Tag Archives: MDGs

© 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.

Children in Mali eat the midday meal offered at their school.

Preparing to tackle child poverty globally: three goals for 2015

Children in Mali eat the midday meal offered at their school.

Children in Mali eat the midday meal offered at their school. © UNICEF/PFPG2013P-0030/Dicko

In an earlier post, I discussed the renewed emphasis on child poverty in the new development goals over the past year, and why this was a crucial development for children and societies.

The year ahead will be equally important as Member States finalise the new global agenda, including the measurable indicators to track progress, and guide the implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In this context three key issues we see for the year ahead:

1. Maintain the inclusion of children in the poverty goal

While the centrality of poverty to the overall goals is beyond question, and so far no member states have held a reservation against the goal or the language around children, in complex intergovernmental processes language can change quickly and with unintended consequences.

So while things are looking very hopeful, we must work to support the understanding of Member States of the importance of measuring and addressing child poverty.

 2. Include indicators of child poverty in the SDGs

In the coming year, the conversation around the SDGs is going to swing crucially towards developing the indicators by which the goals will be monitored nationally and internationally. An important input into this process is an excellent and comprehensive report on Indicators and a Monitoring Framework for the SDGs by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

The report does a heroic job of reducing the 169 targets to 100 suggested indicators including extreme poverty (those living on less than $1.25), national poverty lines, and crucially recognizes multidimensional poverty. It makes a strong case for child poverty to be measured using these indicators and highlights the importance of age disaggregation, including reference to UNICEF’s MODA methodology, for capturing multidimensional child poverty.

With children explicitly mentioned in the target, a clear focus on child poverty measures in the final indicators will be vital to support Member States assessing and addressing child poverty when the SDGs are implemented.

3. Provide the tools and resources to support the implementation of an agenda to end child poverty

Once the goals, targets, and indicators are in place, effective implementation will be crucial. This will be particularly important for an area such as child poverty, which was not explicitly included as part of the MDG framework.

However, while child poverty may be new to the global goals, there is a wealth of experience in countries as diverse as Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia and the New Zealand of nationally led processes of both identifying and responding to child poverty.

UNICEF is one among many partners supporting governments in these efforts.  To prepare for implementation of the SDGs we need to work in partnership to bring together the tools, resources and experiences to provide governments coordinated support to measure and respond to child poverty.

Getting involved

We would love to hear from you directly on priorities for children in poverty for the year ahead, either in the comments below or on twitter (@dmistewart1 or @UNICEFSocPol). To engage directly on the SDGs on child poverty do join the World We Want conversation on children and Post-2015.


David Stewart is the Chief of Child Poverty and Social Protection at UNICEF HQ.


DRC: 30% fewer children are dying before their 5th birthday

A mother and father from the Democratic Republic of Congo smile while holding their baby.

© UNICEF/2012/Diana Mrazikova

We have been impatiently awaiting the preliminary report of the second Demographic and Health Survey (DHS II) 2013/2014 which has finally been published, and contains news which surpasses all our expectations.

The very good news is that the under-five mortality rate has fallen from 148 per 1000 live births in 2007 to 104 per 1000 live births today – a decrease of 30 percent!

This decrease fills us with renewed energy and hope that achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) remains possible: MDG 4 has the objective of reducing the under-five mortality rate by two thirds between 1990 and 2015.

A mother and baby from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

© UNICEF RDC/2012/Pudlowski/

An initial glance at the Survey tells us that children’s access to certain life-saving measures has significantly progressed: The use of insecticide-treated mosquito nets was at 6% and 7% among children and women respectively in 2007, and has now risen to 56% and 60% respectively.

Children’s access to vaccinations against measles increased from 63% to 72%, while the number of women who exclusively breastfed their children during the first six months of their lives rose from 36% to 47%.

Another piece of positive news is that 80% of births are now assisted by qualified medical staff, which is the highest rate in Western, Central and Eastern Africa.

Of course, there is still plenty of work to be done in other areas.

The level malnutrition, for example: 24% of children were underweight according to the MICS 2010, while this figure is 23% in DHS II. Debilitating chronic malnutrition has stagnated at 43% at the national level, with significant disparities. The fertility rate is also stagnating: it was 6.3% in 2007 and was reported to be 6.6% by DHS II.

Furthermore, the quality of certain services needs to be reinforced. This is demonstrated by the fact that only 25% of children who receive the first dose of the five-in-one vaccine (against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenzae B) receive their third dose, while this figure is 28% for the third dose of the polio vaccine. Finally, treatment of illnesses among the under-fives remains less than satisfactory: in only 40% of cases of children that suffer from diarrhea, fever or acute respiratory infection, was treatment from a health service/health worker sought out.

Mothers and babies in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

©UNICEF RDC/2012/Mazrikiva

The Survey, which will provide further findings in the coming months, was carried out by the Ministry of Planning and Monitoring Implementation of the Revolution of Modernity in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Health and with the financial and technical assistance of numerous partners, such as USAID, PEPFARDFID, the World Bank, the Global Fund, UNICEF, UNFPA, PARSS, SANRU, WHO, UCLA and CDC.

The Survey mobilised more than 550 agents on the ground who, in less than four months, collected enough data to represent the entire country as reliably as possible.This is excellent work which everybody involved should be congratulated on!

 Barbara Bentein is the UNICEF Representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo.


All the results of the survey can be downloaded: Rapport preliminaire EDS-RDC II version finale

– Retrouvez la version originale de cet article en Français

Po na Bana, the Blog of the UNICEF team in DR Congo is now available in English! Follow the Po na Bana adventure!

Sanjana, a child participant, asks questions during the Children's Dialogue (Projonmo Sanglap) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which took place in February. © UNICEF/BANA2014-00525/Kiron

Post-2015: the power of voice, inclusion and participation

Sanjana, a child participant, asks questions during the Children's Dialogue (Projonmo Sanglap) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which took place in February. © UNICEF/BANA2014-00525/Kiron

Sanjana, a child participant, asks questions during the Children’s Dialogue (Projonmo Sanglap) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which took place in February. © UNICEF/BANA2014-00525/Kiron

Nearly anywhere you turn on the news lately, you will see headlines about inequality. However, perhaps inevitably, these issues are oversimplified in the headlines. The rich vs. poor, the 99% vs. the 1%, Wall Street vs. Main Street, etc. etc. If it was only about money—the ability to buy more cars, or more houses or more designer shoes, there might be some envy in the world, but things would be a lot easier. Of course, it isn’t that simple.

In fact, there are complex structural factors that keep people in poverty, and poverty is not only about lack of money, but it is about not having power — not having the ability to influence the institutions that make laws and govern our cities, states and countries. It is about not having the ability to fully reach your potential or determine your own destiny because you came up short in the lucky lottery of birth. Poverty is about not having a voice.

Over the last two years the UN system, in partnership with governments and civil society, has been working towards the inclusion of millions of people in crafting the next development agenda — an unprecedented effort to open up policy space for people from all walks of life to find and use their voice.

The stakes are high and the mandate is daunting: how can we work together — from the community level all the way up to the international stage — to tackle some of the most pressing issues facing the world of today and of the future? These include: ending extreme poverty; making sure children don’t die of preventable diseases; ensuring every child has access to a quality education; and combating the negative effects of climate change so that children can grow up in a healthy world. Furthermore, how do we address inequalities so that the children of today and future generations have a chance to reach their full potential?

Why is having a voice in political and policy processes so critical to the success of the next development agenda? In order to articulate the importance of voice, inclusion and participation in civic engagement, perhaps it is best to start with an example:

Ruby is a community leader and activist for the urban poor in the Philippines. She says:

“…The first step is for poor people to learn to trust themselves. Because we’re poor and because we live in slums, nobody trusts us, nobody believes in us. We don’t have money, our jobs are illegal, our communities are illegal, our connections to electricity and water are illegal. We are the city’s big headache. This is the entire perception of people outside the communities. But we are human beings too and we have lives in this city. If we are given space to be part of the decisions and plans, we also can be part of the solution…”

Ruby’s opinion crystallises the reasons why inclusion and participation are essential to eradicating poverty and achieving our aspirations for sustainable and inclusive development:

  1. Everyone has the right to have a say in shaping the societies in which they live;
  2. People living in poverty or those who have been historically marginalised, excluded or faced discrimination have valuable contributions to make to development planning, policy formation, problem-solving and monitoring progress;
  3. When people are not included, policies and programmes will not be as effective and outcomes will be unnecessarily compromised – in some cases they may even do more harm than good.


The Post-2015 Development Agenda – Is it inclusive?

At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned that the UN system, including UNICEF, is working towards “crafting the next development agenda” – but what does that actually mean? “Post-2015,” the working title for the next development agenda, is a reference to the year 2015, when the current development agenda and goals –the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) — are set to expire. In many ways, the MDGs have been a tremendous success. The mere fact that they are still being discussed, implemented and monitored nearly 14 years later is a testament to their staying power.

However, one area where the MDGs fell short is on inclusion – both in how the goals were developed and in how they are being monitored. The Post-2015 Agenda aspires to correct this shortfall – in both the creation of the new agenda as well as in its implementation and monitoring activities; so that commitments made by governments and others are followed through on.


Participatory Monitoring for Accountability

People-led, transparent and inclusive processes for monitoring progress on the new development goals will be essential to achieving these goals. Why?

First, there is an intrinsic value to people being empowered and claiming their space to be heard. This is especially critical for people who often face daily shame, humiliation and discrimination because of their gender, age or place of residence, or because of their economic, disability, ethnic, minority, sexual orientation or other status.

Second, there are often significant negative consequences when people are not included in development planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Participatory monitoring can take various forms. At its core, it should be about inclusive and transparent practices used to monitor the effectiveness and usefulness of local, regional, national or international policies, thus providing the evidence to improve upon said policies.

Participatory monitoring is about people — working together in an organized way – identifying and tracking the priority issues that affect their own communities, so that barriers to progress can be addressed and solved, with support as necessary from public sector and other accountable institutions.

Exciting new technologies and methods for collection of data have emerged in the years since the MDGs were first crafted that can help enable people-led monitoring initiatives. While we must be conscious that the digital divide remains an issue for many, mobile use has become increasingly common across the globe.

Participatory monitoring can and should include so-called citizen generated “real-time” monitoring activities and initiatives. These inclusive methods can facilitate empowerment, generate data on hard-to-measure, shadow activities such as corruption and rights abuses, and facilitate proactive approaches to development rather than only being reflective and reactive after the fact.

This month UNICEF, UN Women and UNDP along with other UN and civil society partners will be launching an open public consultation process on the issue of Participatory Monitoring for Accountability. Through this consultation, we will be facilitating e-discussions, documenting examples of good practice and sharing experiences on what works and what is possible for the next development agenda

The new development agenda cannot be “business as usual” if it is to be a success. It must be inclusive, responsive, dynamic and adaptive to the realities of peoples’ lives and to the communities it aims to serve. Including people living in poverty and their communities in every step of the process is the only way to achieve this.
Please visit the Participatory Monitoring for Accountability Engagement Space for more information, hosted on the World We Want 2015 website.

Shannon O’Shea is a Programme Specialist at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) working in the Office of the Executive Director on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. She is a passionate advocate for people’s inclusion in the development and implementation of the Post-2015 Agenda and excited to serve as a co-convener of the Participatory Monitoring for Accountability Global Consultation.


The global agenda must prioritise child poverty

Children bear the brunt of extreme poverty. This is not hyperbole; it’s statistical fact. The World Bank’s most recent poverty data show us that almost half of all the people living on less than $1.25 day, are 18 or younger. Yet, children under 18 represent only about 31% of the global population. And around 400 million children in the world under the age of 13 live in extreme poverty – that’s more than the entire population of the United States.


There is global consensus that poverty is not just about income – it is about the wellbeing of people. ©UNICEF/NYHQ2010-0585/Pirozzi

The world agrees that eradicating poverty must remain high on the agenda. In fact, it’s the first priority listed in the UN General Assembly Open Working Group document released earlier this year, on the road to setting new global goals, and the World Bank last year set its own target of eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.

Extreme poverty measures tend to capture the extent of poverty in lower income countries, and indeed in most regions of the developing world children fare the worst. But the same is true in the rich world: In OECD countries, more children than adults live in relative poverty (that is, in households with incomes below 50% of the median). UNICEF’s 2012 review of child well-being across 35 industrialised countries found that 30 million children – one out of eight in the OECD – are growing up poor.

Children are over-represented among the poor

Of course, there’s global consensus that poverty is not only about income. It’s people’s wellbeing that matters in the end. For a child, that means everything from whether she or he can go to school and learn, to whether she or he is well-nourished and healthy, to whether she or he is safe, happy and cared for in her family and community. The need to understand and measure these aspects of poverty is what led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Oxford Policy & Human Development Initiative (OPHI) to develop the Multidimensional Poverty Index. At UNICEF, we’ve developed child-focused multi-dimensional poverty measures, and currently have data for 25 lower income countries, with more to come.

Eliminating child poverty is of course a matter of child rights, and is also central to human progress. At UNICEF we cheered when the latter point was brought home by Jim Kim, President of the World Bank, who said, on releasing their new poverty data in 2013: “We can reach our goals of ending poverty and boosting shared prosperity, including sharing that prosperity with future generations, but only if we work together with new urgency. Children should not be cruelly condemned to a life without hope, without good education, and without access to quality health care. We must do better for them.” We are glad also that the EU is working on a strategy to help countries address child poverty.

I’ve been struck since taking up my current job at UNICEF’s Headquarters about the passionate debate around how we should consider, and address, child poverty in the global development agenda – among my colleagues, and in the wider world. While the Millennium Development Goals gave the world something to strive for, and real progress has been made, it is also clear children living in poverty have benefited the least from these gains.Some of the questions that keep coming up include:

  • Is it worthwhile to measure the number of children living in monetary poverty?
  • Should we focus only on the more complex multi-dimensional approaches?
  • What’s the best way to ensure needed attention to children’s wellbeing and rights?

It seems to me that child poverty is absolutely multi-dimensional, and finding better ways to measure and address it is crucial. At the same time, studies routinely show strong correlations between income or wealth quintiles and poor outcomes for children. Moreover, mounting evidence from child-sensitive cash transfer programmes seems to suggest that income can make a difference. If a monetary measure is going to be part of the new goals, shouldn’t children be included?

So how should child poverty be measured and addressed in the new agenda that will guide development after 2015? This is a question on which UNICEF is looking for inputs from organisations and individuals from around the world. UNICEF has teamed up with the UN Major Group on Children and Youth and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) to run open on-line discussions on this topic. We invite you to come take a look at what has been said and to join the debate. And if you miss the discussion, we can always continue the debate here on UNICEF Connect or via Twitter (@AlexandraYuster). We hope to hear from you one way or another.

How to get involved:

Join the live online discussion on 10:00 – 11:30 EST 10 April 2014. Participate here. More details here.

Share your views on child poverty on the online platform through 14 April 2014.

P.S. this post is written with thanks to my colleagues Martin C Evans and Antonio Franco Garcia, whose research and analytical work on child poverty has enriched the content.

Alexandra Yuster is an Associate Director at UNICEF’s Headquarters in New York, leading UNICEF’s work on social inclusion, child poverty and discrimination.

UNICEF children

Is social accountability a buzzword, or a boost for child rights?

In 2015 the world will move into the “post MDG” era, with a new development agenda. Deliberations and preparations for this are already well underway, and for those of us working for the wellbeing of children, it is crucial that this new agenda can fulfil the rights that children have – faster and more evenly.

One of the potential frameworks to achieving just this, is that of social accountability – when citizens and civil society organisations hold governments accountable for the commitments they have made to realising the rights of their citizens, and improving their lives.

But is social accountability just another jargon phrase used by those working in development – or does it present a real opportunity to advance child rights?

In an attempt to answer this question, last month UNICEF organised a workshop on “Child Rights and Social Accountability in the Post-2015 World”. It saw an eclectic group of people come together to learn from experience and to help understand different views on the connection between children, rights, development outcomes and social accountability. It also helped to clear up some myths around what social accountability initiatives can deliver – and potentially they can’t.

So, do social accountability Initiatives…

… help to accelerate results for children? Social Accountability initiatives seem to work well for improving the quality of services. If used in the frame of participatory advocacy efforts, they can also help to expand service delivery and improve government policy, including national and municipal budget allocations. However, there seems to be so far less evidence for the latter. Working from a rights-based perspective, this way of questioning is however, not very helpful; the better question is: do social accountability initiatives…

… help to realise rights? Involving children and youth social accountability efforts such as assessing, monitoring and reporting on the quality of services by using scorecards or engaging them in participatory budgeting does not only help to improve the quality of government services for children and potentially can expand them, it does also realise children’s civil rights. These include the rights of freedom of expression, gathering, dissemination and access to information, or the right to organise. It’s essential that social accountability initiatives with children are ethical and take adequate consideration of children’s protection. And directly related: it is essential to ensure better protection of children’s civil rights under national legal frameworks if we want to ensure enabling conditions for child sensitive social accountability.

… create greater equity in service delivery? Not necessarily. Unless groups of particularly marginalised people are actively supported to make use of and are being associated to social accountability initiatives, it is unlikely that their rights and needs are taken into account. This requires that public officials and civil society understand the importance of – and the obstacles to – the participation of marginalised groups, including that of children (including children who are marginalised – children are not a homogenous group).


…and, are social accountability Initiatives…

… purely “social”? Social accountability efforts are powerful tools designed and driven by citizens and their organizations. Social media has taken these tools into another dimension and amplified their force. INGOs can integrate social accountability tools into their work and equip civil society groups (particularly those made up of marginalised people) with the skills to use them. At the same time, Plan’s own work experience on child sensitive social accountability has shown that working both with civil society groups as well as with government institutions can significantly accelerate the improvement and offer of government services. Developing the capacity of government officials to listen to children, and supporting government institutions to create spaces for receiving citizen feedback or to improve information for citizens is thus another crucial area of work that should not be neglected.

…scalable from local to global? Not sure. Social accountability initiatives are often highly locally contextualised. It’s not evident that they are readily replicable and scalable. What works in one community, might not work in another or only with great difficulty be connectable to the national level. For sure, more thinking on this will have to be done. Good that the workshop resulted in the establishment of a community of practice for child sensitive social accountability.

Stefanie Conrad is Plan’s Global Advisor for Citizenship & Governance. She has more than 20 years of experience working on child rights, child participation & empowerment and rights based programming. Stefanie is based in Niger.


UNICEF, in collaboration with the UK National Committee for UNICEF, convened a two-day workshop in London on 3-4 March 2014, bringing together social accountability researchers, practitioners and child rights experts to discuss how civil society engagement can help accelerate results for children by holding governments accountable. UNICEF Nepal’s effort to advance social accountability with and for children was one of the initiatives profiled at the meeting.

One in three children will be born in Africa in 2050

In 2013, about 53 percent—or $2.1 billion—of UNICEF’s expenditures were invested in Africa to accelerate results for children. Remarkable progress has been made in the past decades: under-five mortality rates have decreased by 45 percent between 1990 and 2012, and primary school enrolment has improved, among other successes. But challenges still abound and Africa still has the most alarming indicators for children worldwide.

On March 25, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake met with the African Group in New York, comprised of the Ambassadors of 54 African nations to the United Nations, to reaffirm the common vision of UNICEF and of African countries that progress in the lead-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) 2015 deadline should be accelerated, and that children should be at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda.

Mr. Lake underlined the crucial importance of investing in the education, health and social sectors—not only because it is the right thing to do for the future of children in Africa and everywhere—but also because there is a powerful economic argument for doing so. In 2050, one in three children will be born in Africa. In the coming decades, the African workforce will be the biggest in the world.

“It is today’s children who will be tomorrow’s leaders, entrepreneurs, peacemakers, doctors,” said Mr. Lake. “If we do not invest in children now, the workforce of tomorrow will not be as effective, and that would be a great hindrance to a continent with tremendous possibilities.”

Mr. Lake addressed a great health challenge as he reaffirmed the commitment of UNICEF and its partners to the fight against polio. He expressed confidence that the disease could be eradicated in the foreseeable future in Nigeria, the only African country where it is still endemic, translating into real progress for the whole continent in this fight.

Mr. Lake added that equity for children should be intrinsic to the post-2015 agenda. As investing in the education and health sectors, focusing on equity is not just a matter of principle but of practical progress: “The more unequal societies are, the more there is a drag on economic growth. If you work with an equity strategy to reach into the poorest neighbourhoods and to reach the most disadvantaged children, you will speed up progress towards the MDGs. In other words, doing the right thing and promoting equity increases economic growth.”

Finally, Mr. Lake talked of the value of considering not just the quantity, but also the quality of results achieved. For example, worldwide, 130 million children who are enrolled in primary school can still not read or write. He reiterated that collecting and sharing data would continue to be a critical part of UNICEF’s work to support countries in their efforts to identify and reach the most disadvantaged children.

In subsequent remarks, the Ambassadors of the African Group in New York agreed with the Executive Director’s statement that the future of Africa lies in investing in children. They further expressed their appreciation of UNICEF’s work on the continent, and pledged to continue working in close partnership with the organization to achieve results for children.

“Africa from North to South, from East to West, knows that UNICEF is doing a very good job, a very challenging job because it is a job on the ground,” said Ambassador João Soares Da Gama, Chair of the African Group in New York. “You are known by everybody, from the children to the women to the men.”

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake addresses members of the African Group in New York City in the United States of America. Beside him are (left-right) Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations Ambassador Téte António and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau to the United Nations and Chair of the African Group in New York Ambassador João Soares Da Gama. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014/Susan Markisz

UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake addresses members of the African Group in New York City in the United States of America. Beside him are (left-right) Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations Ambassador Téte António and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau to the United Nations and Chair of the African Group in New York Ambassador João Soares Da Gama. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014/Susan Markisz

Read the UNICEF Children in Africa Brochure