Child poverty, organizational learning and humanitarian action jump-start Executive Board
First regular session of 2022
NEW YORK, United States of America, 14 February 2022 ─ Last week the UNICEF Executive Board held its 2022 first regular session from Tuesday to Friday morning. After welcoming the new UNICEF Executive Director, Catherine M. Russell, to her first Board meeting on Tuesday, members went on to discuss topics ranging from organizational learning to humanitarian action, financial reports and private fundraising and partnerships over the following days.
The session was opened by H.E. Mr. Rodrigo A. Carazo, Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Costa Rica and President of the Executive Board for 2022. “For the first time in several decades, child poverty has increased significantly. One hundred million more children have been deprived of their basic needs, such as health, education [and] nutrition”, said Ambassador Carazo. “Social protection….should be one of the fundamental pillars of the response to the prevailing conditions and current levels of inequality that cause so much damage in this society,” he emphasized, and “can have far-reaching impacts that can change the lives of children in many areas.”
Executive Director Ms. Russell said, “children should not have to bear the cost of this pandemic for the rest of their lives.” She also urged investment in systems such as social protection and primary health care that support children and families, stating that “UNICEF is calling on Governments to put children at the centre of national and local pandemic response and recovery plans.”
Country programme documents – A focus on child poverty and social protection
The Board considered 14 country/multicountry programme documents from six of UNICEF’s seven operational regions.
Children have long been overrepresented among the poor, with over 800 million children living on less than $3.20 a day. Children are twice as likely to live in poverty than adults. Before the pandemic, the world was making steady, if slow, progress towards reducing child poverty, but children’s realities have changed. Governments have responded, with over 200 countries and territories expanding over 3,000 social protection programmes – many with UNICEF support.
Ms. Natalia Winder-Rossi, UNICEF Associate Director, Social Policy and Social Protection, emphasized the life-changing impacts of these programmes, stressing that “scaling up [investments in] social protection is a proven strategy to reducing poverty,” but noting also that “only one in four children receive adequate benefits.” She underlined the importance of inclusive financing to address child poverty and the organization’s extensive experience in scaling up inclusive and shock-responsive social protection systems, while also supporting Governments on the efficiency, transparency and equity of public resources, as well as leveraging new financing options.
Around the theme “reducing child poverty through programme and policy, two panels, with speakers from Government, civil society, the United Nations system and youth, addressed the urgency with which countries have been prioritizing child poverty reduction, as well as the scaling-up and financing of social protection as a pillar of inclusive and sustainable recovery from the ‘triple C’ threats of climate, conflict and COVID-19. A particular emphasis was placed on the need to rapidly increase coverage, particularly for vulnerable populations, and to ensuring social protection systems are able to respond to future shocks.
Plan for global evaluations, 2022–2025
In the current moment of crisis and opportunity, harnessing evidence to learn and adapt is more critical than ever. To ensure optimal learning and accountability, the UNICEF plan for global evaluations, 2022–2025 will cover all five Goal Areas of the UNICEF Strategic Plan, 2022–2025 while targeting the evaluation topics that will add the greatest value. It will also include several humanitarian and joint evaluations with other United Nations agencies and partners.
A strong advocate for identifying and applying lessons learned, the Board will play a key role in ensuring accountability by UNICEF. Delegations welcomed the plan, commending among other issues the use of a range of evaluation methods, the inclusion of joint evaluations, the incorporation of a humanitarian lens into all evaluations, and the mainstreaming of gender, disability and other sources of vulnerability and exclusion through evaluations in each of the Goal Areas of the Strategic Plan.
During the session, the Board received a first update on UNICEF’s implementation of the recommendations from the Humanitarian Review, a wide-ranging and ambitious enquiry undertaken by UNICEF in 2019 and 2020 to understand how its work in emergencies is fit for the current humanitarian landscape – and to determine what changes need to be made.
The Review found a high appreciation overall for UNICEF humanitarian action, yet it also identified 70 recommendations that could enhance this work. Committed to leveraging the Review as its primary tool for change management, UNICEF has set itself a target of completing the recommendations by the onset of the next Strategic Plan in 2026.
Delegations welcomed the update from UNICEF, commending its transparency and action-oriented outlook, while also requesting regular progress updates, information on its plans to address the key challenges and a clear articulation of prioritization of the recommendations.
Realizing the visionary shift called for by the Review will require significant additional investments in key areas, including humanitarian leadership. In light of current challenges, including the key milestone of reaching 70 per cent coverage of the COVID-19 vaccine by the middle of 2022 – as recommended by the World Health Organization, UNICEF presented the Board with a proposal to establish a senior level position to help ensure the accelerated delivery of the vaccines by leading a senior inter-agency team and working with Heads of State, senior Government officials and major donors to support the roll-out of the vaccines.
By the end of the session, the Executive Board has adopted eight decisions, which included the endorsement of the new country/multi-country programmes as well as ongoing country programmes; the four-year plan for global evaluations; a joint evaluability assessment; the Private Fundraising and Partnerships workplan and budget; the financial report and audited financial statements and Board of Auditors’ report for 2020 and management response; an update on implementing the recommendations made to tackle sexual misconduct and change the organizational culture; and the establishment of an Assistant Secretary-General position to head the Global COVID-19 Vaccine Delivery Inter-Agency Coordination Structure.
In her closing remarks, Executive Director Ms. Russell said that she looked forward to working with the Board and the organization’s partners to implement the Strategic Plan, report on progress and monitor achievements. “UNICEF is in an excellent position to deliver on our mission – and we will need to use every tool and advantage we possess to help the millions of children who are at risk in the world today,” she added.
She thanked the Executive Board for its endorsement of the establishment of the position to lead and support COVID-19 country readiness and delivery, stating that “UNICEF has the expertise, the humanitarian leadership experience, the partnerships and the country-level capacity to help to get these vaccines into arms.”
Ambassador Carazo remarked that “children are not only more likely to fall into poverty than adults, but, unfortunately, they are also the people who experience the profound and long-lasting impacts of this poverty throughout their lives.”
But, he added, “UNICEF already knows what to do and it will continue to fight to…address the underlying issues for all of our children and adolescents.”
The Executive Board will meet for its 2022 annual session from 14 to 17 June.