JUBA, South Sudan – The new leader of UNICEF says the children's agency is taking a new approach in 2018 by engaging with private companies to help prepare young people for productive lives.
In an interview with The Associated Press, executive director Henrietta Holsman Fore said she plans to draw on her experience in the business and development worlds. The American was the first woman to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development and was CEO of Holsman International, an investment and management firm.
"I would hope that we can cross over and try to take the best from each other and scale it up for the people that we serve, as we serve children and children need everything," Fore told the AP during a visit to South Sudan this week.
She chose the civil war-torn nation for her first international trip since taking over the U.N. agency at the start of the year because South Sudan is where aid workers face the greatest risk worldwide. At least 28 aid workers were killed in the East African nation last year, according to figures released by the U.N. this week.
Fore urged South Sudan President Salva Kiir to make the country's people his "first priority" and called the country's dire situation "a crisis for children."
South Sudan's civil war, now in its fifth year, has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions. Children have borne the brunt of the conflict.
"The fighting shows no sign of abating and the humanitarian needs are massive," Fore said in a statement Friday at the end of her visit. "2.4 million children have been forced to flee their homes. More than a quarter of a million children are severely malnourished and at imminent risk of death. Over 19,000 children have been recruited into the conflict.
"At least one in three schools has been damaged, destroyed, occupied or closed. And we have documented more than 1,200 cases of sexual violence against children. The numbers go on and on."
Over 70 percent of children are out of school, the highest proportion of children without education in the world, according to the U.N.
The combination of an illiterate generation with one that's been severely displaced means that "you've lost them twice," Fore said. "You lose them to education and you lose them to life skills. You're impoverishing a nation."
Fore said she plans to launch new initiatives to focus on the "second decade of life," or children between the ages of 10 and 18. Her idea is to use education and work programs including local and multinational companies that can bring children into their work and teach them skills.
UNICEF is the U.N.'s second-largest agency, with a budget of about $5 billion in 2017.