Moving with the times: 1980–1988

Discover the importance of data and research in UNICEF’s efforts for child survival and development.

Children reading
22 January 2018

With new knowledge backed by data, UNICEF increased the urgency of its appeals – healthy children need essential resources.


James Grant raises the United Nations flag on a relief truck leaving Nairobi.
Kenya, 1989: James Grant, UNICEF Executive Director, raises the United Nations flag on a relief truck leaving Nairobi after the launch of Operation Lifeline Sudan.

“We need to give children’s essential needs a ‘first call’ on society’s resources.”

James Grant, UNICEF Executive Director (1980–1995).


UNICEF launches the Child Survival and Development Revolution, a drive to save the lives of millions of children each year. Special emphasis is placed on four low-cost measures: growth monitoring, oral rehydration therapy, promotion of breastfeeding, and immunization (together they are sometimes referred to by the acronym GOBI).

A smiling boy on a UNICEF poster from the 1980s.

A series of posters introduced in the 1980s features the tagline,
“What would you like to be when you grow up? Alive!”


To accelerate advances in education, UNICEF endorses a joint primary education and literacy programme with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Students wait outside their elementary school in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia, 1986.
Ethiopia, 1986: Students wait outside their elementary school in Addis Ababa.


A cease fire in El Salvador’s civil war, based on the UNICEF-supported concepts of "children as a zone of peace" and "periods of tranquility" for humanitarian assistance, allows for three days of mass immunization of children. This approach is later applied in Lebanon (1987), Sudan (1989), Iraq (1991), and elsewhere with increasing frequency into the 1990s.

A poster shows a baby held by his mother while being vaccinated.
A close-up of a child health promotion poster in the 1980s shows an illustration of a baby, held by his mother, receiving a dose of oral polio vaccine from a health worker.


The publication of the report Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances raises awareness of the need for child protection.

A road sign near Jalalabad camp warns people of the presence of landmines. Afghanistan, 1991.
Afghanistan, 1991: A road side board warns people about presence of landmine near the Jalalabad camp for displaced persons from Kabul, the capital. Afghanistan.


The Earth Run in India symbolizes a global wish for peace and international cooperation ─ while helping to raise funds for UNICEF.

Runners hold a torch. India, 1986.
India, 1986: Runners from the First Earth Run outside the Conference on South Asian Children.


By the end of 1986, 1.5 million children are still alive as a result of universal child immunization and oral rehydration therapy.

A happy boy and girl feature on a poster to promote universal child immunization.
Kenya, 1990: A poster featuring a map of Kenya with a dancing boy and girl, used as part the global campaign led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) in the mid-1980s to achieve Universal Child Immunization.


Developing countries are hard hit by global economic crises. The landmark report Adjustment with a Human Face calls for national programmes and policies to protect the rights of women and children especially during economic downturns.

Cover of the report Adjustment with a Human Face featuring a boy carrying a large basket on his shoulders.
Volume 2 of the report Adjustment with a Human Face provides case studies of how developing countries attempt to protect vulnerable populations during economic crises.


The International Child Development Centre is established to oversee research for children at the historic Innocenti building in Florence, Italy.

James Grant stands with Jim Himes
Italy, 1988: James Grant, UNICEF Executive Director (left), stands with Jim Himes, the first Director of the International Child Development Centre (right), outside the Innocenti office.

“We must find ways to improve our abilities to be creative, to be highly effective professionals, and to be good managers and mobilizers.”

Jim Himes, Director of the International Child Development Centre.


With more countries becoming aware of the challenges facing many children around the world, learn how UNICEF worked to bring about change.

Explore our 19892005 timeline.