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UNICEF home The State of the World's Children
2002 Photo © UNICEF



X. Every nation has a role to play

Investing in human capital, particularly in children, has the greatest return on the dollar. Although not immediately evident, this investment is the most effective tool in ending worldwide poverty.

© UNICEF/00-0438/Balaguer

Investing in adolescents like these engrossed in a multimedia workshop in Bahia, Brazil, provides vital leadership to guide the world further into this new millennium.

Misguided leaders, seeking quick fixes or instant recognition, are often eager to invest in concrete, visible payoffs. The photo opportunities are countless. Political leaders stand with a new road as a backdrop. Chief executive officers announce advances in telecommunication where people can participate in meetings across the globe without having to leave their homes. Scientists parade cloned sheep before cameras.

It's not as glamorous to pose with an immunized, well-fed, mentally alert baby, or a child learning to read and write or a teenager learning leadership skills. Yet, providing for the well-being of future leaders is far more critical to development.

To fulfil the promise of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, every child must have a healthy start, access to quality basic education and the skills to forge a productive future.

When countries invest in children – early childhood care, quality basic education and life skills for adolescents – the results are startling.

In Colombia, toddlers involved in early childhood care are twice as likely to complete primary school than those without pre-school experience.

Quality education – especially for girls – is the quickest way of tackling poverty. Education has proven to be the most potent antidote to child labour and HIV infection.

Investing in adolescents provides vital leadership to guide the world further into this new millennium. Providing them with skills in negotiation, problem-solving, conflict resolution, decision-making and communication bodes well for reducing poverty, armed conflict and plagues in the future.

The beginnings of a foundation have been laid. Every nation, from the most powerful to the most humble, must contribute. The 20/20 Initiative requests nations to commit an average of 20 per cent of budgetary expenditures and 20 per cent of official development assistance to basic social services – education, health care, family planning, adequate water and sanitation and disaster relief.

Now is the time to strengthen the cornerstones and begin to construct the future.


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'In brief'

Leadership from 1990- 2000
The United Nations Special Session on Children
The Global Movement for Children: 'Say Yes for Children'
The magic of leadership
Acts of leadership
Leadership challenges
Good for children, good for the world
It takes a leader to listen
The costs of children's silence
Every nation has a role to play