MARCH 1, 2018


UN Photo/Violaine Martin

UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Henrietta Fore was appointed as the new Executive Director of UNICEF in January 2018. She is the seventh American and third women to hold the post.

The first woman was Carol Bellamy, designated in 1995 by Dr. Boutros-Ghali, who had turned down pressure by President Bill Clinton to make a political appointment of someone close to his office. That was the beginning of an emerging clash between the Secretary-General and particularly Clinton's U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright, who had strongly lobbied for a man's appointment. Carol Bellamy proved to be an outstanding, caring and effective leader who inspired the staff at Headquarters and in the field worldwide. She paid special attention to visit areas where women were struggling to gain a dignified, healthy, educated life.

Although politically a Democrat from New York, Ms. Bellamy sharpened her professional focus on specific urgent issues, while playing a central role in the U.N. decision-making system. She was a tough act to follow.

James Grant, who ran the Fund from January 1980 to 1994, became a legendary figure internationally as he launched successful artistic and cultural campaigns to mobilize public support and group funding. Famous actors like Roger Moore (aka James Bond) and Liv Ullman readily served on varied platforms to help children's emergency relief causes. His casual yet confident approach reached out to heads of state as well as to distressed children in migration camps.

While the first Director, who started the Children's Fund in 1947, Maurice Pate had to deal with emergencies from the Second World War -- bringing relief equally to children from all countries, regardless of their former military position.

The Nobel Prize was given to Henry Labouisse in 1965. A New York City lawyer, a volunteer in the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, and a former Commissioner General of UNRWA in the Middle East, Mr. Labouisse managed to raise UNICEF's profile to a level that became internationally and credibly recognized. He initiated involvement of prominent actors like Danny Kaye, business figures like Italian Turin/Milan magnates, former heads of state, sports figures, and others with public followings. UNICEF greeting cards brought welcome, cultured, popular fund-raising.

Ms. Fore, the newly-designated Director, proposed by a new U.S. Administration, has an obviously challenging task, particularly as her predecessor, Anthony Lake, a former Clinton aide and appointed by Ban Ki-moon, was perceived mainly as a political appointment by President Obama's Administration. As mentioned earlier, President Clinton tried but failed to push a similar appointment. yet to his credit, Mr. Lake tried his best to allow staff world-wide to operate effectively; did not play politics; and generally oversaw public meetings on significant occasions.

Ms. Fore has had a long and distinguished career in public service, private sector, and nonprofit leadership, including as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development and Under Secretary of State for Management. Over the course of her career, Ms. Fore has worked to champion economic development, education and health, security and good governance, and humanitarian assistance for the most vulnerable in the world. Most recently, Ms. Fore has served as Chairperson and Board Member for several private sector and non-profit institutions.

A main challenge for a new UNICEF Executive Director or indeed the head of any U.N. Agency, Fund, or Programme, is a lack of clarity and erosion of public perception of the relevance of the current U.N. system. But, then, success in UNICEF will reflect on a wider U.N. success.