Briefing by Kul Gautam
For Executive Board members on UNICEF’s history, mission and contribution
7 January 2004
Let me start with a provocative question: Why do we need UNICEF?
In the architecture of the United Nations system, UNICEF is a misfit.
When the UN was founded, there was a carefully constructed architecture. There were the principal organs: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the ECOSOC, the Trusteeship Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat.
To deal with substantive issues, there were the various Committees of the General Assembly, and various commissions, like the Human Rights Commission.
To deal with specialized fields requiring technical expertise, there are the specialized agencies such as WHO, UNESCO, FAO.
To deal with the regional dimensions of economic and social issues, we have the regional commissions.
To provide financial assistance for infrastructure and capital development, we have the Bretton Woods Institutions: the World Bank, IMF, regional development banks.
Why do we need a UNICEF?
The UN is not organized according to demographic groups. We don’t have a UN men’s fund, or women’s fund or adults’ fund. Why a children’s fund?
What does UNICEF do uniquely that other UN agencies could not do?
WHO could surely do child health. FAO could deal with food and nutrition. UNESCO is supposed to deal with education. ILO can handle child labour. What’s left there for UNICEF to do?
This is not a theoretical question. It has actually been asked from time to time. Indeed, this was a very profound question debated at the Executive Board and at ECOSOC and the General Assembly in 1950 when there was a serious proposal to terminate UNICEF.
To understand why UNICEF was created in the first place and how it has evolved over time and why it continues to exist, and how you the Board members can make a really meaning contribution to UNICEF’s work for children – and I dare say, to help realize our cherished Millennium Development Goals, I would like to take you on a guided tour through the memory lane of an extraordinary experiment in human history.
During the First World War, a remarkable Englishwoman named Eglantyne Jebb had founded an organization called Save the Children Fund in London. SCF had defied the British blockade of Germany during WW1, and had sent relief supplies for children throughout continental Europe.
There was a court case in Britain against Jebb, accusing her of indirectly helping to provide succour to the enemy during war time. To this accusation Jebb had famously replied “My Lord, I have no enemy below the age of 11”.
This principle that there was no such thing as an “enemy” child, had an even earlier antecedent in the Geneva Convention, ratified in 1864, that conferred neutrality upon voluntary relief workers tending to the wounded, dying, prisoners of wars – out of which grew the Red Cross movement.
Indeed Eglantyne Jebb had formed an alliance with the Red Cross when later she founded the Save the Children International Union (SCIU) in Geneva. It was the SCIU that had first drafted a Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which was later adopted by the League of Nations as the World Child Welfare Charter in 1924.
That Charter laid down 5 principles. That the child has a right –
These principles endured the test of times, and were reflected in the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child, and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guides the work of UNICEF today.
When the League of Nations collapsed, and the Second World War broke out, the devastation it caused was horrific. Not only millions suffered and perished in concentration camps, but millions of men, women and children were displaced by war.
Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt had the wisdom, compassion and foresight to mount a massive relief operation in countries that were most devastated by the war. So even before the United Nations was established, they founded in 1944 the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration or UNRRA.
UNRRA provided life saving help to the survivors of the concentration camps and to 8.5 million men, women and children displaced by war. Initial effort was focused on the most war ravaged countries of Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, Yugoslavia in Europe, and China, Korea and the Philippines in the Asian theatre.
By early 1946, UNRRA was moving essential relief supplies in 20 countries, amounting to some 20 million tons, on a scale greater than the movement of arms and munitions by the whole of the Allied Forces during the War.
All modes of transportation were used, including planes, trains, trucks, bailey bridges – and a quarter of a million horses and mules. At its height UNRRA employed 15,000 professionals, 35,000 local staff, and spent $4 billion, which in today’s dollars would amount to about $40 billion.
The lives of hundreds of millions of people were preserved by UNRRA. A measure of its success was that during the harsh winter of 1945-46, there was no major disease or epidemic, in contrast to millions of deaths due to influenza and typhus in the comparable winter of 1918-19 during the First World War.
The most touching part of UNRRA’s work was its help for children. Reminiscent of UNICEF’s work in family tracing in Goma during the Rwanda genocide in 1994, UNRRA helped with family reunification of thousands of children after years of separation during the war. UNRRA’s work was a matter of life and death for millions of children.
The good work that UNRRA did needed to be continued after the War. One part of its work, dealing with refugees and displaced persons was assigned to the International Refugee Organization, which later became UNHCR. The other part of the work, the feeding and protection of children was to be entrusted to a new organization called the UN’s International Children’s Emergency Fund or UNICEF.
The establishment of UNICEF was one of the early items on the agenda of the new ECOSOC of the United Nations. The founding fathers who worked hard to establish UNICEF as a successor to UNRRA were: Fiorello LaGuardia of the US, (Sir) Robert Jackson of Australia, George Davidson of Canada, Philip Noel-Baker of the UK, and Ludwick Rajchman of Poland.
Ludwick Rajchman had been the chief medical official of the League of Nations. He was an epidemiologist by training, and a brilliant pioneer of international public health, a medical visionary, who played a major role in setting up of both WHO and UNICEF.
30th of September is a special day in the history of UNICEF. That is when the historic World Summit for Children was held in 1990. But another historic 30th of September was in 1946 when ECOSOC first discussed the setting up of UNICEF.
Recall that by that time the UN was already divided by the poisonous atmosphere of the Cold War and the East/West rivalry. Everything was coloured by politics.
But “politics and international differences took a rare holiday today”, reported the New York Times from Lake Success, where ECOSOC met that day, “as the delegates vied with each other in eloquent and unanimous support for an international children’s fund”.
The ECOSOC then invited the Secretary-General to present a detailed proposal to the General Assembly on setting up UNICEF. Ludwick Rajchman helped develop the detailed proposal and helped steer it through the Third Committee to the General Assembly.
On 11 December 1946, the GA established UNICEF through resolution 57(I). Its mandate was to help with rehabilitation of children and to support child health purposes generally in countries that had been devastated by the War. It was to provide assistance “on the basis of need, without discrimination because of race, creed, nationality, status or political belief”.
A 25 member Executive Board was elected, which included all 18 members of the Social Commission of ECOSOC, other 7 members representing the major contributing and recipient countries, and a non-member of the United Nations – Switzerland.
The first Executive Board meeting held on 19 December 1946 elected Ludwick Rajchman as its Chairman. The first item on the Board’s agenda was the appointment of a new Executive Director.
The ExDir was to be appointed by the Secretary-General in consultation with the Executive Board. Ludwick Rajchman who had taken such diligent, tender loving care of this new institution, was determined to ensure that it got a most capable and effective leader.
Rajchman identified Maurice Pate, an American, who had worked with former US President Herbert Hoover at UNRRA, as a candidate and secured the endorsement of the Board and of Secretary-General Trygvie Lie.
Pate got his letter of appointment as the first Executive Director of UNICEF, exactly 57 years ago today on 8 January 1947. And he got a cheque of $550,000 left over funds from UNRRA, as seed money to launch UNICEF.
Pate turned out to be an inspired choice to be the head of UNICEF. He had a touch of personality which was described by some as “saintliness”.
Herbert Hoover called him, “the most efficient human angel I have ever met”. Later Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, speaking about the place of UNICEF in the UN system said the following: “the work of UNICEF is at the heart of the matter…and at the heart of UNICEF is Maurice Pate”.
But when Maurice Pate was first offered the job of heading UNICEF, he said he would only accept the job on one condition. That UNICEF should be allowed to help children in need everywhere, including in the so-called “enemy states”. Recall that article 53 of the UN Charter speaks about the “enemy states”. For Maurice Pate, like it was for Eglantyne Jebb, there was no such thing as “enemy” children.
This principle, became so important for UNICEF’s work later – even to this day. It allowed UNICEF not only to help children in Germany, Japan and Italy, but in the socialist countries during the Cold War. In Biafra during the civil war in Nigeria. In Cambodia when the government in Phnom Penh was not recognized by the United Nations.
This principle of helping children in need whatever the politics of their parents and regardless of the legal status of their governments has been consistently defended by all of Maurice Pate’s successors. And it is a precious asset of UNICEF, long preceding the recently emerging principle of humanitarian intervention or the “responsibility to protect”.
A week after his appointment Pate wrote to General George C. Marshall, US Secretary of State for $100 million towards the cost of “a glass of milk, and some fat to spread on bread” for 6 million hungry children in Europe and China. The total budget that Pate and Rajchman estimated for UNICEF from all donors was $450 million to feed 25 million children in Europe and 30 million in Asia.
Some of the early donors to UNICEF were:
– USA $40m
– Canada 5m
– Australia 3m
– France .9m
– Norway contributed cod liver oil in kind
Argentina had pledged $10m but it wanted Eva Peron to travel all over Latin America as official UNICEF representative to promote Argentina’s “moral and spiritual aspirations”. Seeing a certain conflict of interest, UNICEF declined to accept the offer.
The first UNICEF programmes approved by the UNICEF Executive Board in 1947 were for Albania, Austria, China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland and Yugoslavia. By mid-1948, UNICEF was providing rations for 5 million children in 30,000 locations in 12 countries.
In Germany where food rations were provided by post-war occupation forces, UNICEF provided cod liver oil, wool for warm underclothing, and leather for shoes for children.
UNICEF’s first programme in Asia was in China. The Board approved $5m in April 1948. Remember at that time there was the Kuomintang, Chiang Kai Shek government in China. But at the suggestion of the Australian delegate, a man named Dick Heyward, who later became UNICEF’s most distinguished and longest serving Deputy Executive Director, $500,000 of the funds approved for China were specifically designated for children in the Communist held areas. This was a first example of the principle of non-partiality upheld by the Executive Board. This was remarkable as a representative of the Kuomintang government represented China on the Board at that time, and he went along with the Board decision.
The first UNICEF head of mission in China, was a Swiss surgeon named Marcel Junod. He first set up his office in Nanking, the capital of the Nationalists in 1948. In the Communist controlled areas, UNICEF worked with CLARA, the Chinese Liberated Areas Relief Association. Our head of mission there was, paradoxically, an American named Perry Hanson.
Parenthetically it should be noted that Jim Grant, who would later become UNICEF’s third Executive Director, had worked for UNICEF’s predecessor UNRRA in both the Nationalist and Communist controlled areas of China.
The early UNICEF programmes focused on providing powdered milk to children. That is how many older Europeans, Japanese, Koreans and Chinese – perhaps some of your parents – remember UNICEF to this day.
But early on, the Board asked UNICEF to help build national capacity for indigenous production and conservation of milk. So UNICEF, working with FAO, started a milk conservation and dairy industry development programme in many countries, including in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia.
One of the largest and most innovative such programmes was in France. UNICEF provided $700,000 to France for a milk conservation programme. Besides providing milk to French children, it became one of UNICEF’s earliest advocacy projects. Legislation was passed in France to outlaw the sale of non-pasteurised raw milk in cities where UNICEF equipment was installed. Later the programme expanded to ban the sale of raw milk in all towns in France with a population exceeding 20,000 people.
In India, later UNICEF assisted the famous Amul-Anand Milk Union, a cooperative inaugurated by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru himself. It was the world’s first and largest dairy industry processing buffalo milk. The membership of this cooperative enterprise extended to 40,000 villages in Maharashtra, and later spread to other parts of India. The word “amul” means “priceless” and “anand” means joy in Sanskrit – that is what this project offered to millions of children in India.
Besides milk supply, the earliest UNICEF supported programmes also involved control of tuberculosis. UNICEF collaborated initially with Danish Red Cross, headed by a dynamic fellow named Johannes Holm, who later became a WHO TB expert. One of his protégés was a man named Halfdan Mahler, who later on worked on a UNICEF-supported TB control programme in India before becoming the Director-General of WHO.
The UNICEF and Scandinavian Red Cross supported anti-TB programme was the largest mass vaccination campaign in history. By 1955 the campaign had tested 155 million children and vaccinated 60 million with BCG.
Another great public health personality who worked with UNICEF was Robert Debre, a prominent French paediatrician, who was also involved in the International Tuberculosis Campaign. Later Robert Debre founded the Centre Internationale de L’Enfance, a premier training institute in Paris where hundreds of UNICEF staff and their government counterparts were trained in social paediatrics and public health.
In 1948 UNICEF fielded a major assessment mission in 13 countries of Asia. Jointly led by a former US surgeon-general and Dr. CK Laxmanan, the Director of All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health in Calcutta, the team travelled to Borneo, Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, the Dutch East Indies, Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, Indo-China, India and Pakistan. It made a report which became the basis for the earliest UNICEF health and nutrition programmes in these countries.
The biggest problem identified in Asia was malaria. It was by far the number one killer. In India alone, there were 100 million cases and 2 million deaths.
Tuberculosis, yaws and syphilis were other big problems.
One of the earliest programmes UNICEF established in Asia was the training of health workers. With $1 million by UNICEF, matched by a similar amount from India, we established a regional training centre for MCH at the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public health in Calcutta.
In the Middle East, UNICEF provided early support for Palestinian refugees through UNWRA. UNICEF also provided support for children in Israel, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.
Latin America was first seen as a source of income, not a recipient of UNICEF assistance. Argentina and Brazil in particular were seen as potential big donors.
UNICEF started its first programme support in Latin America in Guatemala where we worked with the PAHO-affiliated INCAP nutrition centre. Then UNICEF supported the anti-tuberculosis programme in Ecuador and Mexico. Support for Haiti and the Caribbean followed.
You will note that UNICEF had no programmes whatsoever in sub-Saharan Africa. Countries there were seen as the responsibility of the colonial powers at that time.
Maurice Pate as the Executive Director was a modest, self-effacing man. He admitted to just having two significant leadership qualities: one was his ability to pick really good staff, and the second was his talent as a fund-raiser.
Fund raising was a major challenge. Every year UNICEF had to lobby hard to secure US funding, especially as the Congress was turning increasingly anti-UN with the McCarthy era witch hunting. To lobby Congress, Maurice Pate partnered with a remarkable woman named Helenka Panteleoni. Panteleoni founded the US Committee for UNICEF, a citizens group which encouraged a letter writing campaign from constituents to influential Congressmen on behalf of UNICEF. Thus began the national committees for UNICEF, with hundreds, and now thousands, of volunteers which we now have in 37 donor countries.
The NatComs are a great asset of UNICEF. They help raise nearly one-third of UNICEF income. They engage with civil society and the media in their countries and play an important advocacy role. Their development education programmes make children in the industrialised countries aware of the plight of the children in developing countries and create a foundation for international solidarity.
You are aware of UNICEF’s greeting cards. It all started with a little Czech school girl who used to regularly drink UNICEF-supplied milk. One day she painted a nice little “thank you” card and sent it to UNICEF through her teacher in Prague. This became the first UNICEF greeting card and led to a major campaign which today sells 130 million cards and raises 150 million dollars.
Another interesting innovation in fund-raising was “trick or treat” for UNICEF. During Halloween in North America children go from door to door to ask for candies. In 1950 a Pennsylvania priest came up with a bright new idea. Instead of asking for candies, he asked his Sunday school students to ask for nickels and dimes for UNICEF. That year they raised $17. Since then children in the US have raised over $120 million by trick-or-treating for UNICEF.
Yet another innovation was raising voluntary private sector contribution to UNICEF. This was originally the brainchild of a Norwegian delegate named Aake Ording. Ording had once been a deputy to Secretary-General Trygvie Lie in Norway. He proposed that the UN endorse the idea of asking all salaried people to contribute 1 day’s pay every year for programmes on behalf of children. The idea was first tried out in Norway, as “UN Appeal for Children”- UNAC. Later in 1948 such an appeal was held in 45 countries and 30 territories and raised an astounding amount of $30 million. One-third of it was allocated to UNICEF with the rest going to SCF, Red Cross and other national charities for children.
In December 1948, the GA passed a resolution to continue the “UN Appeal for Children” but with all proceeds going to UNICEF. Quite a few UNICEF Natcoms have continued this practice in one form or the other, making UNICEF the only agency of the UN that secures a substantial part of its income (one-third at present) from sources other than governments.
UNICEF was off to a good start with all such innovations and good work. But as it had been established as a temporary emergency fund, its mandate had to be reviewed for renewal or termination in 1950.
As Europe had largely recovered from the worst devastation of the war, thanks to the Marshall Plan and other developments, the original rationale for UNICEF’s establishment was no longer valid. So there was a serious proposal to disband UNICEF in 1950.
There were 4 other reasons for seeking UNICEF’s closure.
The US was unhappy that it was paying over half of UNICEF’s budget in early years and other donors were not matching its contribution. It thought that UNICEF should be succeeded by a small permanent children’s section within the UN secretariat paid out of the regular budget in which case the US would only have to pay 25 percent which was its share of the assessed contribution to the UN. Moreover, with its programmes in socialist countries, and the influential head of its Board being a Polish national, some right-wing US officials suspected UNICEF of Communist sympathies.
Some folks at WHO and FAO thought that there was no need for a UN children’s fund which encroached on their sectoral territory. At most they thought UNICEF should be their fund-raising arm and should serve as their supply and logistics agency.
A major issue with some of the other donors was that UNICEF did not fit the mold of either providing technical assistance (which was the job of specialised agencies) or of capital assistance (which was the job of Bretton Woods Institutions). UNICEF was actually providing “material assistance”, including donated goods and supplies, which was okay during emergencies, but seemed unjustified in non-emergency situations.
So the axe was about to fall on UNICEF as the US and several key donors wished to terminate UNICEF’s mandate and existence in 1950.
To the rescue came the recipient countries, supported by Australia, France, New Zealand, Yugoslavia and others. They made a strong case that they actually valued the type of material assistance that UNICEF was providing.
The Permanent Representative of Pakistan, Ahmed Bokhari, made an eloquent and passionate plea that while the worst of the post-war emergency maybe over in Europe, countries of Asia and developing countries in other regions were suffering from a permanent emergency. That was the emergency of poverty, disease, illiteracy, malnutrition that stalked millions of children. UNICEF and the United Nations had a responsibility to assist such countries.
This argument carried the day, and UNICEF’s life was extended for 3 more years with a vote of 43 to 8 with the US abstaining. The ensuing resolution broadened UNICEF’s mandate to address the long-term needs of children and mothers in developing countries.
UNICEF’s focus of action shifted dramatically in the early 1950s. Whereas in 1946-49 UNICEF support was 76 % for Europe, 11 % for Asia, 10 % for Middle East, 3 % for Latin America and none for Africa, by 1953 62% went to Asia, 17 % to Latin America, 9% to Middle East, and 5 % to Africa.
As you know, we have come a long way since then. Today nearly half of UNICEF support goes to sub-Saharan Africa, one-third to Asia, and about 6 % each to Latin America and the Caribbean, the CEE/CIS countries and to MENA.
When the 3 year lease of life was over and UNICEF’s future was reviewed in 1953, the Board, the ECOSOC and the General Assembly all concluded that UNICEF merited to be continued indefinitely, and that the “international” and “emergency” were superfluous and were simply dropped from its name retaining the acronym UNICEF, which now stood for the United Nations Children’s Fund.
Throughout the rest of the 1950s UNICEF focused its work on health, including the campaigns against malaria, tuberculosis, yaws, trachoma, small pox eradication, nutrition including milk distribution, and maternal and child health and family welfare services.
And wherever emergency struck, UNICEF was always there with its humanitarian relief mandate.
One other innovation that Maurice Pate pioneered was the system of Goodwill Ambassadors, enlisting the support initially of the legendary Danny Kaye fifty years ago in 1953. UNICEF has been privileged to have the likes of Sir Peter Ustinov, Audrey Hepburn, Roger Moore, Tetsuko Kuryonagi in Japan, Anatoly Karpov in Russia, Youssou N’Dour in Senegal, Amitabh Bachchan in India, Harry Belafonte of Jamaican origin, Khun Anand Panyarachun of Thailand, among many others as our champion advocates for the cause of children.
The decade of the 1960s, led to major transformation of UNICEF. As many countries in Africa gained their independence from colonialism, and the membership of the UN expanded, UNICEF adapted to the changing situation. The Executive Board, for example, met for the first time in a developing country in Bangkok in 1964, and in Addis Ababa in 1966.
In 1964 UNICEF convened a round table conference on planning for the needs of children in developing countries, in Bellagio, Italy. It became a milestone for changing the way UNICEF and the world viewed children and their wellbeing.
Until that time the wellbeing of children was largely seen as a charitable enterprise. And UNICEF was seen as a good, small U.N. agency providing relief aid for children in emergencies and campaigning against infectious diseases.
The Bellagio conference changed all that. Attended by some of the sharpest minds of the time with world class expertise in the fields of economic planning, health, nutrition, education, demography and social policy, the outcome of the Bellagio conference firmly established that the wellbeing of children was the essential foundation of national development.
It also helped expand UNICEF’s fields of action to include long-term development programmes in addition to its traditional role as a humanitarian relief fund. For the first time UNICEF became involved in education and vocational training programmes for children and youth. It began to engage with governments on social development policies.
The good work of UNICEF earned it the Nobel Peace prize in 1965. Unfortunately Maurice Pate died just before the Nobel Prize was awarded. His successor Henry Labouisse accepted the prize in his stead, and dedicated its proceeds to the Maurice Pate Award, which is still given periodically for outstanding work by individuals or institutions on behalf of children.
Harry Labouisse, in whose name this conference hall is dedicated, was a fine patrician diplomat, married to Eve the daughter of famous Marie Curie. He brought his own imprint to UNICEF. Under his leadership, UNICEF refined its country programming approach to one of the best recognized tools in the UN system. Social development planning for young human resource development became a staple of UNICEF programming in many countries.
UNICEF pioneered the basic services approach in the 1970s. Using community-based para-professionals to deliver basic services that are readily accessible, acceptable and affordable to people became the norm of UNICEF programming.
Perhaps the best illustration of this was the primary health care approach that UNICEF and WHO introduced at the Alma Ata conference in 1978.
The 1970s also saw UNICEF expanding its support for drinking water and sanitation programmes. As waterborne diseases are a major cause of childhood morbidity and mortality, UNICEF support in this area was seen as an essential component of basic services. The fact that the drudgery of fetching water is a major burden on girls and women, and thus provision of safe drinking water can be a liberating experience for them was not lost on UNICEF.
Indeed the advocacy of the empowerment of women as a worthwhile area for UNICEF’s support was amply recognized in the 1970s. As was increased support to basic education for children, especially girls.
Harry Labouisse aptly and ably handled the Biafra-Nigeria emergency and launched a major relief and rehabilitation programme in Indo-China as the Vietnam war came to an end – always keeping UNICEF’s principle of helping children in need regardless of under whose jurisdiction they were living.
Labouisse’s tenure was capped by the International Year of the Child in 1979. UNICEF was designated as the UN’s lead agency for IYC and its follow-up. It was a year of extra-ordinary mobilization for children. Non-Governmental Organizations were particularly active at that time.
We should recall that UNICEF has historically cultivated a strong partnership with NGOs. In fact, UNICEF has had a system of accrediting NGOs, akin to that of ECOSOC. There has been an active NGO Committee for UNICEF for decades. Its members are regularly invited to address the Executive Board. In fact, for many years the UNICEF office serving as the secretariat for the Executive Board also served as the liaison service for UNICEF’s partnership with NGOs.
In 1980 Harry Labouisse was succeeded by James P. Grant as the Executive Director.
Jim Grant came to UNICEF like a tornado. It was as if all his life he was preparing to come to lead UNICEF. UNICEF seemed to provide the perfect bully pulpit for him to espouse his ideas and vision.
Before coming to UNICEF, he had been a champion of the school of thought which we now call human development. Development had to be measured not by the gross national product of a nation but by the physical quality of life index, he had argued. Measuring development in terms of infant mortality rate, life expectancy, literacy rates and other social indicators was far more important than by a nation’s economic wealth or military might, he had argued. He had been a champion of increased and well targeted development aid to promote democracy and development as two sides of the same coin.
Jim Grant quickly assembled a senior management team of high intellect and extraordinary communication and mobilization capacity. Beyond UNICEF staff, he reached out to the media and the academia and the development think tanks of the world, to help him craft a new vision for UNICEF’s work building on its considerable inherited strengths.
Early on he came up with the idea of an accelerated Child Survival Revolution. It was unconscionable, he argued, that 40,000 children were dying everyday when there were many low-cost, readily available interventions to prevent such deaths. Like the Green Revolution that multiplied agricultural production in Asia, he argued the CSDR could drastically cut down child mortality and unleash a virtuous cycle of child well-being.
Growth monitoring, Oral rehydration therapy (ORT), Breastfeeding, and Immunization, were proposed as the cutting edge interventions, buttressed by female education, family planning, and food supplements – known as GOBI-FFF. Of these, immunization and ORT were seen as the most promising twin-engines of the child survival revolution.
Grant promoted CSDR with an infectious passion. He initiated the publication of an annual State of the World’s Children report to promote his revolution. Arguing that morality must march in tandem with capacity, he persuaded leaders of the world to raise immunization rates from single digits to 80 percent in their political lifetime.
While Grant was single-mindedly focused on CSDR, he was very knowledgeable about and deeply committed to the broader aspects of development. He got his Deputy Richard Jolly and colleagues to challenge the orthodoxy of the Bretton Woods institutions with a clarion call for “Adjustment with Human Face”. This resonated well, especially in Latin America which was going through a terrible economic crisis in the 1980s.
Grant also championed debt relief for child survival and called on reduction of military expenditure in favour of basic social services for children.
The problem of sub-Saharan Africa and the Least Developed Countries got UNICEF’s special attention and increased priority in the 1980s. UNICEF challenged the Apartheid regime in South Africa by commissioning a report on “Children on the Front Line”.
To demystify the low-cost, high impact child survival and development interventions and make these readily accessible to every family UNICEF put out a “Facts for Life” primer. To reach children in situations of conflict, with basic services, UNICEF promoted the concepts of “Days of tranquillity” as in El Salvador, “corridors of peace” as in operation life-line Sudan, and many other situations as documented by the inimitable Tarzie Vittachi in this booklet Between the Guns: Children as a Zone of Peace.
Jim Grant gave the decisive push to the long languishing negotiations on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and saw it come to completion and into effect in 1989. He then pushed for its universal ratification including from his death bed.
Grant’s crowning achievement was the convening of the World Summit for Children in 1990. It was the first ever world Summit, attended by the largest gathering of world leaders in history until that time. Its outcome document laid down measurable goals for children to be achieved by 2000, which were the precursors of today’s Millennium Development Goals.
The outcome document of the World Summit for Children was aptly called First Call for Children. That phrase first call for children – or children first – was an idea that drove Jim Grant incessantly. It consumed him – and as Maggie Black says, in this beautiful book, it shone from him wherever he went.
I will not dwell on the Carol Bellamy era, since that is still history in the making. Suffice it to say, that this era is marked by many needed reforms in management and operations; by the coming into fruition of the rights based approach to development, by the renewed emphasis on issues of child protection, the extraordinary challenge of HIV/AIDS, and the resurgence of wars and conflict as at the very beginning of UNICEF’s history and strengthening and mainstreaming of our humanitarian response. As we are seeing in Bam in Iran as we speak, and as we have seen from Kosovo to East Timor, to Afghanistan, Iraq and the many conflicts in Africa, UNICEF responds to emergencies with competence and commitment.
As we documented in We the Children, Carol has faithfully and energetically led the follow-up to the World Summit for Children, and master-minded the Special Session on Children which has provided UNICEF with a challenge to play its part in building a World Fit for Children.
While I have focused on the role of UNICEF Secretariat and its Executive Directors, in everything UNICEF does the role of the Executive Board is, or can potentially be of great importance.
Just like UNICEF has been blessed with 4 excellent Executive Directors, it has also been privileged to have a very supportive and committed Executive Board.
But I worry, Mr. President, that in recent years the Board might be becoming a bit too subdued, very routine gathering of officers for whom UNICEF maybe just one among many other committees that they have to attend to, rather than a special institution that they cherish.
Every morning when I go to my office on the 13th floor, I pass by and pause in front of the Maurice Pate conference room where we have a gallery of photographs of all the Presidents of the UNICEF Executive Board over the past 57 years. As I look at them, I cannot help but feel the perceptible change over time. The presidents and Board members of the early years were far more influential in the history of UNICEF than those of recent vintage.
UNICEF was a very special organization to the early members and leaders of the Board. Many of them served over many years and had deep knowledge and understanding of UNICEF’s work. They cared for UNICEF. They loved UNICEF. They felt passionately about the issues it dealt with. They fought for UNICEF. They mobilized resources for UNICEF.
I worry that more recent Board members do not have the same emotional affinity with UNICEF. To them it is one among many other organizations. Today you attend UNICEF Board. Next week it is the UNDP Board. Last month it was the Third Committee. Next month it will be some other commission.
In fact, many Board members might be tempted to want to see everything in these boards and committees and commissions harmonized and made more identical rather than unique and special.
Forgive me, Mr. President, if I sound a little biased and sentimental. I like to think that UNICEF is a little different, and yes, special. By all means let us simplify and harmonize some procedures. In fact, as you know UNICEF has been active player, and often a leader, in inter-agency coordinating mechanisms – working on UNDAF and CCAs and chairing a variety of UNDG and other working groups. But please let us not homogenize the character of UNICEF with that of every other organization. I’d say, harmonization –yes, homogenization -no!
You know, I feel proud working at the United Nations because there is so much diversity. We speak different languages. We wear different clothes. We think differently. We all share some common values and have similar human aspirations. But thank God, we are not clones of each other. Vive la difference, I’d say.
Now, we don’t want to be different just for the sake of being different. Our difference, or uniqueness must add some real value. And I think UNICEF does.
If you come from a donor country, please check back home and see how UNICEF is regarded by ordinary people in your country. It is not just one among many other UN agencies. In many cases it is the most widely known and respected agency. In many of your countries, hundreds if not thousands of volunteers work for your UNICEF National Committee. You may have national or global goodwill ambassadors who represent UNICEF. The cause for which UNICEF stands resonates with your people and parliamentarians.
If you are from a developing country, or a country in transition, you probably have a substantial UNICEF presence. UNICEF probably touches the lives of more people in your country than any other UN agency. In many countries, UNICEF has a presence at the sub-national level, not just in the capital city. Your local authorities find it relatively easy to access and seek support from UNICEF. UNICEF is highly decentralized. UNICEF Reps can often respond to requests on the spot, whereas many agencies will tell you they need to refer to their regional offices or headquarters.
UNICEF employs a large number of national professionals – more than any other UN agency, or any other donor agency, in fact in most countries. They speak the local language and are sensitive to local culture and customs. UNICEF’s country programming is firmly rooted in the country. Unlike some other agencies and donors we do not develop project proposals by visiting team of consultants but by resident staff based on constant interaction with our national counterparts.
When you visit a UNICEF field office, you are likely to see an interesting phenomenon. Now a days we have many common premises or UN Houses where all UN agencies share offices and have identical office hours. But if you visit a common UN House an hour after the official working hours, in the case of most UN agencies you will rarely find anybody working. In the UNICEF office, you will almost always find many staff members working way past the working hours and on weekends and holidays. Not because their bosses asked them to do so, often they do it voluntarily and out of their own commitment and conscience.
UNICEF is not perfect, or superior. But it is just a little special.
Mr. President, as we are still in the first week of the new year, this is a time when many of us make our new year’s resolutions and list of your wishes. I know, many of those wishes and resolutions don’t come true. But we make them anyway. In that spirit, here are my new year’s wishes for the Executive Board:
1. I wish you would all read one or several of these books on UNICEF’s history. I know you will enjoy it.
2. I wish many more of our Board members would stay with the Board for a longer period, and get to really learn about and appreciate UNICEF’s work in depth.
3. I wish all Board members would have a chance to visit some UNICEF-assisted projects in the field, and give us some good feedback.
4. I wish in trying to promote greater coordination, joint programming, harmonization, etc. among UN agencies, you would see merit in not homogenizing everything. As I said, harmonize-yes, homogenize-no!
5. I wish UNICEF Board would be known as a special forum where there is a lively debate on the burning issues of our times as they impact children – where we would hear the voices not only of governments but of civil society and young people themselves.