COVID-19 and how UNICEF is helping children around the world

Dec 10, 2020

In a May episode of the Value in Giving podcast Michael Nyenhuis, President and CEO of UNICEF USA, spoke with our president Jane Greenfield about how his organization is supporting children around the world before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic. As we approach the end of 2020, we wanted to catch up with Michael to learn about how UNICEF has been achieving its mission since we spoke last. 

Q:How has your organization been impacted by COVID-19? 

A: This has been an unprecedented time for so many. Like other organizations, we're having to adapt our working styles and goals to make sure that we're all able to deal with the pandemic's personal impacts on our own families as well as working for the communities we serve around the world.


Since the pandemic hit, progress made for children over the past decades, in terms of wellbeing and mortality rates, has been reversed. We are seeing increased rates of child marriage, gender-based violence, and more; all born out of the challenges posed by COVID-19. UNICEF has been meeting the world's greatest challenges for over 70 years and won’t stop even after this crisis ends. 


Q: Tell us about a silver lining that your organization has found during this time? 

A; UNICEF’s Chief of Education, Rob Jenkins, loves to say that despite the unprecedented challenges created by COVID-19, it has also provided tremendous opportunity to build back better. There are 2.1 billion students whose education has been disrupted this year—providing an opportunity to accelerate innovative projects for children to learn remotely.


One of these initiatives is the Learning Passport through a partnership with Microsoft and the University of Cambridge originally designed to provide education to displaced and refugee children through a digital remote learning platform. It has now undergone rapid expansion to facilitate country-level curriculum for children and youth whose schools have been forced to close due to COVID-19. The platform will also provide key resources to teachers and educators. There is a strong determination to prevent a loss in all the progress achieved in regards to children’s rights and our teams are thinking creatively about ways to ensure a brighter ‘normal’ after the pandemic ends.


Q: What is one thing that you were able to do (or learned) that might surprise our donors?

A: One our greatest strengths is partnerships. UNICEF serves as a global convener in many forums but at a time like this those relationships are crucial in mobilizing a global response to the pandemic. UNICEF is part of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a groundbreaking global collaboration to accelerate development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. This means UNICEF will lead global efforts to procure and distribute the COVID-19 vaccine once available to 92 low-and-middle income countries. This will be the largest and fastest operation of its kind in history. This is where partnerships at every level—from government partners to local remote communities—is crucial if we want to end the pandemic. And, the reason that we were asked to participate is because of our longstanding expertise in the vaccine space. Donors might not realize that UNICEF is the largest single vaccine buyer in the world, immunizing almost half of the world's children every year. This existing knowledge will serve us well in helping to get a COVID-19 vaccine to all those who need in a quick and equitable manner. 


Q: What is your biggest fundraising focus in the next 3 months, and why?
A: I would note three main things: 

1. Like most nonprofits, we will always be in great need of unrestricted funding. These flexible resources allow UNICEF to allocate funds where they are needed most.


2. However, we also need transformational partnerships, with individuals, businesses, and other groups, to be able to accomplish the COVID-19 vaccine work I mentioned. Again, this will be the largest and fastest operation of its kind so it’s really an all-hands-on-deck moment.


3. We are also focused on making sure that UNICEF's ongoing, lifesaving programs are able to continue. As much as we need to support COVID-response work, we also need malnutrition, water, and sanitation projects to continue. Communities will still need emergency humanitarian assistance after a natural disaster. We're working to address all these needs for communities around the world.


Q: What else do you want our readers to know?

A: It is important to acknowledge that we have all been impacted by COVID-19 in some way, but our experiences have not been equal. The most vulnerable have suffered the most and those vulnerabilities —both in the U.S. and abroad—have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Although children have not been severely impacted by the health outcomes of COVID-19 they have suffered greatly by the secondary effects including mental health.


The pandemic has also forced us to see how inter-connected we are globally. I hope this provides an opportunity for donors to revisit their core values about giving locally vs. globally. These strategies are symbiotic, and as long as there are basic fundamental rights at risk anywhere, it will impact us everywhere.


We hope this moment inspires donors to affect positive change in communities everywhere and establish new partnerships that allow us to realize the rights of everyone, especially children.



About Michael Nyenhuis

Michael Nyenhuis headshot


Before becoming CEO of UNICEF USA in March 2020, Michael served as CEO of Americares since 2014. He also served as CEO of the global nonprofit MAP International for 13 years. A former journalist with a passion for global health, he previously served on USAID’s Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid and chaired the board of the Integral Alliance, a global network of faith-based NGOs. He also currently serves on the board of InterAction, the largest coalition of U.S.-based relief and development organizations working internationally, and the leadership council at Concordia, an organization and forum that promotes cross-sector partnerships for social impact. A Minnesota native, Michael holds a Masters in Business Administration from Emory University and Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies and Communications from University of Wisconsin Green Bay.

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