Sorensen Distinguished Lecture on the United Nations: Protecting Our Children’s Future
RADTKE: Good evening, everyone. Good evening. Welcome to this evening’s program at the Council on Foreign Relations, the Sorensen Distinguished Lecture on the United Nations with Henrietta Fore. I’m Rod Radtke. I am going to be presiding over today’s discussion.
This even is the annual Sorensen Distinguished Lecture, generously supported by Ted and Gillian Sorensen. The Sorensen lecture welcomes those intimately involved with the workings and issues of the United Nations and invites them to meet with Council on Foreign Relations members. Ted Sorensen led a long and distinguished career as both a public servant and prominent lawyer.
He was best known as his work as President John F. Kennedy’s advisor, speechwriter, and special counsel in the White House. And later worked as an international lawyer, advising governments, multinational organizations, and major corporations around the world. Sorensen was a dedicated member of and active presence here at the Council for close to forty-five years, and he served on the board of directors from 1993 to 2004. Gillian shared with me that Pete Peterson said at Ted’s memorial service that Ted had attended more Council on Foreign Relations meetings than any other member. (Laughter.)
That’s a testament to Ted’s belief that the Council was one of New York City’s most important organizations. We’re thrilled to have Gillian here with us tonight and are grateful to her and for her family’s generosity and continued involvement at the Council on Foreign Relations. Thank you, Gillian, for your years of public service, both to this country and to the United Nations. (Applause.)
And now it turns to me to introduce tonight’s speaker. Executive Director Fore’s biographical details are all before you in the program, so I won’t recite them aloud to you. You’re perfectly capable of reading them. However, I’d like to highlight a few important chapters in her remarkable record of public service. Before taking up the position of executive director at the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, in January of 2018, she served as administrator for USAID, for the U.S. Agency for International Development, from 2007 to 2009. From 2005 to 2007, Henrietta served as undersecretary of state for management at the U.S. Department of State. And between 2001 and 2005, she was the director of the U.S. Mint at the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Please join me in welcoming Executive Director Fore, who will deliver some prepared remarks, and then we’ll have an opportunity for conversation. Thank you. (Applause.)
FORE: So, good evening, everyone. It’s really delightful to see all of you. May I add in a thank you to Gillian Sorensen. I am deeply honored to be invited. Gillian and Ted really set the mark for how the United Nations should be seen, how the Council on Foreign Relations should think about the United Nations. And so, Gillian, thank you very much for inviting me.
May I also point out two other women that are here tonight? Ambassador Alya Al Thani from Qatar we are delighted at your presence. And second, Shelly Lazarus, the former chairman of Ogilvy, who has been a help to us in a program that I’m going to talk about tonight, General Unlimited. So very nice to have all of you this evening. (Applause.)
For nearly a century your Council’s members have been a vital source of both vision and ideas about America’s place in the world, and advice for generation of administrations through a remarkable century of both history and change, from the astonishing rise, and then the fall, and then the rise again of America’s economy following the First World War to the historic reorganization of the global world order after the Second World War—the formation of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, NATO, and so many other institutions that truly united nations in a common purpose—to this current period of rising nationalism and questioning of this world order and the value of working together across borders for the common good. But through the tides of history, your organization has always kept a keen eye trained on the opportunities for American leadership in the world. And at the United Nations, we’ve always appreciated your commitment to global cooperation and to dialogue. And as one of your members, I am also pleased that CFR really led in this.
Tonight I come to you to ask for your advice. The world is becoming a much tougher place—more conflicts, more refugees, more internally displaced people, and more migrants. Conflicts last longer, and in many ways are more brutal than ever before. We anticipate that the needs will be much higher in 2020 than in 2019, and budgets are being stretched beyond their ability to respond. These trends are of fundamental consequence for the children of the world and for our common future. As the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said, it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.
And that’s what UNICEF has always done. We’ve brought together donors, and innovators, and governments, and academics, and humanitarians for a common cause: to build strong children. For over seventy years, our staff members have worked directly with communities around the world in over 190 countries today delivering vaccinations and nutrition, education, teaching and learning materials, clean water, and sanitation, and protection services. Our staff is twenty thousand strong. Often at great risk to their own safety, UNICEF staff members and our many nonprofit partners—thank you, Rob—are working to give development a foothold in parts of the world where a vaccination, a bed net, a drink of clean water, a cup of nutritious food, a seat in the classroom, or a paved road seem like a distant dream, communities penned in by poverty, violence, and crime, economic inequality, conflict and discrimination.
Our budget is about $7 billion a year, and we work hard to raise it every year to meet these growing needs. To do so, we’re also building lots of new alliances with donors and philanthropists, who see not only the moral imperative of supporting children through their own resources, but the practical imperative of doing so. And we’re building bonds of trust with governments and communities. We have no political motive, no desire to choose sides, only an overriding mission to deliver health, help, and hope to children who need it—period.
Wherever children need us, you can find us. From hard-to-reach areas like North Korea—where we’re working with authorities to deliver immunizations, nutrition services, and treatments for diarrhea, which can often be lethal for children, and to improve water supplies over the long term—to Yemen, the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today where UNICEF and our partners are strengthening community water systems, delivering antibiotics, and supplies to hospitals, immunizing children against diseases, and providing cash transfers to needy families throughout Yemen. We are also a trusted development organization supporting governments as they construct schools, hospitals, resilient water and sanitation services.
But like your Council, we are also constantly looking ahead on the horizon. So last October I issued a letter to the world’s children about why we should be concerned about their future and what kind of solutions we need. The letter poses eight threats to children: climate change, conflicts and disaster, mental health challenges, migration, identity, lack of employable skills, online protection, and the rise of online misinformation. Tonight I’d like to focus on an area that is unique today and is thinking about the future. It’s technology in the online world. Your Council’s recent report on innovation and national security makes a compelling case for increasing America’s investments and strategic thinking around innovations like digital technology, so critical to the country’s economy and security.
The secretary-general shares this desire to better understand the digital interdependences that bind our world together for good and for bad. The follow-up to his report on digital cooperation is being led by the United Nations’ Fabrizio Hochschild, who I see this evening, and who is going to smile and wave so that you’ll all know who Fabrizio is. (Laughter.) He’s focused on gathering countries and businesses around universal connectivity and safe, open-source digital products that can improve people’s lives. This is very exciting for UNICEF. Innovation has always been at the heart of our mission. We’re using hardware innovations, like drones, to deliver vaccines and test results. And we’re working with a Colombian company, Conceptos Plasticos, to transform plastic waste—everything from candy wrappers to car tires—into plastic bricks that fit together like a puzzle and other construction materials for building classrooms. And this is recycling at its best.
With our private-sector partners, we’re pushing forward on medical innovations like pneumonia diagnostics and oxygen therapy. But more often than not, our innovations are becoming digital in nature, including software innovations like U-Report. It’s an instant messaging system that helps children and young people speak about local issues, like violence or HIV prevention or coronavirus, using any mobile phone. And as you know, they have a lot of access to mobile phones. Or RapidPro, which is improving the quality, the reach, the feedback of vital health information. It’s helping us to monitor the immunization of millions of children in Indonesia, to train health workers in Senegal, and support Palestinian children with disabilities.
We’re working with partners like Google and Red Hat, and Amadeus to build open-source digital public goods that can analyze data to better predict where people are moving and help us understand where a rapidly spreading disease like Ebola or COVID-19 might travel to next. And UNICEF and our global partners are working on a GIGA initiative. It’s to connect every school in the world to the internet. We’re using machine learning and artificial intelligence to map schools and to determine their connectivity needs. So far, we’ve mapped the locations and demand for connectivity in sixteen countries, and more than eight hundred thousand schools with more to come. And we want to reach the one half of the world that is not connected to the internet.
We’re also working with the International Telecommunications Union and partners in tech and finance to create new finance models to invest in this need. In the last two weeks, we’ve announced a major collaboration with SoftBank to help construct models for financial services around connectivity and our first financial services hub for GIGA in Kazakhstan. Our senior innovation advisor is also in our audience and is now going to wave and smile. And his name is Chris Fabian, so you’ll know who he is. And I encourage you to talk to him about how we can gather more expertise around this exciting work. We really think that if we could connect every school in the world to the internet it would be an enormous enabler. It would just be a catapult for children all over the world.
To quote your innovation report, the nations with the best talent will push to the furthest edges of science and technology frontier. We couldn’t agree more. Children and young people need online access, otherwise they will miss out on global information and learning, and essential digital skills for today’s workplace as well as today’s farms. Through our Generation Unlimited, or GenU partnership, we’re gathering partners around this specific need, helping your talent flourish by providing innovative education training, and skills, and opportunities. We know that we need foundational skills, reading, writing, and numeracy. But we also need soft skills like entrepreneurism, how to talk to somebody who is different from you, and how to do critical thinking. And we need occupation skills so that you can learn some sort of a livelihood so that you can be a productive member of society by the time you’re eighteen. And you’re also going to need digital skills.
We are also finding that in this age group, there are 1.8 billion young people, that they are going to need ten million jobs a month. And as you know, we are not creating ten million jobs a month. So a lot are going to have to be entrepreneurs, and they’re going to have to think and act like entrepreneurs. And they’re going to often have to do it through technology. So we are identifying promising ideas, like remote education and job matching, and investing in startups through UNICEF’s venture fund. In Sierra Leone, the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation is using data to better match curriculum to jobs. Utopic Studio in Chile is creating virtual reality games to test children’s reading skills. And Mexico’s Pixframe (sp) is using artificial intelligence and data science to evaluate children’s skills and develop tailored education.
But as we use technology to better support children and young people, we must also increase protection against the dangers of it, including exploitation, abuse, predators, and human traffickers. And Joanna Rubinstein is somewhere in this audience and is going to wave. And she’s right here. She’s being very—so she would be the person you’d want to talk to on this area. One part of the solution is that every one of us has to be alert, to help young people with their mental health. Having the self-confidence to say no in person and online. Feeling loved, safe, and appreciated, and secure. Mental health is the third-most requested issue for young people in the world today—at home, at school, online, and in communities.
So as we seek to build strong children, we must do so in an ever-changing world in which being online is a fact of life. So in conclusion, as we create opportunities to learn, to grow and develop through it, we must not lose sight of the need to keep children safe every step of the way. I look forward to discussing these issues and many others with you this evening. So thank you very much. (Applause.)
RADTKE: Thank you very much. We’re going to have a brief conversation here for about ten minutes and then we’ll open it up for questions from the rest of the audience.
First of all, thank you very much. It was fascinating. And congratulations on this GIGA initiative. It’s really remarkable. I think it’s going to be essential in moving progress towards achieving the SDGs. Access to the internet is crucial for, as you say, children.
I’m interested to see how this fits into some of UNICEF’s other initiatives. And you touched on it briefly—child protection issues, exploitation of children, you know, predators, traffickers, cyberbullying. We’re all familiar with what the risks are. And we’re talking about doing this in under-resourced countries with loose regulatory systems—I think would be a polite way of putting it. And I wanted to understand how UNICEF is integrating this into its—into its thinking as it plans on this project.
FORE: Well, thank you very much, Rob. So with only one-half of the world on the internet there is a very large part of the developing world that really doesn’t have the same online issues that we have. So sometimes it is the assumptions that we make, that the world is all alike and that if you have a cellphone that you have connection. But a lot of the world is still in 2G and they don’t have connectivity. So they have a different environment to be in. So in our work, since we’re in all the countries, we really differentiate and try to customize around the country. But we’re working with the big telecom companies about ways that they can help us, and that they can set guidelines both voluntary and required, that government can set the guidelines of voluntary and required, and that there are ways to check on it, so that civil society and nonprofit organizations can be continually monitoring if it’s working.
But I can tell you that we are not working as fast as the internet is proliferating. And Joanna will tell you, top pornography online, the New York Times had a recent article on this, it’s just—it’s beyond what anyone should accept. But the problem is, it’s online and so children can access it. I was speaking with some of our friends in Europe last week. And they were saying that for ten-year-olds in much of Europe many of them have seen pornography, 60-70 percent online. They have connectivity. You will not find that in some of the lesser developed countries. So it is going to be incumbent on us to think of every tool that we can that can keep children safe, every regulation, every voluntary help, and that we need to educate parents for what is happening online. And we need to educate children and young people themselves. This ability to say no, it sounds so simple, but it’s not when you’re online and it’s your friends that are there.
RADTKE: Yes. Thank you. How are you thinking about reaching children who aren’t in school? There are lots of children—it’s a school-based initiative, which makes sense. But there are children that don’t get to go to school. They’re bringing water to their homes, they’re held back because of gender bias, a whole range of things that prevent girl children, for example, from getting to school. Are you thinking about strategies to reach those who don’t make it into the classroom?
FORE: Yes, of course. So what we call the NEETs, those who are not in education, or employment, or training. I should just differentiate for you, Rob, so the GIGA initiative is to connect every school to the internet. But our online protection initiatives and programs are really everywhere in the world, and they’re now, and they exist. GIGA is our dream to connect every school to the internet. So as we look forward in time, one of the things that we worry a bit about is that girls are not going online as often, and yet they’re very big users in social media. And as many of you know, social media for girls often is one in which there is a lot of bullying. And so we spend extra time with girls. And one of the major issues that we talk about are things like child marriage, and how to keep themselves safe, so that they really realize that as a young woman that they have options, and that they have a sisterhood out there who can help them of big sisters and others who they can turn to in times of need.
Children these days do not feel as secure as our generations. They are very worried about their future. They’re worried about the world around them, which is why I mentioned that mental health is the third-most—the third-biggest issue that we get a request for. And I think many of you know, the statistics. Suicides are on the rise. And self-harm for girls is a very big issue. So we are reaching out to all of them. And if you are not in school, it’s usually because either your customs in your family are that you need to be married early, and that then you begin to have children.
And so the numbers for the number of young women who are married early and have children early is still way too high. And often it’s because they feel they’re not learning anything in school, and their parents feel they’re not learning anything in school. So we’ve got to change that, which is why we launched Generation Unlimited, so that education can be modern, it can be effective, parents and children—especially girls—can see their lives doing something other than getting married at twelve, or thirteen, or fourteen, and having children.
RADTKE: Great, thank you.
I want to shift a little bit the conversation. You quite rightly point out all of the challenges that we face with children. And yet, the last fifty years have seen tremendous gains in child survival rates. Overall life expectancy has gone up. Immunizations have gone up. There are all sorts of positive indicators. That’s not to diminish the challenges. But I’m concerned about sustaining the gains that we have made. And there are major forces working against that. And you touched on one of them, and that’s climate change. We see in our work that climate change is having an impact on setting back a lot of the progress that we thought we’d made. And I wanted to have you talk with us a little bit about how UNICEF thinks about climate change, and how you’re planning for what climate change is going to be bringing to the populations that you serve.
FORE: So thank you, Rob. We are all thinking about climate change at the United Nations. And I think you know that Antonio Guterres, our secretary-general, has really brought this forward as an issue. And so in all of our programs we are now weaving in climate change. We have just launched a report today with WHO and the Lancet Commission. And it’s talking about climate change and the effect that it has for children. And as you know, air pollution is up. And air pollution can have a severe effect on children, and particularly when they’re very young. So it can affect how a brain develops, its physical characteristics. And that’s very difficult to stop unless you can get on top of air pollution. And as you know, there’s some countries that are really struggling with this. Mongolia is one. But it is both indoor and outdoor air pollution. So it is a mix of governments, it is a mix of private industry, and of nonprofit organizations and U.N. agencies that will—that are tackling these.
So we’re now moving it into all of our programs. We do air, water, and land. The one thing I will tell you about being a children and young-people oriented agency is that they really want to be part of it. They do not want to just talk about it. They want to roll up their sleeves and so something about it, which is great. But we’ve got an army out there. We’ve got to put them to work. And so that’s going to be, I think, one of the challenges for the United Nations, which is how do we put them all to work so that, you know, they will feel very much that they have taken this turning point and that they’ve made the world better?
RADTKE: Thank you. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that when the administration put out its budget for the coming year, it zeroed out UNICEF, among other agencies—UNFPA, a lot of the UNDP. And I wanted to hear from you how UNICEF is addressing this challenge. I think UNICEF has a lot of public support in the United States. And in fact, in past years when the administration has done this, Congress has restored it. We’re entering an active political season. That makes it much more complicated. And I wondered if you had any thoughts that you’d like to share with us about UNICEF’s strategy for restoring U.S. support.
FORE: Thank you, Rob. So this is the moment where you, here in the audience, can help. (Laughter.) So anyone who would like to talk to the administration or your congressional representatives for funding, I know that the United Nations could use the funding, and I know that the children could. We do see this in the last years. And we have lots of our volunteers and members who talk to their members of Congress, and who talk to the administration. And the American people are very generous. And every year there is a strong discussion about this, but the programs are very important. The United States government—I mean, they have been the major funder for our Ebola programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They are a major funder for us in many, many places around the world. So we are hoping that our budgets will be restored, but we can use help from everyone.
RADTKE: Thank you. I’m going to use my last minute here to ask you a question. And I wouldn’t be doing my job justice as a head of a faith-based organization if I didn’t ask you how UNICEF thinks about partnering with faith for achieving some of the SDGs and development agenda. Often agencies have looked to faith communities as places for funding for work, which is fair enough. But I think, you know, we’re increasingly finding that there are opportunities for partnership. And I wondered if you’d like to say a little bit about how UNICEF thinks about partnership with faith organizations.
FORE: So we love faith-based organizations. They are often the ones who are on the ground long term. So that they are the eyes, the hands, the feet that really help all the children year in and year out. And you have a massive base of volunteers who are in their communities, and they really understand the issues. Our work with faith-based organizations has been strong for a variety of reasons. But one is that there’s an unshakable bond about the importance of a child, and that a child is where we need to put our emphasis and our focus. And as such, it means that we are already set up as good partners in the field.
I think it’s strengthened over the years because many of the faith-based organizations have also been thinking about how schools talk about social cohesion. Often in our world there is a disparity between those who are of different ethnicities, or religions, or political persuasions. And as a result, the schools begin to pull apart. So many countries and faith-based organizations are now thinking about how we can act as one together, how we can make schools places where we talk about social cohesion so that you can meet someone who is from a different walk of life and they can become your friend, and that will create more peace and stability in the world to come.
So it’s a very strong partnership, and it is growing. It’s becoming even stronger. And I can tell you that wherever we see faith-based organizations, they tend to be the ones that we really rely on the most. And they are true partners.
RADTKE: Thank you.
At this time, I’d like to invite the members to join the conversation with their questions. A reminder that this meeting is on the record. Please wait for the microphone, speak directly into it. Please stand and state your name and affiliation. And make it a question, with a question mark at the end of it, please. (Laughter.) Yes, sir, here in the front row—second row.
Q: Bob Scott, Adelphi University.
Thank you very much. I too believe in partnerships, but I worry about children as potential converts or children being viewed as potential consumers by the partners that you’ve mentioned. What protections do you have against those forces?
FORE: Do you want to do several questions, or?
RADTKE: No, we’ll do them one at a time.
FORE: All right. So it’s a very good question, and it’s a very important issue. We often are struggling with the fact that many schools do not have teachers. And if they do have a teacher assigned, the absentee rates for teachers around the world is very high, particularly in Africa. So school is one place that you get protection. Another place is at home. And for many of the children, they do have parents who care and who are there to protect them. But sometimes they do not. And as we have just been talking, the number of migrants, the number of refugees in the world, the number of children who are separated from their families, they become exceedingly vulnerable.
The amount of human trafficking that is now coming through the Sahel and that we see coming up through Libya, it’s—it is too high, and it tends to be adolescents. We do not have a way to protect them. And so education is how we are trying to reach them. Things like U-Report, that I mentioned, where they talk to each other on cellphones—when you have a best friend, they can often help you. And it is one of the things that we have been studying, and working with other young people, and young people want to engage. And they want to help each other. So we’re hoping that that can be a massive help in the years to come.
RADTKE: Thank you. Next. Yes, please, right here in the middle.
Q: Felice Gaer, AJC’s Jacob Blaustein Institute.
Thank you for all your good work. And thank you for mentioning the work that’s being done in North Korea. You know, every year the General Assembly adopts a resolution which addresses the most vulnerable children in North Korea, street children, children whose parents are detained, people who’ve been returned forcibly to the country, and the like. I’m wondering if you could tell us how UNICEF upholds the humanitarian principle of reaching these children, these most vulnerable children. And in particular, do you support, and do you work with, the human rights groups on upholding the human rights upfront approach?
FORE: Yes. So thank you. And yes, we do. Let me tell you a little bit about our program in North Korea, and that will give you a sense. So we began working in North Korea in the health and nutrition areas. And one of the activities that goes on is that there are community workers. And community workers will take a backpack. And in it, they’ll have some basic equipment like obstetric equipment for delivering babies, some basic antibiotics and antiseptics. They will go to the remotest villages. They are community health care workers. We go with them. Every week they do a round of villages that they visit so that they look after the health needs—it’s a very primary health care—the health needs of the communities.
Doing so means that we really get to see a lot of the children. One of the areas we’ve been most worried about is malnourishment. So when we find severe, acute malnourishment among the children, we then can begin therapeutic feeding. But we don’t often have all of the supplies at the time, but we can catch it the next week and we can see trends. We also work in the cleanliness of water, so the testing of water. So cholera, diarrhea for the children, those are issues that we can keep an eye on and see how that is faring. The other area that we’ve been working on is tuberculosis. As you know, this has been one that with the global fund it’s been important for the children of North Korea.
Do we cover enough of the children? No. Are we able to? No. But we are working there strongly. And I would anticipate—we work with the Eugene Bell Foundation there, the World Food Programme is there. So several other of our United Nations partners are there. But together, we are all working hard, but we are in our sectors for the children of North Korea.
RADTKE: Thank you. Sir.
Q: Charles Henderson. I’m an attorney.
How do you address the issue of the parents involved in these children’s—do you get any kind of pushback from the parents, saying we don’t want to have connection to the internet, or we don’t want our children to go to this school, or we don’t want our children to be involved with you guys because we’re comfortable the way life is as it is now?
FORE: (Laughs.) Yes. (Laughter.) So we often have difficulty with parents who are very set in their ways. So a parent—you know, a parent might say: Girls don’t go to school. But we don’t believe that. We think that every girl should have a chance to go to school. And when you see a six-year-old heading off to school so proudly with her little UNICEF backpack on, and a book under her arm, you just—you don’t want her to go anywhere else other than school. But that’s not true for every parent. So we started parenting hubs. And they’ve been very popular. It’s hard to believe, but none of us were really born being good parents. We all learned along the way. So parenting hubs really help. You begin to learn how to feed your child, how to do early childhood development, how to play with them, how to educate them, how to, you know, teach them what the alphabet is, or numbers. So parenting hubs I think are starting to pick up interest.
And one great example of this is in Chile, where they have the Crece approach. It’s early childhood development. Gillian and Eduardo probably know it well. But it is—it’s very important that parents come with the children to early childhood education centers. And these centers are so good that you would bring children there if you are a poor family or if you are a very wealthy family, because the education is so good for the children and the parents. And it’s a very important area. And it’s one that we could use lots of help with worldwide.
There’s one other area that we struggle with, with parents. When we talk about mental health with young people, they usually say that their problems often are from home. So parents sometimes want to know what to do. What do you do when your child seems to be troubled, or what do you do when they fall silent, or they’re not paying attention at school, or something? So parenting hubs can also be useful for that. And the secretary-general of the United Nations, once again, this is an area that’s very strong, mental health, that he’s been encouraging. And we’ve taken it as being a real message for UNICEF.
So we are also weaving this into all of our programs, so that mental health is a clear issue. And unlike our generation, this generation talks about it openly. Where most of us would never have told our employers that we have a mental health problem, they all do. And they want to talk about it. And so we want to be there for them. We go where the children are. And that’s where they are.
RADTKE: Yes. Back in the back corner there.
Q: Thank you very much.
First, I want to thank you for your compassionate tour de raison of what UNICEF is addressing. And you remind me very much of another compassionate leader of UNICEF who had such a strong moral voice.
My name is Patricia Rosenfield, and I’m from the Rosenfield Fund right now.
Jim Grant was able to focus the world’s attention on children. And he did it by—with his very strong moral, and I should say missionary background as well. But he was able to do it by focus. And I wanted to ask you, with all of the vitally important issues you’re addressing, what do you think is the way that you could focus UNICEF, not just around children—he brought the theme of child survival. And as a result, they raised huge amounts of money. Were able to really focus the world’s attention on child survival. So given all of the many important issues you’re focusing on, what do you think is the main umbrella that you would use to be able to persuade the world, the mothers, the fathers, and the funders, that UNICEF will achieve successful outcomes?
FORE: It’s a great question. And it’s one that we actually talk about in our strategic planning meetings because it’s very difficult with the world having so many needs, and us trying to look after every aspect of a child’s life, to really have one focus. So Jim Grant did a great job about increasing immunization, and said that we shouldn’t be at 10 percent, or 20 percent, or 30 percent. We ought to be at 80 percent. And so we, as a world, came round and we did it, which is great. But now what happens is our world is speeding up. And it has much more access for a child. Childhood has changed. It’s much more complicated. And it has many more aspects moving in it. You know, every time they talk about the world will never be as slow as it is today you sort of stop and think. (Laughter.) But it’s—but it’s true.
So we found that we cannot find just one issue. So you know, the thousand first days of life are extremely important. Child survival is important, to get good nourishment in that first thousand days so that children are not stunted, so that they are not wasted, is extremely important. And then we know that there’s a learning crisis. so they’ve got to be ready to learn by the age of five, so they can go to school. And then by ten they’ve got to be able to learn to read and understand a paragraph, which unfortunately is not true for much of the world today. And then by eighteen they have to be able to have some sort of a livelihood, or they’re going to worry about it. So we’ve struggled with what it could be.
And I think right now we are focused on the initiative that I’ve just mentioned to you, GIGA, in which if we could connect every school in the world to the internet, we think we could do it in the next three to four years. We think we can do it with low-Earth satellites. We think we can do it like vaccines, where we can gather all of the demand. And if we could, that there could then be joint bids. This can be a big public-private partnership. If we could connect schools, it means children could learn. There could be ed-tech. We are not going to be able to fill the hole in the number of teachers that are needed in the world, but maybe with ed-tech online we could have the teachers learning along with the children. And maybe at night the parents would also come, and they’d come to the school and they’d want to learn.
So it could—it could change the world. And that’s really what UNICEF is about. So we are thinking about mounting a big campaign on this. But since I’ve come for advice tonight, you all could tell me if that sounds like a worthy campaign. I see some of you who are in academic, so you’ll know if we should be doing this. But we think that a child in today’s world, if they do not know the digital world they are truly going to be left behind. And there’s going to be a part of the world that will just rocket away from them. And we don’t want that to happen. We don’t want any children left behind. And the other is, for us, the learning crisis. It’s education. And if we can help this generation of young people, if we can help them get a modern education they’ll have a chance in the world. A lot are going to have to be entrepreneurs, but they can do it if we can try to give them as many skills as we can. But this is—this is going to be a challenge for us. So advice is welcome.
RADTKE: Yes, right there.
Q: Thank you. Jove Oliver.
I do a lot of public health work, and I was—I love the GIGA initiative. I saw President Ramaphosa from South Africa today made news with some new regulations, I guess, in the telecom sector to make data more cheaply available, and to have them provide sort of a basic package of services, like Wikipedia. I guess my question is, overall are you working with South Africa on this? What are other governments? How are they getting involved in this? And you know, what else can folks do to help that initiative succeed? Thank you.
FORE: Yes. On South Africa, we are. And we find that South Africa is deeply involved in the issues and want to be helpful. So for those of us who are working, I’ve mentioned a couple people here tonight. Anyone who would like to help us on any of these initiatives, would you please find us? (Laughs.) We really could use help. So we have some frontrunner countries for both GIGA as well as for Generation Unlimited. Much of it comes out of Africa because of the demographics. The demographics are so young, and it is growing so fast, that they need it now. And they don’t need it a year from now. They don’t need us to plan in a two-year cycle. They need it now. So we could really use help. We could use everybody in this room. And we could put you to work in a good partnership. So, thank you. Yes. Make sure we know how to find you. (Laughs.)
RADTKE: Yes, right there in the last row.
Q: Thank you. My name is George Baumgarten. I’m from the United Nations Press Corps here in New York City. I am a correspondent for Jewish newspapers in North America, as well as other media as far afield as Kazakhstan.
I was going to ask you something about Israel and its neighbors, but you mentioned something—excuse me—about Kazakhstan. And then I think you pointed to a colleague here in the back. What are your programs of interest in the Republic of Kazakhstan? And who is the gentleman in the back? And what is the connection between the two? (Laughter.) Thank you.
FORE: All right. Very good. So I will ask the tall gentleman in the back to stand up. His name is Chris Fabian, right? So Kazakhstan started with being interested in a drone corridor. So they are one of our big drone hubs. So we each young women and young men to be able to operate drones. And drones, as you know, in a country as big as Kazakhstan, can help with health issues. So, you know, test results, blood, specimens, all sorts of things can be done using drones. So Chris is the one who started that one.
We also have a mental health program that has been groundbreaking there. And this was because Kazakhstan had started with the highest rates of suicide. And they felt that they wanted to do something about it. Kazakhstan, as you know, has extraordinary connectivity. So if you’re a parent, you will be able to see your health record online. You will be able to see your child’s health record online. It is digital. You will be able to go to your local clinic. If you need more help you will be helicoptered into a regional hospital for help. But they didn’t have mental health.
So we started in the schools a program in which we would pair young people with each other. Because really, the person who knows if you’re feeling a little depressed is your best girlfriend or your best friend at school. They know if you’re going quiet, if you’ve got a problem at home. So we taught the young people to talk to each other, what to look for mental health signs, and then set up a counselor in every school who is a teacher who can talk to them about what’s wrong. They often bring the parents in. The parents may not have known that there was a problem, but then they do.
The suicide rates from Kazakhstan have gone from here to here. I mean, there’s just extraordinary change. So we are now using it as a model for some other countries. We just had a big gathering in Italy on mental health with the Wellcome Trust, with WHO. But we are going to get on top of mental health, we believe. Kazakhstan program is quite broad. And we have very good programs on nutrition, on health, on water, sanitation, and protection. So I’ll let you talk to Chris for the other programs. But it’s a really interesting—it’s a really interesting program.
Q: Thank you.
FORE: You’re welcome.
RADTKE: The lady right there.
Q: Hi, good evening. Faheen Allibhoy. I’ve just recently joined the JPMorgan Development Finance Institution. And I’ve just returned back to the U.S. after spending four years in Senegal with the World Bank IFC and covering countries in West Africa that you were speaking of.
So I think what’s very interesting is that a lot of these countries have made incredible progress, I think as you mentioned, on the numerical side, right? Sending more children to school, immunization, et cetera. But what I have observed is that governments are so keen to meet some of these benchmarks set by international agencies and donors that they are often lacking in the quality of the education they provide. And from things such as education not being provided in maternal language—you know, still provided in foreign languages. And basic things that we think should be normal for our children—coding, you know, digital education—is just nonexistent. So how do we grapple with this issue of quality which is so important, because that divide that you were talking about between people who have is the quality of education, not just the ability to go to school, and the quantity that governments want to reach to meet some of these goals set for them?
FORE: Yes. This is an enormous problem. And we see it everywhere, but it is particularly striking in Africa. So when you were in Senegal, it is one that we talk about all the time. The numbers are—that of the children that are in school today, 60 percent can neither read, write, or numerate. Sixty percent. And they will graduate that way. So if you have a populace that cannot read, it’s hard to get information out. So we are working on the quality. Part of the quality is to have very good teachers. And we’re way behind on this. We do not have enough teacher-training academies. We don’t have funding for them, which is why at least I am hoping that we can get some help out of ed-tech, that teachers can learn a long with the students.
We’ve done surveys. So teachers tend to know how to add and subtract, but they often—only 10 percent know how to multiply. So we could teach that remotely. But we are going to need this connectivity to schools to be able to do that, which is why whether you’re using a tablet-based system or whether you’re using connectivity, it’s going to be essential. Quality is the number-one issue. As you know, the World Bank has set that we hope that by the age of ten that you could read a paragraph and understand it. We don’t have that in the world today. And it’s just—it breaks your heart that we cannot get to that.
A comment about language, I think is another one that maybe technology will come in to save us. We can now get instant translation. And wouldn’t we want that every child and young person could be learning in their mother language, and that they could also learn a world language. And that’s something that we set up for Generation Unlimited, that we really feel that you ought to be able to learn in a language. And if you’re a refugee, it’s extremely important. I mean, the Syrian refugees have been welcomed into Greece, but you have to learn Greek. And so, you know, you may have thought you were a smart seventh grader, but—(laughter)—when you don’t know Greek it—I mean, it’s very hard. And it would be for any one of us.
But then if you go through another two or three countries, and you’re trying to learn languages all at the same time, and you’re dislocated from your friends and maybe from your family—I mean, it’s just—it’s extremely disorienting. But that’s all part of making a young people feel that they’re in an environment where they can learn. That they’re—that we, the world, care enough. So quality is a major issue. Any good suggestions here, advisors, would be very welcome.
RADTKE: Yes. Did you have a question?
FORE: And funding is another one. (Laughter.) So, you know, the financing. And what we do public and private in financing, because the debt loads in much of the developing world are really rising. They don’t have much space in their budgets. But we want them to spend it on education, and health, and children. Children are a good investment.
RADTKE: Please. Right here in the front row.
Q: Thank you. Evelyn Leopold, journalist at the United Nations. And I’ve been there a long, long time.
I want to talk about sex. (Laughs.) You talk about child marriage. How can you prevent that or delay that if you’re doing any kind of sex education? And this particular United States government, it’s not just abortion they’re against. It’s any kind of reproductive health education, especially contraceptives and who knows what else. They’ll link it all to abortion because you’re supposed to have abstinence. So I’m just wondering how you handle the child marriage problem.
FORE: So child marriage is an area that we do in concert with U.N. Women and UNFPA. And as a trio we all do different things. So we segment out what we do. But as a trio, we try to reach every young woman so that she can understand her own body, and she can understand ways to keep herself safe. One of the issues that we often have is gender-based violence. It is growing. It is an issue that we have not conquered. And as the United Nations, we have really put an emphasis on this. But it’s—prevention is the area that you would most like. But for that, we need to educate men as well as girls.
And in the programs that we have at the United Nations now, we have put a real focus on humanitarian emergencies when particularly girls are the most vulnerable. And the funding for that is never enough. But we’ve now focused it on call centers, so that you can report when something happens in a community, so that there can be assistance for the victim, for the survivor, and that there can be investigations. It is a beginning. It’s not enough. But it is—it is—it’s a real issue in our world that we think that we can have violence against each other. So as the United Nations we are really committed to try to end that, to have a more peaceful world, if we can.
RADTKE: I think we’ve got time for maybe one more question, in the back. I see Mr. Levin.
Q: Herbert Levin, Council member.
I remembered Jim Granting using his bad Chinese to influence people to—even fascinated the Chinese when they came in and seducing the rich Arabs to give money. So I’ve watched him in your job perform marvelous things. And I’ve watched UNICEF in places like the Maldives and Tanzania accomplish wonderful things. However, my question is very simple. You mentioned that the Congress has restored the killing of the UNICEF appropriation. Could you tell us who is opposed? Where is the opposition? Is it general opposition to any U.N. agencies? Or do people think that UNICEF is doing bad things and want to stop it? Where does your opposition come from for the present or increased appropriations for your work in the U.S.?
FORE: So U.S. budgets are always a give and take. And so the administrations propose budgets and know that there are some areas that they can cut. And I’ve been part of those administrations. It is not related to a political party. It is just related to the fact that there’s never enough money. And so the United Nations often gets cut. And it shouldn’t. But many people in the world at large do not know about the usefulness of an entity like the United Nations, where countries come together and talk. So the greatest gift you all, as advisors, can give to me is to try to speak up positively about the United Nations.
We find that the people all over the government, whether it’s in the executive branch or the legislative branch, love UNICEF. And they will remember growing up collecting money with little Halloween trick-or-treat buckets. And all of that—and they know the good work that we do. So I have not found one person who did not believe in the work for UNICEF or want to fund it. It is—it is not that it’s UNICEF. But it is difficult to fund the United Nations. So we all have to speak up for it if we believe in nations coming in to talk, and to talk peacefully.
RADTKE: On that note, thank you very much. It’s been a wonderful evening. (Applause.) Join me in thanking Henrietta. Thank you.
FORE: Thank you.