By Leah Selim
NEW YORK, United States of America, 17 June 2016 – The Executive Board makes field visits to UNICEF country offices each year, to gain a deeper understanding of the organization’s programmes and its collaborations with Governments and other key partners and stakeholders. This past April, two delegations travelled to Argentina and Côte d’Ivoire to learn more about how UNICEF’s activities in these countries are helping children to survive, thrive and fulfil their potential.
Members of both delegations shared reflections on their recent field visits on the second day of the annual session of the Executive Board, describing the programmes and progress in the focus areas of equity, education, early childhood development and child and maternal health.
During the visit to Côte d’Ivoire, H.E. Mr. Vandi Chidi Minah, Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations and the head of the UNICEF Executive Board delegation stated, “for us, it’s important to get out of New York, and see what’s happening in the field. You have to meet the people who are needing and receiving the assistance that UNICEF provides. Because the resources aren’t just in the ground or the sea, they are the children themselves – the future of the country.”
Argentina: Innovation for equity
Members of the Bureau of the Executive Board visited Argentina from 10 to 15 April to learn about the issues affecting children in country and how UNICEF is responding to those issues. In recent years, Argentina has progressed significantly in areas such as reducing infant mortality and expanding primary education. However, new challenges lie in narrowing equity gaps and facing emerging issues like secondary education enrolment, obesity, suicide among adolescents, early pregnancy and juvenile justice, among others.
In introducing the report and video of the field visit during the session, H.E. Mr. Sven Jürgenson, President of the Executive Board and Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations, noted that “the World Bank classifies Argentina as a high-income country with a potential, due to high inflation, to slip back into middle-income status.“ He further remarked on the timeliness of the visit “given the decision by the Executive Board in February 2015 to invite UNICEF to work with relevant high-income countries to prepare country programme documents for the Board’s consideration, as well as the subsequent decision by the Executive Board last February  to approve Argentina’s new CPD.”
On a visit to the Province of Salta, the delegation saw how Argentina is working to build equity in education through information and communications technology-based secondary education. The programme addresses the problem of limited access to secondary education by enabling indigenous and other vulnerable adolescents in rural or isolated areas to attend secondary education through a semi-virtual environment. Students connect online with a team of teachers who work in the capital of each province. The teachers hold classes just as they would in a physical classroom, and students participate virtually.
While in Salta, the delegation also visited the newly established provincial Ministry of Early Childhood, which aims to increase access to early childhood care services. The ministry is currently implementing an innovative monitoring system to collect nominal and detailed data on the situation of children and their families and on their level of access to social protection systems in the most vulnerable areas of the province.
The delegation then visited the Public Infant and Maternal Hospital of Salta, which is implementing the Safe Motherhood and Family Centred Initiative developed by UNICEF. Health professionals at the hospital explained how a number of interventions are helping to reduce infant and child mortality.
In Buenos Aires, a visit to a child-care centre in a secondary school demonstrated how UNICEF and the Government are working to improve inclusion and retention of teen parents by restructuring the school environment. The centre provides childcare for children aged 0–3 as well as for their younger siblings while their parents attend classes.
The delegation attended a fundraising event and learned how the country office manages its huge and successful pledge donor operation. The office has been able to double its income every year, and the Board was eager to see how other countries might adapt some of the same effective fundraising techniques to help to widen the impact of their country programmes.
“The visit provided an opportunity to the Bureau to witness UNICEF’s role in building innovative approaches, models, partnerships and alliances with a variety of actors, including the Government, private sector, think tanks, universities and civil society organizations that contribute to tackle these emerging issues,” said the UNICEF Representative in Argentina, Florence Bauer.
The observations and recommendations stemming from the visit included the fact that, through innovative country programmes in upper-middle- and high-income countries like Argentina, UNICEF can play a strategic role in building innovative approaches, models, partnerships and alliances with government partners and a variety of other actors. The country programme engagement in these countries may lead to innovations that can have an influence beyond borders and contribute to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The delegation also found that UNICEF can play a strategic role in facilitating South-South and triangular cooperation in such country contexts.
At the end of the visit, the delegation left impressed by the extraordinary enthusiasm and commitment of both the UNICEF country team and the Government of Argentina, and by the exceptional cooperation between the two.
Côte d’Ivoire: Building a better future
After years of conflict, Côte d’Ivoire is now repositioning itself in Africa, with the aim of becoming an emerging economy by 2020. With economic growth estimated at 9 per cent, investors are streaming in. Yet nearly 50 per cent of the population still lives in poverty. Maternal and child mortality, education, health care and protection of women and children remain key challenges.
From 4 to 8 April 2016, a delegation from the UNICEF Executive Board visited Côte d’Ivoire to see the impact of UNICEF’s work and to solidify relationships with the Government and other partners. After conferring in Abidjan with a number of key ministers who work closely with UNICEF, the visit culminated in a meeting with the Prime Minister.
The delegation also made field visits to see clinics and partners working to improve child and maternal health. Despite reductions in maternal and child mortality rates over the past two decades, 1 in 9 children in Côte d’Ivoire still die before the age of 5. One of the many contributing factors is HIV, with a national prevalence rate among adults aged 15 to 49 of 3.5 per cent (UNAIDS, 2014) – one of the highest in West Africa.
At a prenatal clinic in Odienné in the north-west, the delegation learned how health staff are working to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. At the Man Hospital near the Guinea border, the delegation gained an appreciation of how health workers are raising awareness about breastfeeding and chronic child malnutrition. Along with the Government and key nutrition partners, UNICEF has helped to facilitate the development of a multisectoral nutrition strategy – one that includes prenatal care, exclusive breastfeeding, nutritional education, food security and sanitation.
Another pressing issue in Côte d’Ivoire is education, with over 2 million children currently out of school. UNICEF is supporting the development of the Education Sector Plan (2016–2026) and also helping the Ministry of Education and partners to identify and address the reasons why children are not in school.
The delegation went to Foula village to visit three school buildings built by UNICEF at the request of the community – one of which is entirely dedicated to early childhood development. Teachers there reported that they have noticed great improvements in children who have attended preschool as they advance to primary school.
The delegation also visited one of the many legal services centres that UNICEF has funded in communities across the country. The centres provide birth registration as well as free legal services to assist in the prosecution of crimes, including physical and sexual abuse of children. At the centre in Giuglo, the delegation heard from Justine (not her real name), a mother who received legal assistance after her neighbour raped her 16-month-old daughter. Although her community had pressured her to keep quiet and she was dismissed by the police, the Centre helped with her case.
Over the course of the visit, the delegation made note of the clear cooperation and engagement between UNICEF and the Government, other United Nations agencies, civil society and local communities. The delegation encouraged the country office to continue to build on these relationships and to focus on advocacy and awareness-raising so that the children of Côte d’Ivoire are high on the agenda of all stakeholders.
Closing of the 2016 annual session of the Executive Board
In the span of two and a half days, the Executive Board heard from Member States from across the regional groups and other delegates who reported on the many issues affecting the organization as it fulfils its mandate to protect children and foster their development. Topics on the agenda ranged from an update on UNICEF humanitarian action to reports on the work of the Ethics Office, the approval of country programmes and the midterm review of the strategic plan, to the implementation of the Gender Action Plan.
“I believe that we can consider this to have been a very successful session,” said H.E. Mr. Sven Jürgenson, President of the Executive Board and Permanent Representative of Estonia to the United Nations, in his closing remarks. “The strong spirit of collaboration among the regional groups resulted in the adoption by the Board of six decisions spanning programmes, financial and budgetary issues, audit and evaluation.”
Of the decisions adopted, President Jürgenson made particular note of the presentation of the report on the midterm review of the UNICEF Strategic Plan 2014–2017 (which was combined with the annual report of the Executive Director for 2015). “This showed that UNICEF is both a proactive, can-do organization, as well as one that is reflective, and that is firmly guided by data and evidence, best practices and lessons learned,” he said.
Executive Director Anthony Lake noted a recurring theme of the meeting: how to make UNICEF better. Ensuring a UN system that delivers results for people would position UNICEF to more effectively deliver results for children in a world of dramatically increasing needs. He emphasized that UNICEF would continue to work towards these goals by focusing on partnerships, innovations, including in the areas of human resources, and enhanced resources.
President Jürgenson closed the annual session with an eye towards the future work of the organization, stating: “UNICEF recognizes – as do all of us – that there are pockets of deprivation in every society, rich and poor alike, and that millions of children are still being left behind….We have much additional work ahead of us.”