effects lead to stronger, more resilient communities, which are better able to cope with shocks. And over time, stronger, more resilient communities will boost their economies.
"The conviction that there is no better investment than investing in children is what led me to become a UNICEF NextGen Global Principal. Our small group of philanthropic investors leverages our influence, network, and resources to accelerate change for children, especially in the areas of climate change, health, digital education, and impact investing.
"In this era, there is no shortage of opportunities for us to make a difference for the very people who are the future of our region: our children.
"Yet, today, millions of children in East Asia and the Indo-Pacific reach the age of 10 without being able to understand a simple text. Too many children are still completing school without acquiring even basic skills, let alone the important 21st-century skills required for meaningful employment.
"Despite progress made in vaccination, millions of children in this region have yet to receive a single dose of vaccine - exposing them to life-threatening illnesses like measles. Many of these boys and girls still live in impoverished, hard-to-reach communities with poor sanitation and unsafe water.
"The climate crisis is only making matters worse, driving a wedge between the rich and the poor, pushing the poorest children further into poverty and deprivation.
"It is easy to feel overwhelmed by these challenges. But the good news is that together, we have the power to change the lived realities of these girls and boys - through strong social commitment, collective action, and the right investments.
"Investing in children does not only make ethical sense - it makes economic sense. We know, for example, that every $1 invested in the pre-primary education of the youngest children gives society ten times in return. These kinds of investments promote sustainability and resiliency, and open up long-term prospects for growth for ASEAN. But they need to be made now.
"Personally, I have chosen to partner with UNICEF because I have seen first-hand how their interventions change lives.
"UNICEF is the only organization working in over 190 countries with the ability to shape government policies, reach the most remote places, and deliver emergency supplies anywhere on Earth within 48 hours.
"UNICEF vaccinates almost half of the world's children every year, and over the last twenty years, we have reduced child mortality by 50%. More children are enrolled in schools with primary enrolment up to around 90%.
"UNICEF could not have achieved any of this without the mutual trust of the children and communities we serve.
"Now is the time to not just think, but to take action.
"Children are our future, and you and your meaningful actions are the only ones who can change the world.
"Because we are changemakers!"