The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has been working for child development in India since 1949. Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, who had visited West Bengal recently after joining as the UNICEF Representative in India, has said the state is doing well on child development projects. This is a special focus area of the international organisation. Moumita Dastidar, Communication Specialist, UNICEF India, spoke to BE’s Anwesha Chowdhury.
Q. How does UNICEF work with corporate organisations in India? How are you operating in West Bengal?
A. UNICEF in India works through 13 state offices across 16 states. We work in India with the government, as well as with various corporate organisations. We often undertake various agreements with the government of India and these agreements are valid for five years. For instance, this year we have started a country programme which will operational till 2022 as per of the work-plan that is signed between the Indian government and our organisation.
Talking about our corporate engagement, we try to understand how corporates are spending their CSR funds and how much of it is going to children. We try to engage them by advocating spending more on children, whether it is on nutrition or on education. It’s not about spending more. It is about spending the fund meaningfully. Another aspect is the fundraising part, where a lot of individuals come forward and donate money for children. With that money, we try to support government programmes. In West Bengal, our main focus is on corporate engagement and not so much on fundraising.
Q. What are the initiatives that are being run by UNICEF in the
A. We are running four to five programmes across West Bengal. The focus of these programmes is on general health, maternal health and nutritional values. We are also focusing on wasting, stunting, mother’s nutrition, water sanitation issues, menstrual hygiene, and solitaries management and child education. In fact, West Bengal is one of the pioneer states in Early Childhood Education (ECE). Additionally, we are also focusing on children who are out of school and try to bring them back to school. A conducive environment is needed for them to re-orient themselves to classroom learning and we try to ensure that. We also run protection programmes where we partner with the police and judiciary to prevent trafficking and child marriage.
Q. What is the role of the state and corporate organizations in implementing a project with the UNICEF?
A. UNICEF doesn’t have a project of its own. In a country like India where the governmental system is well-distributed, UNICEF supports the government and strengthens the governmental system by providing the required technical resources and strategy. There is a need of capacity-building on Asha and Anganwadi frontline workers.
In the case of children, there is a need to work fast. Otherwise, these children might grow up to be unemployed or nutritionally challenged and it can effect on their next generation too. We believe that with the best nutrition, best health, education and best water sanitation facilities, the population of India can be the biggest resource for its economy. The role of the corporates in this regard is huge. In West Bengal, we have school projects where corporates give us funds to develop water sanitation facilities. You see, we are using government schools or Anganwadi centres, but due to our participation and corporate funding, we are ensuring improved facilities.
Q. Who are your partners in West Bengal?
A. We are presently partnering with governmental departments and also with corporate organisations. We have been working very closely with the Government of West Bengal. On the corporate front, CII and Bengal Peerless are presently working with us. We have also partnered with the Department of Woman and Child Development and the Department Panchayat and Rural Development for our programmes in schools.
Q. How do you choose the area of intervention in West Bengal?
A. We look for pockets which need intervention. There are various disparities across the state. So, we look at those pockets and working together with the government, we create strategies that are aimed for a specific issue in a specific area. We try to come up with localised strategies.
Q. What are the challenges that you have faced in West Bengal regarding the implementation of your projects?
A. First, the population density here is very high. So the work becomes challenging for Anganwari worker or Asha workers. Second, we generally work with adolescent girls. Whenever we talk about vulnerability or abuse, we talk about girls. Adolescent boys also get abused. However, they are not sensitised to talk about these issues as they are taught to look strong. Boys have a tendency of dropping out early in order to support their families. Thirdly, the voices of children are often not heard. If we are planning something, it is generally an adult sitting discussion. We encourage children to take part in these discussions.
Q. As a communication specialist, what differences do you find in your dealing with the government as against your working with the corporate sector?
A. The government reaches out to a wide area. Its approach is structured and decisions are meticulously taken. Even a decision to give a child a single pen will translate to crores of rupees and there is need to ensure that even the last child is getting that pen. Corporates work differently. A corporate organization can experiment with work implementation. They have an area of operation which is at times around their work area. But corporates can reach out to distant corners as well.