Lena Nguyen interviews Gaspar Fajth, UNICEF regional adviser for social policy and economic analysis
The last few decades have brought enormous economic growth to the East Asia and Pacific region, along with social achievements. Children have benefitted from both but progress has been unequal, with children in urban areas, for example, benefitting more than their rural counterparts.
UNICEF is working to translate this new-found wealth into improvements in children’s lives that are lasting and equitable. One way we do this is through our economic and social policy work, which focuses on helping governments develop and implement policies to realise the rights of all children.
Gaspar Fajth is UNICEF EAPRO’s new regional adviser for social policy and economic analysis. He has moved to Bangkok from UNICEF’s regional office for Eastern and Southern Africa.
A serious-looking man, he tries to convince me that as a young boy he dreamt of becoming a rock-star. Instead, he became an economist, working first in his native Hungary and then around the world with UNICEF. He has spent the past 22 years working to improve children’s well-being through national economic and social and policies.
“Our work on economic and social policies is about having a bigger impact,” he says, stressing that this approach can make improvements in education, health and child protection more sustainable.
“Governments around the world have the means to take care of their children, in both low- and middle-income countries. They operate with far bigger budgets than UNICEF.” He goes on to explain that the best way to harness those resources to benefit millions of children is by influencing the policy making process.
“Childhood is that window of opportunity, a person’s only chance to develop,” Gaspar says explaining how economic and social policies affect children differently than adults. Lack of nutrition, education or health care can have irreversible impact on a child’s development into adulthood.
|A toddler clings to his mother as they queue for a food distribution during the crisis in the Horn of Africa
© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1181/Kate Holt
Gaspar was in Nairobi when the Horn of Africa crisis unfolded in 2011-2012, following one of the worst droughts in recent history. As UNICEF’s regional adviser for social policy, he helped affected countries put in place social welfare programmes to protect the most vulnerable families and children.
Gaspar first joined UNICEF in the early 1990s, when sweeping political and economic changes were taking place in Central and Eastern Europe. At that time, UNICEF advised governments on how to protect families and their children in the midst of rapidly changing social conditions. As this work was being taken up by the highest levels, he moved to UNICEF headquarters in New York to guide our global work on social and economic policies for children.
With all of these experiences he has now arrived in Bangkok, ready for a new set of challenges. “Sukhumvit looks like Manhattan,” he remarks, adding that as government revenues have risen on the back of strong economic growth, donor aid is less important in East Asia and the Pacific than in other regions. How governments manage public finances determine how this growth and wealth will benefit society and whether it carries over to future generations.
“I’m very happy to join East Asia and the Pacific. It’s an engine of global economy. Much of the growth I saw in Africa originated in Asia. So working on economic and social policies for children here can have a worldwide impact,” Gaspar concludes.