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Global launch of Innocenti Report Card 14 on children and SDGs in rich countries

Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF’s Office of Research-Innocenti in Florence, Italy. (22 June 2017) The global launch of Innocenti Report Card 14, Building the Future: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries, was held 15 June at the Royal Society in London. Each year the report is launched at an international event designed to promote discussion and exchange of views on policy implications for child well-being that can be drawn from the Report Card findings.Dr. Sarah Cook, Director of UNICEF Innocenti, delivered the keynote presentation. She stressed the universality of the SDG’s which are applicable to all countries regardless of income level, and provided details of how a high level of national income is not a guarantee of sustainable development. “The SDGs give us an opportunity to identify the gaps in global monitoring of child well-being. How do we measure that? Where are the gaps? Where we may need new data, or we need better policies to improve trends?” said Cook in her keynote remarks. (View presentation below)Innocenti Report Card 14: Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries from UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti “The report helps to put children firmly in the centre of achieving the sustainable development goals, achieving equity and sustainability for all children, leaving no child behind, recognizing that meeting the sustainable development goals requires a focus on every child, in order for us to achieve sustainability in the future, but also to improve their well-being today.”Jan Vandemoortele, Independent expert, PhD in Development Economics, served in various capacities with the United Nations for over 30 years. Following the keynote presentation an expert panel discussion was organized and moderated by UK social affairs journalist and writer Louise Tickle. Panelist Jan Vandemoortele, independent expert, observed: “I think the value of this report is that is shows the member states of the OECD and the EU that these SDGs are truly universal in the sense that they apply as much to rich countries as they apply to poor countries, in different ways of course. It’s not only an agenda about development assistance.”Panelist Romina Boarini, adviser and researcher with OECD noted: “When you start looking at the details of the performance, let’s say the less traditional categories brought up by the SDGs, we start learning very interesting and surprising results. Norway, that actually tops the league, does poorly on goals such as peace, justice and institutions… And there are opposite examples, because you have countries that are classified at the bottom of the table, countries like Mexico and Portugal, that actually do pretty well in some of the dimensions.”Romina Boarini, Senior Advisor to Secretary General and Coordinator of the Inclusive Growth Initiative, OECD. Portugal’s average rank was 1st among all countries in health and Mexico’s average was 4th in education in the Report Card 14 League Table. Norway’s average rank in peace, justice and strong institutions was 30th out of the 41 countries measured.“If you were to look at the 41 countries in the Report and if you were to look at their newspaper headlines during their most recent election campaigns, just to see the number of times that children were in the newspaper… I think you would find that it was very rare that children made the headlines,” said panelist Richard Morgan, Global Director for child poverty at Save the Children. “The most practical thing is to get children at the centre of our policy concerns in each of our countries, in the rich world as well as the less fortunate societies around the world," said panelist Richard Morgan, Global Director for child poverty with Save the Children. “It’s only by making children, and the complexity of the problems they face, visible, that we are going to get public policy to address them through government spending, through legislation, through data collection… I think the starting point is that we make sure children are not getting poorer, that we have policies that don’t make children poorer.”Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF UK. Lily Caprani, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF UK highlighted the significance of the Report Card findings for the United Kingdom. “The positive news in here is that the UK, as you would hope, does find itself, overall, in the upper third…I’m not, unfortunately, surprised to see across the OECD countries there are really big stresses and strains on adolescent mental health. …That’s storing up huge problems for the future. That is, in my view, an emergency, and I don’t mean than in terms of a UN emergency, it is an urgent policy priority.” The UK average ranking on the Report Card league table was 16th in poverty, 34th in hunger and 6th in reduced inequalities.Panelist Richard Morgan highlighted the significance of findings in the Report Card on the effectiveness of social transfers in reducing child poverty: “The report also shows that where you have effective, adequate social protection transfers to the poorest households then you make a big dent in child poverty…I think it is very important that we subject every policy measure including on the economic front, every big economic decision to a test: is it going to harm children? And if it is we need to modify it.”On the alarming data in Report Card 14 showing that 1 in 5 children live in poverty, combined with the widening gap in income inequality across most high income countries, Lily Caprani reflected: “This is based on an understanding of children’s lived experience, and when they tell us they are missing out, when they’re in relative poverty it’s not about whether they’ve got this pound or not, it’s about whether they can be involved in the life they expect to be involved in, it’s about 'do they have the same kind of opportunities to be involved in'…It’s about being able to fulfill their potential.”Finally, when asked if the SDGs were realistic given the recent climate of retreat in many countries from the international order where sustainable development goals were unquestioned, Jan Vandemoortele sounded an optimistic note: “We live in a world where nationalism is resurgent, all over the world. The US is the best example. We saw it recently, they walked away from an international agreement on climate change, the Paris Accord. The good news is: What did the others do? Did the others run away? They stayed with it and actually they probably bonded stronger… We all know, deep down, that this is serious, that the situation calls for us to act. We have no choice but to deliver on the sustainable development agenda.”
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The why and how of measuring sustainable development goals for children in high income countries

(15 June 2017) For the 14th edition of the Innocenti Report Card – a nearly annual publication ranking the high income countries of the world on a topical aspect of child well-being – our research team has chosen to take on a set of sizable challenges. We are publishing here, in full, the introduction of the Report to provide an accessible explanation of how this edition came to be. (Download the full report in English, French, Spanish or Italian here)This Report Card offers an assessment of child well-being in the context of sustainable development across 41 countries of the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This group includes both high- and middle-income economies, but here we refer to them all as ‘high-income countries’ – or ‘rich countries’, for convenience. The concept of child well-being is rooted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) but the Agenda for Sustainable Development adds new dimensions. Progress across all these dimensions will be vital to children, and advanced economies will therefore need to monitor the situation of children and young people both nationally and globally. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by the international community in 2015 represent an ambitious effort to set a global agenda for development that is both equitable and sustainable, in social, economic and environmental terms. The earlier Millennium development Goals (MDGs) prioritized the reduction of poverty, as well as progress in related social indicators. The 17 goals of the SDGs add to this a series of outcomes associated with inequality, economic development, the environment and climate change, as well as peace and security. In contrast to the MDGs, which primarily applied to low- and middle income countries, the ambitious agenda of the SDGs is of necessity universal; it thus applies to rich countries, as well as poor.The stronger focus of the SDGs on equitable development and on leaving no one behind also demands attention to inequalities along multiple dimensions – of income and wealth, health and educational opportunity, as well as voice and political participation – both within and between countries. Addressing rising inequality and its related problems requires a focus not just on the conditions of the poorest, but also on the consequences of wealth accumulation by the richest. As countries seek to meet the SDGs, so the changing political landscape will require new approaches to ensure inclusive and sustainable outcomes. Long-term, inclusive and sustainable social goals are best met through attention to the needs of children. Ensuring the well-being and realizing the rights of all children (including migrants and refugees) is not only a commitment made by those states that have signed the CRC, but is also an essential condition for achieving long-term development goals. Every high-income country invests in its children: healthy, educated children are better able to fulfil their potential and contribute to society. By contrast, problems of child development often carry through into adulthood, with the resulting social costs accruing to the next generation, too. Indeed, achieving the SDGs is about ensuring that future generations have the opportunities enjoyed by the present generation: successful outcomes for today’s children will build the foundations for the wellbeing of our societies tomorrow. Commitments to the SDGs made by governments now need to be translated into programmes and public investments that can deliver on this wide-ranging set of goals and their 169 accompanying targets. While many goals require commitment at the global or multilateral action level if they are to be achieved (particularly those associated with climate change and the global economy), they also demand national action. If countries are to be held to account for their progress towards these goals, appropriate indicators for monitoring that progress are necessary. UNICEF has long been at the forefront of global efforts to monitor life outcomes and social progress for children, and it now plays a leading role in monitoring child-related SDG indicators (see Box 2: UNICEF’s global role in SDG monitoring, page 6). Many of the SDG indicators proposed by the global community are most appropriate for lower income contexts. Report Card 14 proposes an adapted set of indicators to assess countries’ performance against the promise of “leaving no one behind” when national circumstances, ambitions and existing levels of social progress are already well advanced (see Box on the right: How have Report Card 14 indicators been selected?). Specifically, this report seeks to bring the SDG targets for children in high-income countries into meaningful operation (while staying true to the ambitions of the global agenda) and to establish a point of departure for reviewing the SDG framework in these contexts. It focuses on those goals and targets with most direct relevance to the well-being of children in high-income settings. Where appropriate, it adapts the agreed SDG indicator, the better to reflect the problems facing children in such countries (see Table 1 pages 4-5).Although limited by the lack of comparable data in some domains, this report compares 41 countries across 25 indicators. As in other Report Cards, countries are ranked on their achievements in well-being for children according to the selected indicators. The Report Card cannot provide an in-depth analysis of the reasons behind differences, nor of the policy options available for making progress on selected indicators. Nonetheless, by illustrating variation along key dimensions of child well-being related to the SDGs – from ending poverty to promoting peaceful and inclusive societies – it suggests areas where policy efforts or public investment may be targeted to improve outcomes, and reveals where data inadequacies still need to be addressed. 
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Ideology or evidence? What does research tell us about common perceptions of cash transfers?

(6 June 2017) A new UNICEF Innocenti Working Paper, Mythbusting? Confronting Six Common Perceptions about Unconditional Cash Transfers in Africa, summarizes evidence on six common assumptions about cash transfer programmes in Africa. The paper uses data from eight in-depth evaluations conducted on large government-run unconditional cash transfer projects in sub-Saharan Africa, under the Transfer Project. The arguments supporting unconditional cash transfer programming for poor households in developing countries are numerous. Evidence shows cash transfers are effective in reducing poverty and also have widespread social and economic benefits – often larger than traditional forms of development assistance. An increasing body of evidence also shows that cash transfers may provide protection during humanitarian crises, as reflected in the high-level commitments at the World Humanitarian Summit, and the Grand Bargain.Despite their widening application, and growing robust evaluation-evidence base, some skeptical policymakers cite anecdotal evidence that cash is wasted or mis-used. Others claim that beneficiaries use cash to purchase alcohol or tobacco, or that cash transfers create dependency or make beneficiaries lazy. Doubts have also been expressed regarding the cost of financing such programmes, along with fears that beneficiary households will decide to increase fertility in an effort to qualify for benefits (particularly in child-grant models).According to the Transfer Project: “These narratives influence public perception of cash transfers and can play an important role in the political and social acceptability of financing, piloting and scaling up such programmes. What does the evidence say about these and other perceptions and claims around cash transfers? Are these anecdotes actually representative of systematic behaviour by programme recipients within large-scale, representative surveys?”Making use of data drawn from eight rigorous evaluations on large-scale government unconditional cash transfer in sub-Saharan Africa, conducted by the Transfer Project, the new working paper summarizes evidence on six common perceptions about cash transfer programmes targeted to poor and vulnerable households. Namely that cash transfers:  Induce higher spending on alcohol or tobacco;Are fully consumed (rather than invested);  Create dependency (reduce participation in productive work); Increase fertility; Lead to negative community-level economic impacts (including price distortion and inflation); and Are fiscally unsustainable. “We present evidence refuting each of these claims. We complement our evidence with summaries of other review papers and prominent literature, which has examined these questions, both in sub-Saharan Africa, and globally. We conclude that these perceptions are myths, and that they present a distorted picture of the potential benefits of these programmes,” say the authors of the new UNICEF Innocenti ‘Mythbusting’ working paper. Since such mis-perceptions often affect policy debates, they can unjustifiably limit the range of policy options low- and middle-income country governments have at their disposal to accelerate poverty reduction. The paper concludes by suggesting areas for future research on topics that are insufficiently studied, and calls for stakeholders to keep in mind the growing evidence base when informing programming and resource allocation, instead of relying on dated studies with little applicability to current programming, as well as on anecdotes, opinion or speculation. Efforts are required by all actors to ensure that ideology does not outweigh evidence. 
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Dakar Transfer Project Workshop: The State of Evidence on Social Cash Transfers in Africa

(23 May 2017) There is more evidence now than ever before that cash transfers can empower families to improve their lives. In Africa, cash transfers are rapidly expanding as a key social protection tool for reducing chronic poverty and hunger and increasing investment in human capital. After nearly a decade, policymakers, researchers and staff from UN Agencies and NGOs will come together next month in Dakar, Senegal to discuss the evidence, share their experiences and look to new ways forward. The 2017 workshop, “The State of Evidence on Social Cash Transfers in Africa,” will take place from June 7-9, for the first time hosted in Francophone West Africa. The nearly 125 participants from 30 countries across the African region and beyond will gather with the objectives of: Increasing awareness of cross-regional evidenceIdentifying gaps for future researchMaking evidence-based recommendations for governments to improve design, implementation and integration of cash transfer programmes.The workshop comes on the heels of a recently published book highlighting the Transfer Project experience of social protection stakeholders working together to improve cash transfers. The authors reveal that one of the key components of successful cash transfers in Africa has been the transparency of knowledge sharing that occurs in the region – the upcoming workshop reinforces the strong collaboration among policymakers, development partners and researchers as they work together to improve policy, implementation and evaluation. Participants joining this year’s workshop will share the most up-to-date evidence on social, economic and productive impacts, continue to dispel myths, and address current challenges. In addition, it will feature presentations on innovative topics around targeting, fragile settings, mobile payments and local economy impacts, challenging participants to think more creatively about the next generation of programming and evaluation potential. George Okech, FAO Representative, ZambiaThe Dakar meeting happens at a strategic time when social protection initiatives – especially cash transfers – continue to gain steam throughout the world. Giving cash has been shown as an effective strategy in developing contexts and is being scaled-up in humanitarian and fragile settings. Additionally, albeit controversially, governments are experimenting with the idea of providing a universal basic income in industrialized countries as well.By taking the opportunity to debate, discuss and reflect on topics such as “cash plus” and others, stakeholders will advance their knowledge, be more equipped to make evidence-informed decisions and improve the implementation and the scale-up of social protection strategies. The Transfer Project offers just one example of a platform that provides space for honest discussions about the successes and challenges of cash transfers, while pushing the boundaries to explore alternative large-scale options that hold potential for being effective. By providing participants with practical and actionable recommendations, the workshop demonstrates how experts can come together to effectively exchange information and work on research uptake to improve the lives of children and their families and contribute to the realization of global development goals.However, experts will tell you that giving cash is not a “silver bullet” - it is one tool in a social protection package. One of the many topics that will discussed is the latest research on the potential of linking cash to services in the social, health and agricultural sectors, for example. These more comprehensive social protection packages being initiated by governments are known as “cash plus” interventions. As George Okech, FAO Representative in Zambia, describes: "We have realized that there are (anti-poverty) programmes that run parallel. If two different programmes are targeting the same community and they talk to one another, you get more benefits. So, these are things that can be improved; that’s why we need to have some coordination efforts…linking two or three programmes together (can have) a catalytic effect.” As social protection initiatives evolve, researchers will need to investigate how and to what extent cash plus programmes have greater effects than programmes operating separately in the most vulnerable communities. 2016 Transfer Project Workshop Participants, Addis Ababa, EthiopiaStay tuned for more information on the exciting activities in Dakar! Follow the event on social media: #TPDakar17 You can also view highlights from the 2016 workshop held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia through the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti Youtube Channel: In English or in French.Since 2008, UNICEF has partnered with the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Save the Children UK through the Transfer Project to gather rigorous evidence on national cash transfers throughout the region.
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