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Evaluation report

2002 Global: End Decade Review of Strategic Lessons Learned from UNICEF's Experience

Author: Quesnel, J. S.; UNICEF NYHQ

Executive summary


UNICEF faces a series of strategic choices if it is to sustain the achievements of the past decade and to enhance its effectiveness as an international actor with a specific mandate for children and women. The choices and implications need be understood in the multiple dimensions within which UNICEF evolves, such as the Global Movement, the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF), its support to National Plans for Action (NPAs), activities in emergency and unstable situations. It is against this background that a peer review meeting was organized by the Evaluation Office at UNICEF headquarters in New York in December 2000.

Purpose / Objective

This lessons learned paper is prepared as a contribution towards UNICEF's preparation for the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) of January 2001 which will review performance during the last decade, the proposed new agenda in favour of children and the preparation of the Secretary General's report to be submitted at the World Summit for Children in September 2001. The scope of findings responds to the need for UNICEF to take stock of the main strategic lessons drawn from the last decade in order to renew its leadership role within the Global Movement for Children, within the system of the United Nations and as an organization supporting the delivery of National programs in favour of Children.


The main methodological approach which enabled the preparation of this paper was a one week intensive session held by a panel of knowledgeable persons brought together to distil main findings and lessons, on the basis of their collective institutional memory of UNICEF's performance over the years and factors that constrained or enabled the organisation in the achievement of the WSC goals. The time frame of its production only allowed a review of key official documents produced over the decade, an examination of the reports submitted by other UN agencies. Reports to be submitted by National Governments by end-December 2000 were not available at the time of documentary review.

Key Findings and Conclusions

Context and Retrospective
In the past decade, the world around UNICEF has moved from a divided, state-centric world, to a polycentric world. Changes in UNICEF's programme approach reflect changes in the world.

Global Goals Achievement
In September 1990, the largest gathering of world leaders in history assembled at the United Nations to attend the World Summit for Children. The Summit adopted a Declaration the Survival, Protection and Development of Children and a Plan of Action for implementation during the 1990s. In doing so, de facto, the bold universal goals were set, committed to and implemented at high, medium and low levels. The main finding is that such goal setting spurred action in favour of the improvement of children's situation making the world more children friendly.

Regional Singularities
Humanity has seen stunning advances and has made enormous strides for children, many of them in the last decade, many others in just over the span of a generation. Children's lives have been saved and their suffering prevented. Millions have grown healthier, been better nourished and had greater access to a quality education than ever before. Their rights as put forth in the Convention have been acknowledged and laws to protect them enacted and enforced. Polio, once a global epidemic, is on the verge of eradication, and deaths from two remorseless child killers, measles and neonatal tetanus, have been reduced over the last 10 years by 85 per cent and more than 25 percent respectively. Some 12 million children are now free from the risk of mental retardation due to iodine deficiency. Blindness from vitamin A deficiency has been significantly reduced. More children are in school today than at any previous time. Despite the many stunning steps forward, a number of the goals for children remain out of reach for hundreds of millions of children throughout the world. Their lives and futures are threatened by deeper and more intractable poverty and greater inequalities between the rich and the poor, proliferating conflict and violence, the deadly spread of HIV/AIDS and the abiding issue of discrimination against women and girls. These problems are not new, but they are more widespread and profoundly entrenched than they were a decade ago. Interwoven and reinforcing, they feed off one another and abrogate the rights of children and women in compounding ways. In some countries and regions, they threaten to undo much of what has been accomplished.

Changing Policy Environment
The unprecedented prosperity that the global economy is currently enjoying has not trickled down to benefit the staggering 40 per cent of all the children in developing countries -- over half a billion -- who are still struggling to survive on less than $1 per day per child. Other child indicators such as global under-five mortality, school attendance and child nutrition -- which are among the most accurate measures of development -- clearly suggest that progress has not kept pace with the promises made at the World Summit for Children in 1990.

Managing for Strategic Results
The international conferences of the 1990s were powerful acts of strategic mobilization behind the children's cause. An important challenge for the future action of UNICEF will be the adjustment, refinement and prioritization of goals and strategies within the framework of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, thus making explicit choices in favour of child-cantered approaches. The operationalization of child rights approach together with results-based management constitutes a challenge. The normative value and the ethical imperatives of human rights need to be internalized through a process of understanding, engagement and commitment. Fortunately a rights-based approach provides a clear navigation chart identifying what needs to be done. It also serves as a visible reference for the assessment of the achievements made and for the difficulties encountered. Using child rights as reference is positive for many reasons. It gives a vision to UNICEF's work (actions are meaningful in as much as they implement the Convention); it provides a precise agenda (not a simple set of general principles); it prevents UNICEF's commitment from becoming diluted in fragmented actions; it allows to set benchmarks (measures required to assess achievement, including the timeframe); and finally it provides an opportunity for self-assessment (transparent monitoring and evaluation which constitute both leverage for progress and improvement as well as tools for credible accountability.)


Context and Retrospective
By far the most important strategic implication of the above finding is that UNICEF needs to expand its strategic alliances and partnerships to implement integrated multisectoral and multidisciplinary rights-based programmes. While in 1990 it was perfectly feasible to achieve the goals just by working with the State, and indeed, just by working with UNICEF's own masse critique of resources, this is simply not possible in 2000.

Global Goals Achievement
The fundamental lesson to be learned from the paradox of record achievements and formidable challenges is that efforts to combat poverty and ensure children's rights in developing countries have largely disregarded the complexity of poverty. A shift in emphasis is required, one that recognizes the full range of macro-economic, social and environmental factors that affect achievement of goals related to the well being of children. Global policies need to position children's well-being at the centre as indicator for economic and social progress. A society that has malnourished infants, subjugated girls or child soldiers cannot claim to be developing, however impressive its gross national product figures might be, for such deprivations can mean a lifetime of lost opportunity for today's children and a legacy of poverty for subsequent generations. This is the central reason why world efforts need to be focused, mobilized, monitored and evaluated to achieve social progress and end poverty. It must begin with children and the realization of their rights.

Regional Singularities
While UNICEF has a unified vision based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, its programming is challenged by the complexities of development and disparities existing among and within the regions. UNICEF needs to use its research and evaluation functions to understand better the success factors which enable countries to implement effectively their National Plans of Action and optimize the benefits received from external support. UNICEF's decentralized structure positions it well to support countries to articulate a holistic and well-adapted diagnosis of the problems they face in fulfilling the rights of children.

Changing Policy Environment
Patterns of poverty, violence and conflict, discrimination and disease are not unconquerable. They like other challenges before them -- can be met. Given the resources that the world has at hand, these vicious cycles can be broken within one generation. The world must now direct its effort towards those entry points where the potential will be the greatest: the best possible start for children in their early years, a quality basic education for every child and support and guidance for adolescents in navigating the sensitive transition to adulthood. UNICEF has a lead role in ensuring that the rights of all children be respected in the formulation of socio-economic reforms.

Managing for Strategic Results
UNICEF needs to implement its mandate more from an explicit strategic perspective and pay more attention to mainstreaming rights based programming within NPAs and CCA/UNDAF, as well as in economic and social reform processes.

UNICEF's Challenge -- To Make a Difference
UNICEF must be results-based and results driven in its own management at all levels and very clear on who is accountable for achieving what result. UNICEF's role and contribution to world governance cannot be underestimated in making a difference for children.


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