UNICEF history

Discover UNICEF's work since 1946. For every child, everywhere.

UNICEF
old photo of two kids jumping somewhere and holding hands
UNICEF/UNI43135
15 May 2021

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was established in 1946, in the aftermath of World War II. Our mandate was clear: to help children and young people whose lives and futures were at risk – no matter what role their country had played in the war.

What mattered to UNICEF was reaching every child in need, protecting children’s rights to survive, thrive, and reach their full potential.    

This is the DNA of UNICEF. From the ashes of war to the global challenges that affect millions today, our mandate has never wavered. UNICEF has consistently worked to protect the rights and well-being of all children. Whoever they are. Wherever they live.

UNICEF

The story of UNICEF is a story of how much good the human family can do when it unites to protect the rights of its youngest and most vulnerable citizens.

We bring 75 years of field-tested expertise, a network that spans the globe, a passion for innovation, dynamic partnerships, and a commitment to making every dollar count.

As we look back, we learn from our accomplishments and challenges. As we look ahead, we recommit ourselves to realizing the rights of every child.

 

UNICEF through the decades

For 75 years, UNICEF’s mission has evolved with the needs of children around the world. Browse our timeline and discover our work through the decades.

 

The faces, the voices

The story of UNICEF is that of every child we reach. It is also reflected in the people who have relentlessly served and supported our organization. This is the story of committed people who have provided critical resources, time and encouragement to build an environment where children can grow up protected, healthy and educated. Be they our employees, our directors or international personalities, UNICEF has never been wanting for ambassadors of goodwill.

Burma (now Myanmar), 1968. A midwife trainee bathes a newborn baby in the Tower Lane Maternity Hospital in Rangoon.
UNICEF/UNI99956
Burma (now Myanmar), 1968. A midwife trainee bathes a newborn baby in the Tower Lane Maternity Hospital in Rangoon.
Bangladesh, 1989. UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Audrey Hepburn vaccinates a child against polio at a health clinic.
UNICEF/UNI40108/Isaac
Bangladesh, 1989. UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Audrey Hepburn vaccinates a child against polio at a health clinic.

Meet our goodwill ambassadors and read stories by staff members from around the globe.

 

The Archives

For 75 years, UNICEF has collected records, items and leading research that document our story as well as that of the world. The UNICEF Archives, located in our New York Headquarters, houses material that captures UNICEF’s global field operations – from our founding in the aftermath of World War II through today. From biographies to landmark policy documents, posters and greeting cards, explore a collection of UNICEF memorabilia from the UNICEF Archives.

Norway, 10 December 1965. UNICEF's Executive Director Henry R. Labouisse (left), accepted the gold Nobel medal and scroll. (Left to right) Professor Robert Debré, dean of UNICEF's Executive Board; Mrs. Adelaide Sinclair, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director for Programmes; and Mrs. Zena Harman, Chair of UNICEF's Executive Board.
UNICEF/UNI42539/Ling
Norway, 10 December 1965. UNICEF's Executive Director Henry R. Labouisse (left), accepted the gold Nobel medal and scroll. (Left to right) Professor Robert Debré, dean of UNICEF's Executive Board; Mrs. Adelaide Sinclair, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director for Programmes; and Mrs. Zena Harman, Chair of UNICEF's Executive Board.

Historical documents and publications

Our vast collection of reports, data and other historical publications spans decades and is a key vehicle to influence policy and decision-making. 

From flagship publications like the State of the World’s Children to our Annual Reports, discover our historical documents.