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15 June 2016: What works and what can be done better: UNICEF Executive Board reflects on lessons learned from the first two years of its Strategic Plan


© UNICEF video
Watch: President of the Executive Board, H.E. Mr. Sven Jürgenson, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Estonia and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake deliver opening remarks at the 2016 Annual Session of the Executive Board.

 
By Leah Selim

NEW YORK, United States of America, 15 June 2016 – The past two years have seen significant transitions and milestones in the humanitarian and development sectors, from the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals to the Paris Agreement on climate change. The world has also witnessed the rapid escalation of multiple crises affecting children, including the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, outbreaks of the Zika virus, and a migrant crisis that continues to expand across the Middle East and Europe.

At yesterday’s opening of the 2016 annual session of the UNICEF Executive Board, Member States had these events in mind as they reflected on the progress of the first two years of the UNICEF Strategic Plan 2014–2017, and looked ahead to the next two years. Although the plan guides the organization’s work over a four-year period, it continually evolves to incorporate evaluations and feedback, advances in research and data, new global accords like the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and developing humanitarian situations. The midterm review reveals what works and presents lessons learned to help to shape UNICEF’s actions and results for the next two years.

“With the lessons learned, we can look forward with greater clarity as we continue our efforts to adapt UNICEF strategies to an ever-changing environment, to be more relevant and to implement change more quickly and effectively for children, especially the most disadvantaged and excluded,” said H.E. Mr. Jürgenson, President of the UNICEF Executive Board and Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations, in his opening remarks.
 

Focus on equity and advocacy

The midterm review covers all aspects of the UNICEF Strategic Plan, from outcome areas like health, education and child protection, to implementation strategies and organizational efficiency. Across these areas, a few overarching lessons have emerged, one of which is the value of equity-focused programming and advocacy. Specific attention to equity continues to enhance the organization’s effectiveness on the ground, including through better targeting of interventions for the most disadvantaged children.

© UNICEF Burundi/2016/Nijimbere
Alfred, 24, is a peer educator in his community in Rumonge, Burundi. A UNICEF-supported peacebuilding programme works with 60 youth and adolescent peer educators like Alfred to build positive change in the country.

 
“Displaced children do not have time to wait to go to school, to be well-nourished, to be healthy. Without those basic elements of a normal life, their future prospects are bleak indeed,” said President Jürgenson.

In its education programmes, UNICEF and partners have successfully identified many of the key barriers to primary school enrolment and retention that are keeping disadvantaged children from reaching their full potential. Social protection schemes for poorer families, bilingual education for ethnic minorities and early childhood development services have proven effective solutions to keeping the most vulnerable children in school.
 

Strengthening emergency preparedness and resilience

Humanitarian crises and natural hazards are by their very nature unpredictable. While drafting the Strategic Plan, it was difficult to anticipate and plan for the number, scale and complexity of humanitarian crises affecting children in 2014, 2015 and 2016. The midterm review showed that, as UNICEF adapted its response to these crises in real time, the importance of continuous risk-informed programming became particularly clear. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa offered a prime example of the need to build capacities in epidemic preparedness and response.

During his opening remarks at the annual session, UNICEF Executive Director Mr. Anthony Lake emphasized the inextricable link between emergencies and development, and the need for a greater focus on ‘resilient development’.

“When the No Lost Generation initiative helps provide education and protection in the midst of the Syrian humanitarian crisis, it is strengthening children’s resilient hearts and minds for the future,” he said. “When, during an emergency in Ebola-affected countries, or in Banda Aceh, or in the Philippines, we support the establishment of a permanent community medical centre, a flood-proof school or resilient water and sanitation infrastructure, we invest in that community’s ability to withstand future shocks. Resilient development.”

Integrating humanitarian and development action is essential for strengthening resilience. In fact, a three-country UNICEF/World Food Programme research initiative showed that an investment in preparedness of US$1 yields savings of US$2.1 on average in the cost of humanitarian response – and can save over a week in terms of response time to an emergency.
 

Community engagement and voices of children

Another overarching lesson from the midterm review was the importance of community engagement. Results from the field reinforce the longstanding UNICEF view that the voices of children and their families are a strong driving force for strengthening accountability in local governance and increasing the impact of UNICEF’s programmes. Community engagement and mobilization have been integral to the progress made in eliminating open defecation and promoting hand-washing. In health systems, the most effective responses have been locally based, with community health workers delivering immunization and in-community treatment of malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea and severe acute malnutrition at an affordable cost.
 

The power of innovation

From amplifying the voices of children to more effectively managing drug stock-outs, innovations offer promising pathways for narrowing equity gaps and expanding UNICEF’s impact. The midterm review confirmed UNICEF’s increasing success in catalysing and promoting innovations for children. Tools such as EduTrac, mTrac, U-Report and digital community mapping are already making a difference in education planning, health systems, community advocacy and humanitarian response.

“Communication for development and accessible digital technology are some of the most promising new strategies. U-Report, for example, enabled more than 13,000 young people in Liberia to respond almost instantly to a question about sexual violence in schools,” said President Jürgenson. “The information was used by the Government for local and national interventions and policy changes.”

Innovations carry enormous potential to improve the lives of children, and UNICEF will continue to focus on fostering, identifying and supporting the scale up of these technologies.
 

Strength through our partners

UNICEF has long recognized the importance of partnerships, particularly among the United Nations development system in support of Governments, but also with other development actors, civil society groups and the private sector. UNICEF conducts virtually all of its work in partnership with others, and continues to draw on lessons learned from these interactions. The focus on results is always the key driver in these efforts.

“[C]ontributing to any movement for children demands a certain humility – a recognition that our role is not always to lead these efforts, but rather [to] tap into those areas where our partners are already engaged…where committed individuals are already lending their hands to shaping a better world for children…and for us all,” said Mr. Lake.
 

Addressing gaps in funding

Another lesson to emerge from the midterm review of the Strategic Plan concerns funding, which both the Board President and the Executive Director addressed in their remarks. UNICEF requires flexible and predictable resources that enable the organization to respond effectively to both long-standing development issues as well as humanitarian emergencies. But increasingly, financing is directed to the urgent crises that capture the headlines. While these resources are essential, it leaves gaps in funding for overall development and for addressing the long-term challenges that children face.

“What about the child whose future is threatened not by guns and mortars, but by a lack of sufficient nutrition? Not by a hurricane or tsunami, but because he lives in an urban slum without clean water and sanitation? Not by an urgent health crisis, but because she lives in a remote community, too far from medical care?” said Mr. Lake. “We must simultaneously address both challenges – with the resources to meet both.”
 

The road ahead

These and other lessons from the midterm review of the Strategic Plan will either reinforce UNICEF’s ongoing work, or inform changes in the future. UNICEF will also make greater efforts to address the issues highlighted in the 2030 Agenda. Areas in which UNICEF needs to ramp up its efforts or work differently include urbanization, climate change and children, adolescents, early child survival and development, HIV prevention and treatment, gender equality and refugee and migrant children.

“As we rededicate ourselves to this unfinished business, we also reassess our focus as we begin to shape the next Strategic Plan – the first to be guided by the Sustainable Development Goals, which, thanks to the efforts of so many of you, prominently reflect children’s issues,” said President Jürgenson.

One of the strengths of the current Strategic Plan is the results framework, and in the coming years, UNICEF will continue to intensify its results-based management approach. This emphasis on results extends from the assessments and monitoring of field programmes to the evaluation and measurement of staff members’ performance.

In concluding remarks during his statement, Mr. Lake said, “We … must challenge any global sense of hopelessness with the results we achieve together. Results that bring credit not only to UNICEF, but to the UN as a whole. And indeed, to all of our partners – from governments, to NGOs, to our private sector partners. And most importantly, results that may not win the same number of headlines as stories of conflict, misery and division – but results that actually change the lives of hundreds of millions of children for the better.”

 

 

 

 

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