Cynthia McCaffrey, Representative, India, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF ) talks to Pranjal Sharma at Davos during the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum.
Is there a big effort of collaboration between businesses, the social sector, and organisations on children’s rights? What’s the sense you’re getting in Davos?
People taking note of the size of the issue is the first of two things. There has been much discussion regarding COVID-19’s exit and the realisation that 600 million youngsters lost out on educational chances as a result. It is encouraging that minds or hearts are uniting from the public in the corporate and public sectors, acknowledging the progress that has been accomplished, despite the fact that 100 million children have been thrown into poverty as a result of COVID. Mortality has decreased. With the help of the Indian government, vaccination programmes have reached three-quarters of all children in India.
Malnutrition is another major issue that affects people all around the world, and India has a tremendous national nutrition programme. Additionally, UNICEF is honoured to collaborate with the government on several of these initiatives. It’s a good thing, then. These issues have been openly discussed, and by working together, we can find solutions.
Business leaders and policymakers should understand that taking care of the youth is a very important aspect of creating talent for a growing economy. Does the corporate world appreciate that the wellbeing of children helps the wellbeing of the economy?
Absolutely. There is no better to start than India because it’s got the largest youth child population in the world today that the earth has ever known.
The private sector has really shown how together we can come to solve a problem. It works well. We doing that with young people. UNICEF has created an initiative called Upshift. It brings young people together and they come up with problems and come up with solutions. And we have reached three million children and young people where they came together with the help of the private sector. In India we have taken it to taken it to next level and made it digital.
Now UNICEF is putting Upshift online. And that would be expanded across India to reach to more youth and people. This is an example of co-creation. Young people coming together with solutions but private sector is in that mix. The public sector is also in that mix.
As you have recently taken charge of UNICEF in India, what will be your priority?
UNICEF has agreed to a new five-year plan which started in January 2023. The fundamentals that we have come up with the government of India is very firmly on the basics of the commitment of our support to India to achieve the rights of every child. I think it becomes an important theme. The goal of the Indian government is to achieve equity. Number one is staying true to that principle that we had with the government of India for over 70 years.
India was an early ratifier of the convention on children. We are looking at gaps that we should close. In the second phase of this strategy, the government looks at the quality. So we have immunised more children, nutrition is increasing and maternal health is improving.
Strong attention is being given to the quality of education, the quality of health and the quality of nutrition. The third is the partnership. None of this is going to get done without having a strong partnership. We do have, but we would like to make it stronger with the private sector, academia and civil society. We need all their perspectives, experience and resources.
In which areas do you think the private sector can have a bigger impact? In what area do you think a successful partnership between the private sector and UNICEF can take place?
We are looking forward to talking to the private sector to get their intellectual capital. We ask if we can work together and use their expertise and technology. We need to use all of our resources and expand on our existing partnerships.
We know young people are saying about the need to have a livelihood and have a job! The private sector can say these are the skills we need. We can work together to bridge the needs.
Is there an adequate understanding in the private sector that taking care of children is in their business interest as well?
I think it’s out there. I don’t think it is absorbed as much as it should be.
What role do you think technology is playing in furthering the rights of children and helping your mission?
Well, technology reaches more easily and faster. So it can help. When we talk about equity and children, they can help reach every child. India has created FunDoo. It is a digital coaching system that young people say we need coaching. They said I need a job and coaching to get that job. So FunDoo is a low bandwidth, low digital, for people who have not been on the internet or are digitally savvy. It’s something we have created in India. We can do digital coaching in 13 countries reaching 7500 young people. Technology can help us scale higher.
Digital technology makes it possible for us to quickly and easily reach people with both services and information. The government of India is creating incredible programmes in terms of national missions. When necessary, we must use digital to stay updated. UNICEF is learning from India. And India is also learning from projects outside the country.