Kopaonik Business Forum 2024

New Global Context: Challenges of an uncertain future

06 March 2024
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UNICEF Serbia/2024

Mr. Vlahovic, Minister Kisic, Mr. Scano, Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, I would like to extend my thanks to Mr. Vlahovic and the Serbian Association of Economists for our close collaboration for over a decade now. Dear Aleksandar, I value your strong commitment to prioritizing children and youth high on the Forum agenda as we can see this year too.

Today, I will delve into the challenges posed by an uncertain future, particularly its impact on children and their families. In this ever-changing landscape, the need for strong cooperation in a fragmented world becomes evident.

Let me give you an example: Last month, I visited the Primary Health Centre in Niš and its Developmental Counselling Unit. There, I spoke with children and parents benefiting from a UNICEF-supported innovative early intervention programme for children facing developmental risks, difficulties, and disabilities.

During the visit, a mother approached me and expressed her gratitude. She said: “I want to thank you and to confirm that these people perform miracles for us and our children. Together, we find solutions and we are sure that we are not alone. Our children are on the right track and can shine bright.”

Hearing such heartfelt feedback from a mother was truly rewarding. 

In Niš and 19 other cities and municipalities in Serbia, these services bring together professionals from health, education and social services, forming a multi-sectoral team. The collaboration of teams effectively addresses developmental delays and disability. And we already see the results.

Our work with the ministries, local municipalities, civil society, with support from the private sector and bilateral partners, has enabled the establishment of these precious services. If we look beyond this single intervention, it is obvious that the only way to overcome challenges for children is integrated collaboration.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Across several critical indicators, we saw the well-being of children improve. In many countries, Serbia included, for example, economies and service delivery continued to recover from the worst effects of the pandemic. As a result, more children globally received primary health care, essential immunization and education than the year before.

However, a newly released UNICEF Innocenti report “Prospects for Children in 2024: Cooperation in a Fragmented World” warns us that the word “polycrisis” will persist, threatening progress towards achieving global development goals for children. The Report identifies several trends that will impact the lives of children over the coming 12 months.

Geopolitical shifts and the risk of conflict may threaten children’s survival and well-being. But an inclusive and collaborative approach to solving global challenges could provide children a safer world. I hope I’m not too optimistic.

Economic fragmentation threatens livelihoods, children’s development, and youth employment. But economic solidarity, and investing in future skills can safeguard children, enhance household incomes, increase public spending, wages and availability of essential goods and services, and as a whole benefit children.

Global democracy will face unprecedented risks presented by disinformation and political violence. But political engagement among young people may allow policymakers to tackle these risks.

Potential impacts of unchecked technologies spark fear and concern for children’s well-being. But proactive policy and cooperation can place children at the centre of responsible design and regulation. 

Achieving this future will require international and national policies that actively support children’s rights and development.

Achieving this future for children hangs in the choice between fragmentation and cooperation. The world stands at a pivotal juncture. We can choose a path marked by increased global collaboration – a path that embraces innovation, knowledge sharing, policy transfer and equitable growth. Or we can go down a path that is less united and more protectionist, leaving countries to cope alone with the consequences of climate change, conflict and resource constraints including human resources.

The future of children globally depends on this choice.

In Serbia, collaborative work that UNICEF is part of, has demonstrated commendable progress, and I would give you 4 simple examples:

1. Within Early Childhood Development, Serbia has institutionalized and scaled up parenting programs. Home visiting and paediatric care, preschool, and social welfare have been accompanied by new local budget allocations exceeding half a million euros in 29 municipalities. There is a strong economic argument for this step – investing in early childhood interventions yields returns averaging 4 to 5 times the initial investment.

2. Serbia's commitment to reducing disparities in education and promoting inclusiveness is best seen in the reform in preschool education. The introduction of the new Preschool Curricula Framework was transformative. All children attending preschool education now learn through play, establishing a crucial foundation for lifelong learning. The financial support, especially the loan from the World Bank, was crucial for broadening physical capacities, which increased access to early learning for children. Now is time to think about the next step - the transition from pre-school to primary school.

3. We share the goal of building resilient communities as a foundation for sustained economic growth. With secured political backing, Serbia is advancing in promotion of mental health and psychological well-being among children and adolescents. A pivotal milestone was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by six ministers last year. This landmark document integrates mental health considerations into health, social welfare, child protection, and education sectors. And now we support the Government to develop an action plan for this process – concrete steps and budget allocations.

4. I am very pleased to highlight UNICEF’s strong collaboration with child-centric businesses, such as Yettel, Banca Intesa, Delhaize, dm, Voj Put, VegaIT Solutions. Joining resources, technological expertise and knowledge, the business sector has enormous potential to support UNICEF’s programmes and empower the children and youth in Serbia.

These examples show that working collaboratively is mission possible and can ensure the best and equitable outcomes for children and future generations.

Individually, we have the power to create remarkable lives. Together, we can shape the future. The future of our children.

Media contacts

Jadranka Milanovic
Communication Officer
Tel: + 381 11 3602 104
Tel: +381 63 336 283


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