UN meeting highlights innovative programmes that spread from south to north

NEW YORK, USA, 27 December 2007 – Uganda, Mexico and Brazil presented innovative grassroots programmes for improving child rights at the United Nations during a recent UNICEF-organized seminar, which for the first time looked at how northern nations can learn from those in the south.
The 18 December seminar – entitled ‘Eyes on the South as a Knowledge Hub’ – featured programmes that have been so successful at improving children’s lives that they have been adopted by many other countries.
“So much of the discussion around here is, ‘What can the north do to help the south?’ I think what we underestimate is what can the north and the whole world learn from good experiences in promoting child rights and well-being from the south,” said outgoing UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautam.
‘Testing our knowledge’
“Our world is so divided now, we need some elements of unity, and nothing unites better than the well-being of children,” Mr. Gautam added.
Supporting the seminar along with UNICEF were the Government of Japan, the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation of the United Nations Development Programme, and the World Bank.
“Becoming a learning organization, and delivering, expanding and testing our knowledge – in tandem with financing or separately – is becoming a central pillar of our work,” said World Bank Regional Vice-President Pamela Cox.
A balance between north and south
Among the initiatives discussed at the UN on 18 December were the following:
-A programme in Mexico that gives poor families financial incentives to secure health care and education for their children has proved so successful that about 35 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have adopted it; the approach has just been implemented in New York City, as well,
-A Brazilian experiment in so-called participatory budgeting – which gives community members an active say in how money is spent – has improved the lives of children and inspired many others to adopt it, including the local government in Seville, Spain.
-And the Ugandan AIDS campaign, which has resulted in a significant drop in the rate of HIV transmission, is being closely studied by public health experts at Columbia University in New York City.
“Here at the UN, there are a lot of conflicts,” noted Mr. Gautam. “Many of the conflicts come from unequal power relations, the south feeling that they are seen as dependent on the north. We are hoping that this conference will reinforce this idea of the UN that north and south, rich and poor, east and west – we all sink or swim together.”