Why we must invest in children if we want a better future

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

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  1. That is very vital to empowering the 21st century to make a world better place for these generation..

    1. #SDGs, the ground to Children of the World. Next; #educationforall, #letgirlslearn, #endchildmarriage, important Issues for New Goals.