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How can public finance deliver better outcomes for children?

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Delivering UNICEF’s Global Learning Programme on Public Finance for Children

Nicola Ruddle

Public financial management (PFM) has increasingly been attracting the attention of non-finance specialists, particularly practitioners in the social sectors. No longer seen as the reserve of economists in ministries of finance and treasury offices, the value of PFM systems and budgeting processes is now recognised for ensuring the success of investments in social sectors and the effective use of public funds. The effective delivery of public services leads to better outcomes for the population, and thus PFM systems and budgets play an essential role in realising human rights.

UNICEF influences country budgets and aid programmes so that there is more and better spending on the areas more closely related to children outcomes. OPM has been working with UNICEF in this area for more than 10 years, training over 400 UNICEF staff across the world, with increasing demands over the years.

The course

The course, developed in a close partnership between OPM and UNICEF HQ’s Learning and Knowledge Exchange and Public Finance and Local Governance teams, is an integral part of operationalising UNICEF’s strategy to influence domestic resources for children. This is in line with UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment 19 on public budgeting for children’s rights. The Global Learning Programme has played a major part in strengthening UNICEF’s capacity to identify and engage with financing issues in the countries in which it works, through analysis and evidence generation, advocacy, and further capacity building, working with governments, civil society organisations, and other international development partners.

This course is delivered through a blended-learning approach combining a distance learning component with a face-to-face workshop. The e-learning lasts about four months, allowing participants to become familiar with the core concepts of PFM and relate them to the work of UNICEF. This is followed by a one-week face-to-face workshop, which uses real case studies requiring participants to apply the concepts they have learnt and solve problems.

Tomas Lievens, the director of our Social Policy Programme and course director for the PF4C Global Learning Programme, said “It's been a true honour for OPM to have been given the opportunity to support UNICEF change from an organisation focused on development projects using its own resources, to one which increasingly leverages the national policy, budgeting, and service delivery infrastructure to improve outcomes for children.”

Feedback from UNICEF

In 2018, over 240 UNICEF staff participated in the course. Anne-Claire Dufay, UNICEF Ghana Country Representative, said ”the course is an excellent opportunity for UNICEF Staff from all sectors to learn how to better engage in influencing domestic public finance for the most disadvantaged children and families. In Ghana, UNICEF has been working closely with the Ministry of Finance and line ministries to inform the budgeting exercise through technical assistance, as well as policy and budget briefs. Thanks to this high quality UNICEF-OPM course, we have gained new knowledge and skills, which will help us promote equitable allocation of resources and more adequate, effective, and efficient budget execution. All this has an impact on service delivery, and ultimately on results for children”.

Aarti Saihjee, chief of education, added: “The course was equally challenging and motivating and has helped me to better understand how cost and financing analysis is central to UNICEF programming and advocacy for equity, across sectors. In particular, it helped me to look at budget allocations and expenditures in the education sector as the proverbial half-full glass and the role efficiency gains can play in maximising the impact of current levels of investments. And what I most appreciated was a practical approach to learning, very hands on with real world examples as well as a way of thinking, which required me to situate technical solutions within the broader political economy analysis and context.“

According to Emelia Allan, child protection specialist, “the PF4C course is one of the most practical courses I have participated in recently. While undertaking the online modules, I was able to apply some of the new learnings in ensuring that the government is planning and budgeting for the protection of children. With the skills acquired, I have also drafted a basic tool to monitor budgets and expenditures in child protection at the sub national level. It was a great opportunity and I would recommend that all programme officers, particularly in middle-income countries, take on this course”.

OPM has recently been awarded a place on all five of the Service Areas of UNICEF’s Global Long Term Agreement on Public Finance for Children. Through this LTA we hope to continue working closely with UNICEF on evidence generation, influencing budgets, and building capacity in the area of PF4C.