The Case for Investing in UNICEF’s Work


UNICEF has always believed that children have a right to say what they think and have their opinions taken into account — that those opinions should be a driving force for change in the world, guiding UNICEF’s global work.

To help develop its strategic plan for 2022-2025, UNICEF asked children and young people in 30 countries to share their views and priorities, engaging some 200,000 individuals — an unprecedented number — through U-Report, Voices of Youth and other means.

Gender equality is a key focus of UNICEF’s strategic plan, for good reason: Girls ages 15 to 19 are less likely to have access to education or training or to be employed; more likely to become infected with HIV; and in many parts of the world hard hit by COVID-19, increasingly susceptible to being forced into child marriage. By including gender equality as one of its cross-cutting programs for the years ahead, UNICEF calls for a more equal future – for every child. “Do not underestimate girls,” says Ahed, 18, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan, who participated in a UNICEF program that teaches life skills to prepare young people for employment. “We girls are capable, but we need you to support us and stand with us.” © UNICEF/UNI394981/El-Noaimi

From those consultations, UNICEF learned or reaffirmed a number of things regarding what young people care most about, including that:

  • children and young people want safe homes and schools
  • they want parents and teachers to respect their agency
  • schools are essential — not just for education but also other critical services, and for social connection and collective youth action
  • mental health and psychosocial support is crucial in order for young people to stay healthy and safe and to keep learning effectively
  • racism, gender inequality and other forms of discrimination significantly impact young people
  • climate change is a burdensome and alarming reality
  • all of the above issues are even more urgent for those living in humanitarian and protracted crises

UNICEF’s plan for the next four years takes all of these concerns and priorities to heart. It is intended to guide synchronized action towards an inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic while also accelerating progress toward the longer-term United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. It focuses on tackling issues within five cross-cutting program areas — climate action, disability, gender equality, peacebuilding and resilience — with an emphasis on understanding and addressing the root causes of inequity for children, particularly those who suffer the worst deprivations and are most excluded from society. 

Children with disabilities are among the most marginalized and excluded from society. UNICEF strives to keep the needs of children with disabilities in mind across all programming. Danilo of Guatemala City, Guatemala, pictured with his siblings, suffers from Congenital Zika Syndrome and microcephaly. UNICEF works with local authorities in Guatemala and across Latin America to reinforce health systems to adequately support families like Danilo’s, so that children with disabilties have access to early interventions and are able to realize their right to develop to their full potential. © UNICEF/UN0148747/Volpe

Identifying climate action, disability, gender equality, peacebuilding and resilience as cross-cutting focus areas is an important step toward understanding and addressing root causes of inequity for children — a vital part of UNICEF’s approach to leave no child behind 

In a related appeal for donor support for the plan, UNICEF makes the case that investing in these efforts will reap huge dividends not just for individual children’s futures but for whole communities and countries and society as a whole — a society in which every child is included, without discrimination, and has agency, opportunity and their rights fulfilled.

There are five child-centered goal areas, covering all a child needs, from antenatal care through infancy, childhood and adolescence, laddering up to UNICEF’s long-term vision for every child. Here’s a breakdown of each goal area and the actions UNICEF has identified as critical for accelerating results: 

Goal Area 1: Every child survives and thrives with access to nutritious diets, quality primary health care, nurturing practices and essential supplies. Going forward, UNICEF aims to accelerate results by strengthening primary health care and systems; addressing deep inequalities in access to essential health and nutrition services; scaling up capacity to respond to public health emergencies; promoting child-centered food systems; and changing discriminatory laws, policies and social practices.

Programs and partnerships that fall into this first bucket all contribute to reducing child mortality; specifically, those that boost immunization coverage to eradicate polio, end maternal and neonatal tetanus, prevent outbreaks and fight other vaccine-preventable illnesses; improve access to HIV testing, treatment and care for women, children and adolescents and prevent new HIV infections; increase access to mental health services; promote breastfeeding and prevent and treat malnutrition.  

Goal Area 2: Every child learns and acquires skills for the future. UNICEF works globally to improve access to learning — including helping schools reopen and stay open safely during a pandemic — and the quality of education from early childhood through primary and secondary school. For older children, UNICEF works with partners to provide opportunities to develop life skills, digital skills, transferrable skills and vocational skills for specific jobs.

Priorities for accelerating results going forward include: strengthening the emphasis on early learning; improving education for marginalized adolescents; focusing on safe and supportive school environments; strengthening links between education and other systems like nutrition and mental health; innovating around skills building and providing multiple learning pathways; and supporting digital learning.

External factors and events — conflict, say, or an extreme weather event — can change family circumstances in an instant. So can illness or loss of employment. UNICEF works to build resilience in individuals and broader social systems to help families and communities survive these sudden shocks and adapt safely. This can be done by strengthening both preparedness and response and with emergency cash assistance. Moustapha Alhadji of Lake Provence, in Bol, west Chad, his wife, Hawa Adam, and their six children, pictured above, are beneficiaries of a UNICEF cash transfer program that provided $45 per month for three months to cover the cost of essential goods and services for families in the region who were hard hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. © UNICEF/UN0469337/Dejongh

Goal Area 3: Every child is protected from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. Priority programs under child protection aim to support children’s recovery from the psychological impacts of trauma; work with governments to ensure children’s rights are respected within legal and justice systems; increase knowledge and change community attitudes to end child marriage, female genital mutilation and other harmful practices; and safeguard the rights of children on the move, who are the most vulnerable to danger, detention, deprivation and discrimination.

To accelerate results for these interventions in the years ahead, UNICEF plans to put greater focus on prevention, targeting children at greatest risk; advocate for more inclusive social protection systems; and better address the behavioral, social, cultural and economic determinants of harm and harmful practices while strengthening access to response services. UNICEF programs also aim to empower families, parents and caregivers to better protect children.

Goal Area 4: Every child lives in a safe and sustainable climate and environment — with sufficient access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. Climate change, weak local and national governance, unplanned urbanization and insufficient awareness of the dangers posed by environmental risks – including inadequate water and sanitation systems – expose millions of children to potential harm. UNICEF’s work in this area focuses on strengthening WASH service delivery and WASH systems — handwashing facilities and toilets in schools, communities and health centers — and empowering communities to raise public awareness around the dangers of unclean water and poor sanitation and importance of adhering to best hygiene practices.

Example of climate action: In the Fulani village of Hore Mondji, southern Mauritania, a women’s cooperative uses solar energy to operate the borehole that supplies the community garden with water. The project, piloted by UNICEF in partnership with local authorities, supports the continued production of fruits, vegetables and aromatic plants — okra, carrots, mint, peppers, eggplants, tomatoes — some for local consumption, ensuring healthy diets, and some to be sold in neighboring town markets, generating income for co-op members. © UNICEF/UN0418635/Pouget

In the area of climate change, UNICEF also works with partners to mitigate impacts of environmental hazards on children’s health, and to equip communities with knowledge, skills and supplies needed to protect against natural disasters. To accelerate results, UNICEF will be looking to increase partnerships with the private sector. 

Goal Area 5: Every child lives free from poverty. UNICEF notes that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have hit children the hardest — wreaking havoc on the world’s health and education systems, and causing the first increase in extreme monetary poverty since 1998. In 2020, UNICEF data show, 150 million more children fell into multidimensional poverty due to COVID-19.

Inequity and deprivation perpetuate poverty across generations. Geography, conflict, discrimination, exclusion and other barriers have lifelong consequences for children and society.

UNICEF’s work helps to make children living in poverty visible, whether it’s by supporting governments with implementation and financing of poverty reduction policies, or strengthening social protection systems to ensure they are inclusive, shock responsive and gender sensitive. To accelerate results, UNICEF will continue using cash transfers to help alleviate the effects of poverty on families in emergencies and other humanitarian contexts. 

It is vital that those who have been most affected by the economic crisis are supported to recover, so that children can be protected from risks like child labor and child marriage and families can be lifted out of poverty — UNICEF 2022-2025 Strategic Plan Investment Case

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, humanitarian needs were on the rise due to conflict and climate change. Today, 1 in 33 people worldwide need humanitarian assistance and protection – the highest number in decades. UNICEF’s investment case points out: “Responding to these growing humanitarian crises requires us not just to meet children’s immediate needs; we must also help communities to develop stronger health, education and shock-responsive social protection systems for the long term, so that they are more resistant to future risks.”

Partnering with UNICEF means maximizing results for children

As a child- and youth-powered organization, UNICEF has always, and will continue to, support youth engagement in public policy decisions; to work with youth as problem solvers who can help advance innovative solutions; and to support youth collective action for large-scale, long-lasting change.

Nearly one in five children today live in settings affected by armed conflict and war — many are displaced and denied access to health care and education. UNICEF’s cross-cutting program for peacebuilding involves working directly with governments, communities and young people to tackle the root causes of conflict, putting the needs of children at the center. Ritah, a student at Buhundu Primary School in Bukonzo sub-county, Bundibugyo District, western Uganda, displays a poster promoting key messages around the importance of peace, part of a school enrichment program supported by UNICEF. © UNICEF/UNI199717/Wandera

Children should not have to struggle to have their basic needs — for health care, nutrition, shelter, protection, education, safe water, hygiene and sanitation — met. Help realize the rights of every child and improve their outcomes in life.

UNICEF relies on voluntary contributions from public and private individuals and entities. UNICEF USA recognizes that some partners may want to direct their support to a particular program of work, aimed at achieving specific results; and that some prefer to combine financial investment with advocacy and technical expertise. UNICEF USA can help establish a strategic partnership that aligns with your company’s or organization’s goals while also contributing toward UNICEF’s strategic plan for children. Reach out today.

The best way to support UNICEF’s work for children is with a contribution to UNICEF’s Core Resources for Results, where funding is flexible and can be used without restrictions within UNICEF’s plan for children, maximizing impact. Please donate.

Top photo: Baby Hiba of Syria enjoys playtime after recovering from severe acute malnutrition, thanks to UNICEF and its supporters. UNICEF’s 2022-2025 strategic plan for children is ambitious; it aims to create transformative change for child nutrition, to help bring an end to all forms of malnutrition by 2030 as part of UNICEF’s commitment to the SDGs. © UNICEF/Syria/2021/Hasan Belal

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