Tag Archives: investment

© UNICEF/HIVA2015-0010/Schermbrucker

Why we must invest in children if we want a better future

A mother smiles as she hold her baby.

For the first time, there is global recognition that children have to be a key investment priority if we want development to be sustainable and equitable.© UNICEF/HIVA2015-0010/Schermbrucker

The third Financing for Development conference (FFD3) closed on 16 July, after four intense days in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (or ‘AAA’ as it will be called in short) was agreed to on Wednesday evening after difficult negotiations, particularly around strengthening global tax cooperation, and to a somewhat lesser extent the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR). The outcome will hopefully facilitate agreement on the broader post-2015 agenda, including the SDGs, at the General Assembly in September, as well as a strong climate deal in Paris towards the end of the year.

In many ways, Addis was the perfect location for an FFD conference given this special year and the trends unfolding and challenges we see ahead. Ethiopia is a ‘Least Developed Country’ (LDC) making rapid development progress, fueled by solid development assistance from traditional donors and significant investments from China and other emerging economies; but first and foremost by mobilizing and directing domestic resources toward development priorities such as health, infrastructure and agriculture. Ethiopia has been among the leaders across the developing world in integrating the MDGs into the fabric of their development strategies and budgets, and will surely do the same when it comes to the SDGs.

At the same time, and despite being a very poor country, Ethiopia is determined to tackle climate change head-on, aiming to adapt to the unavoidable while pushing aggressive industrialization while going carbon neutral by 2025. This was also clearly apparent in the immediate surroundings of the conference centre. Addis is undergoing what has to be among the most dramatic transformation of any capital city in the world. Everywhere you look, new buildings are coming up and new roads and railways are being laid. Ethiopia’s capital is testing both itself and its global partners as to whether sustainable development can in fact happen.

From the perspective of children’s rights and interests, the AAA is a significant milestone. We can celebrate that, for the first time, there is global recognition that children have to be a key investment priority if we want development to be sustainable and equitable. The AAA establishes that investment in children is of critical importance as a development finance strategy in its own right, and highlights investments in basic services, social protection systems and the protection of children’s rights.

With this outcome, we are beyond merely treating children as yet another “vulnerable group”. The AAA makes an investment case for children and also recognizes children as actors in their own right. Combined with the SDGs, which also put a very strong emphasis on a range of issues of core importance for children, we are now on the verge of having an intergovernmentally-agreed upon development agenda for the next 15 years which aligns remarkably well with UNICEF’s worldview and priorities, while at the same time challenging us to think beyond our comfort zone.

Looking ahead we should take a sanguine look at what Addis did, or did not, achieve and then move quickly forward to ensure the AAA will matter for children on the ground. The outcome document concludes intense intergovernmental negotiations that spanned a period of almost 6 months. It is not surprising that many initial ambitious commitments were boiled down to the lowest common denominator in the process.

But the document also outlines a new agenda that is both more ambitious and more holistic than previous agreements. With this outcome document, Financing for Development has essentially become Financing for Sustainable Development. There is no longer a development discourse separate from sustainable development. The document also moves beyond a ‘traditional’ ODA-centric view by engaging new emerging pillars of development finance, including domestic resource mobilization, South-South cooperation, and innovative and private finance.

Once international negotiations have concluded on the SDG goals and targets, attention will and should shift to the country level. Child-focused agencies like UNICEF can make progress here by focusing advocacy and support to nationally appropriate targets for children and relevant social spending that goes beyond what could be achieved in the AAA.

From our work in country offices we already have many examples how work in crucial sectors like Early Childhood Development, education, health, nutrition, WASH, child protection and social protection can be translated into national policies and budgets, even in environments with constrained fiscal space. Other priorities include engagement with non-traditional donors and the private sector to leverage and raise additional resources (keeping in mind that private finance should benefit as much as possible the least advantaged children). Finally, we can continue and strengthen our work around the disaggregated analysis of poverty data by gender and age, or by evaluating how public spending benefits children and other relevant groups.

Let’s quickly recharge our batteries now that the AAA has been accomplished, and then work hard to make this a truly meaningful agenda for children around the world.

Olav Kjorven is the Director of the Public Partnerships Division, UNICEF NYHQ

GONZALO BELL_El Salvador  416

Toward better investments in children in Latin America

GONZALO BELL_El Salvador 416

© UNICEF El Salvador/Bell

When someone says that investing in children is important to ensure their rights are fulfilled, to reduce inequality and to build more democratic societies, politicians nod their heads in agreement without hesitation. However, to actually see such priorities reflected in public budgets is another story…

Despite feeling the impacts of the global crisis, most governments in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have continued to increase social spending in general, and on children in particular. And not only have they increased the size of allocations dedicated to children, but they have also made concerted efforts to invest better.

Latin America has been a pioneer in measuring public investments in children. However, some countries in the region still don’t know how much of their public budgets are directed to persons under 18. If the old business adage that “only what is measured can be improved” is true, then quantifying child-focused spending is a necessary condition to monitor its evolution, determine its (in)adequacy and assess whether the lives of children are improving (or not).

In May 2015, representatives from 21 LAC countries congregated in Quito, Ecuador to discuss the importance of sufficient, timely and equitable investments in children and adolescents. The international seminar, Investing in Children in LAC: Toward more effective and equitable investment in children, was the third organized by UNICEF, following Bogota in 2013 and Lima in 2014. These recurring events focus on addressing the need to systematically and regularly measure public investments in children as well as strengthen the quality of spending. For example, whether public funds are used to paint schools or train teachers will have very different impacts on the lives of children.

Advancing public policy takes time. This series of workshops has enabled participants to share and learn from the experiences of others in this arena, and have further helped clarify the definition of Article 4 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires State Parties to utilize “the maximum extent of their available resources” for the realization of child rights.

Today we can say that LAC countries acknowledge the ethical, economic and political arguments in favour of investing in children, but above all, that they act accordingly. From greater child-focused allocations in Ecuador and Peru, to a specific earmark for children in Mexico’s annual budget process, to routine measurement in Guatemala and Honduras, examples abound.

That is why we keep working on three fronts. First, to understand the efforts that States dedicate – through public budgets – to fulfil child rights in all societies across LAC. Second, to deepen analyses, especially in terms of the quality and effectiveness of spending, where measurement is regularly taking place. And finally, to showcase LAC experiences globally and fuel advocacy for more and better investments in children in all regions.

In terms of the latter, the Quito discussions are informing the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, a high-level event being held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 13-16 July 2015, which aims to secure the financial resources required to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, the Government of Ecuador is hosting a side event to share LAC’s experience around funding child-focused programmes.

The forthcoming, new international development framework will only be as good as the underlying financing commitments. As a result, now is the time for Latin America to demonstrate to the world that measuring, monitoring and improving public investments in children is feasible and the cornerstone to fulfilling their rights.

Joaquín González-Alemán and Gerardo Escaroz are, respectively, Social Policy Regional Adviser and Specialist at the UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean Regional Office.

Grade 4 students in O’Thmar annex-village school. ©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Iman Morooka

A volunteer teacher brings education to remote community in Cambodia

Grade 4 students in O’Thmar annex-village school. ©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Iman Morooka

Grade 4 students in O’Thmar annex-village school. ©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Iman Morooka

O’Thmar is a remote ‘annex-village’ in Battambang Province, located about 20 kilometres from the official village it is affiliated with. Annex-villages in Cambodia are informal settlements, often remote or geographically isolated, established mainly because of population movement and growth. Their unofficial status usually means that they are cut off from services, including education.

Like in other annex villages, in O’Thmar there are few services available. The 160 families still rely on collecting rainwater for household use. Only two families have toilets in their houses.

But they do have a school, thanks to one man’s determination to bring education to children in his community.

His name is Sok Chan, who returned to his home country in 1993 after living in a refugee camp in Thailand since the 1980s. He chose O’Thmar as his new home, hoping to earn an income by cutting trees in the forest.

Mr. Sok Chan stands in front of the blackboard in a newly established classroom.

Mr. Sok Chan stands in front of the blackboard in a newly established classroom. ©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Iman Morooka

“Only a few families were living in this area when I first came. There were about ten children in total, but no school. So I decided to teach those children. I had the experience because I had taught children while living at the refugee camp”.

Mr. Sok started giving lessons in a neighbour’s house in 1996. Some families who were able to pay gave him nominal fees, but many poor children attended for free. He split his time between teaching during the day and working at night. The size of his class grew steadily, eventually reaching over one hundred children. With the support of the village chief, a small classroom was built about 10 years ago.

Mr. Sok had to split the day into short sessions to be able to teach grades one to five. He didn’t follow the official school year calendar. Instead he worked all year around, six days a week. He had to buy the textbooks and other learning and teaching materials himself.

In 2014, UNICEF officers went to visit the community as part of their ongoing work to assess the situation of children living in remote annex villages and came across Mr. Sok’s incredible initiative. They shared the information with key local authority members including the Provincial Governor, the Provincial Office of Education, as well the District Governor.

As a result, the officials organized to visit the classroom to see it for themselves.

Mr. Sok Chan (right) and District Governor Chea Sambath, a strong advocate for the school, with the grade 4 students. ©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Iman Morooka

Mr. Sok Chan (right) and District Governor, Mr. Chea Sambath, a strong advocate for the school, with the grade 4 students. ©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Iman Morooka

“When I saw the children, about one hundred of them crammed in one small classroom, I almost burst into tears”, said District Governor, Mr. Chea Sambath, who has since become a strong advocate for the school.

Senior officials at the Provincial Office of Education (POE) looked into the matter, and decided that Mr. Sok’s school should be considered a formal primary school, meaning that it is entitled to receiving financial support, teaching and learning materials, and official teachers from the Government.

Thanks to support from the Governor, who helped mobilize resources, additional classrooms have been built. The school is now part of the formal education system, following the public curriculum. While new teachers have joined the school, Mr. Sok, now a teacher on contract with the POE, continues to teach his students.

The newly established classrooms in O’Thmar annex-village.

The newly established classrooms in O’Thmar annex-village. ©UNICEF Cambodia/2015/Iman Morooka

“I am happy to be officially recognized as a teacher. Now that I am on contract with the Provincial Office of Education, I don’t have to doubt my pedagogical skills. I meet with other teachers every Thursday to exchange information and learn from each other.”

When asked what motivates him to continue his job as a teacher, Mr. Sok says how proud he is to see the success of his students. “I feel happy when other teachers tell me that my former students are doing very well in high school. I want them to go on to receive higher education, to become teachers, to contribute to developing the country”.

Governor Chea is also a witness to the success of Mr. Sok’s students. “The other day, I attended a ceremony to honour outstanding students in the district. I was very happy to learn that the girl who became number one at District level was Mr. Sok’s former student.”

Iman Morooka is currently serving as Chief of Communication a.i. at UNICEF Cambodia.

Children practice dancing with recitations in Bangladesh. ©UNICEF/BANA2014-01664/Mawa

Invest in children’s futures; invest in Early Childhood Development

Investment and Early Childhood Development (ECD) are both about the future. Investment is about transferring today’s purchasing power to the future, with an expectation for positive returns. ECD is about the foundation for individual and societal progress that has an economic and social payback for all.

Both need vision and forward thinking.

However that is where the similarities might end, because globally investment in ECD is extremely limited.

There is compelling and credible evidence that the early years of a child’s life are the foundation for individuals, families, communities and building sustainable societies. Rigorous economic analyses have modelled both the returns on investment and cost of inaction when it comes to early intervention programmes.

ECD programmes can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by establishing equality in adult earnings. For example, research from Jamaica has shown the power of ECD for highly vulnerable children, who ended up closing the earning gap between themselves and their more advantaged peers. This result was not seen for the vulnerable children who did not receive the ECD intervention.

But despite the voluminous evidence, programmes for young children and families are among the most underfunded.

Children practice dancing with recitations in Bangladesh. ©UNICEF/BANA2014-01664/Mawa

Children practice dancing with recitations in Bangladesh. ©UNICEF/BANA2014-01664/Mawa

Government or public funding for ECD, typically comes from two sectors – health and education. In general, in developing countries it is estimated at less than 5% of GDP is allocated to education and on average 2% to health*. Programmes for young children and families receive only a very marginal proportion of health and education spending. While the exact percentages are not calculated, it is estimated that on average 0.5% of this are directed towards children.

The other source of investment in ECD is private sector funding. This source is not homogenous and consists of money and contributions from individuals, households, community members, business and philanthropy. Typically the family and household contribution to ECD is in the form of user fees.

Business investment is both for provision of programmes, e.g., preschools, and more recently social impact bonds for financing social services. Philanthropy is a significant source of funding for ECD. However, this category is quite diverse, with some funders supporting individual projects and others forming part of larger organizational level partnerships, with a joint agenda.

For UNICEF, one such key partner is the H&M Conscious Foundation. Working together with us to encourage an increased financial investment in ECD, the Foundation is supporting 3 countries – Chile, Montenegro and South Africa – to develop strong national investment cases for ECD. These, in turn, will be used to advocate for increased government budget allocations for services for young children. These countries represent geographic and demographic diversity and level of maturity of their ECD programmes, and the final results of this work are anticipated in 2016.

This partnership also has an important role to play in demonstrating the value of partnerships in supporting sustainable programmes, particularly for the post-2015 development agenda. On December 4th the UN Secretary General released his synthesis report The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet. The finance architecture laid out in the synthesis report presents a very different model for financing the SDGs compared to the MDGs. There is a stronger role for private sector with national to support development.

ECD, as presented in the report, is part of the new transformational agenda as a clear strategy for investment in “People.” This offers an opportunity to engage a wider range of investors in ECD.

Investment is a commitment, it is about making choices based on a set of values and the willingness to pay for them. As of now, ECD does not appear to be a priority for public, private or civil society investment, except for a few investors. If we are to increase investment in ECD, we need to make a stronger investment case and highlight noteworthy partnerships that can provide exemplars for supporting programmes, and ultimately, all young children.

Pia Rebello Britto is the Senior Adviser on Early Childhood Development ar UNICEF HQ in New York.


*Please note that an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that in developing countries it is estimated that less than 5% of government budgets are allocated to education and on average 2% to health. Those figures refer to GDP and not governmental budgets.