It’s Global Tax Season: What Role for Citizens?

Written by Andrew Wainer, Director of Policy Research at Save the Children

Even as domestic tax reform is in the political limelight, there is growing attention to taxation in the developing world and the role of citizens in shaping tax policy.

This month Save the Children launched an initiative supporting citizen action in Kenya on domestic resource mobilization (DRM) – as taxation is referred to in the development community. The project is directed at the Kenyan national and county-level tax systems.

Working with local citizens, Save the Children is advocating for fair and transparent tax collection with the ultimate aim of supporting the Kenyan government’s ability to finance basic services for its most vulnerable communities.

DRM assistance typically comes in the form of technical support and capacity building provided by bilateral and multilateral donors directly to developing country revenue authorities or ministries of finance. This assistance, which often involves upgrading information technology and increasing tax officials’ professional competency, is critical.

But citizen engagement in DRM is also crucial to ensuring that tax policy is fair and reflects the popular will, not just the aims of special interests. Integrating the voices of regular citizens into DRM discussions strengthens citizens’ relationship with their government. Paying and spending tax resources is at the heart of the relationship between citizens and the state.

And engaging local citizens in DRM isn’t just good for transparency, it can also result in more effective DRM assistance, because taxation is inherently political.

As the World Bank states, “Even after the formal tax structure and tax administration are reformed, levels of tax collection can remain unchanged unless there is sustained political will….The political dimension is therefore of paramount importance in any kind of tax and revenue reform.”

While DRM is the most sustainable way to finance the Sustainable Development Goals, it must address both the administrative and the policy shortcomings that undermine the fairness of national and local tax systems. To address equity and fairness, DRM assistance should be inclusive of a range of citizen voices – not just technocratic experts – so that the concerns of vulnerable and marginalized groups are integrated into tax policy.

Supporting Citizen Engagement in DRM

In order to support citizen voices in developing world tax reform, we need better data on the quantity and quality of donor DRM assistance.

To this end, the OECD, through its Creditor Reporting System (CRS) foreign assistance database, created a sub-code for DRM assistance to measure its disbursement by bilateral and multilateral donors. This is a big step forward for measuring DRM assistance, and while the data includes significant limitations, it is now possible to ascertain the contours of donor DRM assistance to the developing world, including assistance that supports greater engagement of local citizens in tax conversations.

But in spite of the new data, the extent to which donors support DRM through empowering local citizen voices has not been extensively analyzed. Using the new DRM sub-code, we can begin to measure donors’ support for local citizens as a percentage of their overall DRM support.

The CRS includes a “channel” variable describing how foreign assistance is disseminated. Using the channel variable, it is possible to disaggregate donor DRM funding by using the “NGO and civil society” channel as a – useful, but imprecise – proxy for DRM assistance to local citizens. For the sake of context, the channel variable includes the following eight options for how donors channel foreign assistance to developing nations:

  • Public sector
  • NGO and civil society
  • Public private partnership
  • Multilateral organizations
  • Teaching institutions
  • Private sector institutions
  • Other
  • Not reported

Lack of Donor Emphasis on DRM Citizen Engagement

Overall, direct support to citizens within the DRM sub-code is quite low compared to other development sectors. In 2015, of the total $191 million in DRM assistance provided by all donors and reported through the CRS, only 3% ($6 million) was channeled to local civil society or NGOs. 

Contrast this with the level of direct support to citizens for all sectors: In 2015, 12% ($21 billion of the total $174 billion) of all foreign assistance was disbursed to local civil society or NGOs – four times greater than the percentage for DRM assistance alone.

US DRM Assistance

The United States was the second largest bilateral DRM donor overall in 2015 with $37 million in disbursements, but like the sector overall, the data indicates that the US could improve in terms of balancing its DRM portfolio with increased citizen engagement activities.

In 2015 the OECD did not record the United States providing any DRM assistance directly to local citizens or NGOs. This statistic is incomplete due to imprecise OECD capture of US DRM projects.  A more detailed investigation of the US DRM portfolio indicates that it has multiple project components dedicated to citizen engagement that do not appear in the OECD data. These projects include:

  • Work with local civil society in Uganda to educate citizens about the importance of local taxation,
  • Support for civic oversight and participation in municipal budgeting in Haiti, and
  • Funding of local civil society organizations to ensure transparency in the use of revenues from extractive operations the in the Philippines

Still, it’s clear that there is room for improvement. USAID Administrator Mark Green has emphasized the importance of US assistance for DRM to help nations finance their own development needs. But to ensure that DRM is inclusive and accountable – and sustainable – the US government and other bilateral and multilateral donors should do more to ensure that DRM assistance supports local citizens’ ability to join tax discussions and advocate for fair and equitable revenue collection.

 

Advocating to Give Every Last Girl a Future

Co-written by Carolyn  Miles & Maryam Ahmed

As the head of Save the Children, one of the best parts of my job is getting to meet amazing children, in the toughest places around the world, who are working to make it a better place.

maryam-1Maryam Ahmed one of these children. She is a Save the Children Girl Champion, 17 years old and born in Kano State (North West Nigeria) where she is a child right’s activist and a member of the Abuja Children’s parliament. Maryam is an advocate for girls’ education, ending child marriage, and combatting gender-based violence. I am thrilled to have Maryam write this blog with me, in honor of International Day of the Girl.

This week, we are together in Washington, D.C, meeting with influential figures on Capitol Hill and the U.S. Administration to discuss the importance of investing in girls and asking U.S. policymakers to continue leading on issues such as tackling the barriers girls face in getting an education.

Girls are too often barred from the opportunity to learn – limiting their lives and risking their futures. I, Maryam, am proud to be a girl from Northern Nigeria who is still in school. This is not something you see very often. In my community, only 4 percent of girls get to finish secondary school. While this number may sound staggering, unfortunately it’s not uncommon around the world. Globally, girls are 3 times more likely to be out of school than boys, putting them at risk for child marriage, pregnancy, and trafficking.

Without education, the world’s girls will be left behind. That’s why today and every day, we’re recognizing that girls are worth more – worth educating and maryam-2empowering. And that is why we both are dedicated to advocating for gender equality and girls’ rights. Back at home in Nigeria, for example, there are laws and policies in place to prohibit child marriage, but customary norms and practices continue to violate our rights and no proper action is taken to address this. So I promote the rights and the well-being of girls while providing advice on how everyday citizens can help be a part of the solution.

I also wrote and recorded a song called “I believe,” to elevate the voice of children, especially girls. The song is a reminder that investing in adolescent girls is not only the right decision, but the smart decision and also to inspire girls to be anything they want to be.

Investing in girls yields amazing results, and education and empowerment is our best bet for keeping them on the path to success. By advocating against child marriage and inequality, we at Save the Children aim to influence U.S. leaders, Nigeria’s leaders — and the world’s leaders — to help girls get the opportunities that every last child deserves. Together, we’ll empower every last girl to realize her dreams. We invite you to join us at savethechildren.org/girls and to share this blog with the hashtag #ShesWorthMore.

To Reach the World’s Most Excluded Children, Data is Fundamental

nora-oconnellNora O’Connell

Associate Vice President of Public Policy & Advocacy at Save the Children U.S.

December 12, 2016

As it’s sometimes presented, the concept of foreign assistance data transparency provokes drowsiness, but accurate and timely data can be of grave importance, particularly in humanitarian emergencies and with marginalized groups.

The importance of data was demonstrated during the 2014-2015 West Africa Ebola outbreak, where data provided at the right place and the right time helped save lives.  When doctors first started treating patients, the lack of electronic medical records hindered patient care.

To address the lack of data, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders adapted an open-source platform to confront the outbreak by providing timely information on everything from the direction the outbreak was moving to which doctors were due for payment.

Recently, as part of the speakers’ panel for the release of a Friends of Publish What You Fund (PWYF) report, I emphasized that, like the example above, data can have real – and sometimes life and death – consequences. I know this through my own work with Save the Children and the communities that we engage around the world. At Save the Children we see the role of data in development as central for two primary goals:

  • To better inform development and humanitarian decision making, and
  • To strengthen accountability, particularly for marginalized groups including girls and refugees

Better and timelier development data has acquired an increased impetus globally as a crucial tool to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and actionable data is foundational for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign aimed at the world’s most excluded children, including migrants and refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, and girls. To make the case for these children and to create a strategy to realize this goal, we need disaggregated data.

As the PWYF “How Can Data Revolutionize Development” report states, U.S. foreign assistance broadly has made important gains in aid transparency, but continued progress – from both U.S. foreign assistance agencies and development implementers – is required to make timely, accurate, and user-friendly data central pillars of U.S. government development policy and practice.

As the world’s largest bilateral donor, the U.S.’ commitment to generating and disseminating development data would help set an international benchmark for the global development community. On that count, while the U.S. has made progress, we still have a way to go to become a global leader. To achieve enhanced U.S. data transparency, the report cites three areas of focus:

  • Implement the U.S. commitment to publish humanitarian aid data
  • Invest in gender equality through publication of robust gender data
  • Improve U.S. aid transparency for stronger U.S. global development

The focus on gender disaggregated data is particularly important for Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign, which includes girls as one of the largest excluded groups of children globally.

As the PWYF report states, “Whether seeking to increase equality, economic growth, peace and security or improve outcomes for children and families, supporting women and girls are considered one of the best investments for a country’s future.” But data relevant to gender equity is often nonexistent. The report continues, “Although gender-specific and disaggregated data are critical tools…the state of this data is woefully underdeveloped and difficult to use.”

The story of data to help identify and target vulnerable groups is mixed. As Brookings Institution Senior Fellow George Ingram stated at the event, “Transparency moved from a little discussed concept to being the norm in what we want to achieve.” But to sustain progress, U.S. development agencies and implementers should continue to make data transparency a priority – particularly in the world’s most fragile nations and among the most vulnerable and excluded groups.

The Sustainable Development Goals After One Year – Already In Need Of Course Correction

by Michael Klosson, Vice President for Policy and Humanitarian Response, Save the Children

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post 

In the weeks leading up to last year’s United Nations General Assembly, world leaders and activists were united in their optimism about launching a new set of global goals that would set a bold direction to 2030. One year on how are we doing? In short, not well enough. These inspirational goals require us all to stretch, but far too many are hunkered down in business as usual.

While celebrating the successes of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we knew that we could do better. MDG achievements were impressive, but generally limited to those groups who were easier to reach. MDG progress was based in averages and masked inequalities. Less privileged groups did not see the same improvements, excluded from progress by their gender, ethnicity, caste, and place of birth, among other factors. Countries in conflict also saw few improvements. According to the World Bank in 2011, “No low-income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved a single MDG.”

Recognizing the need for bolder action, the UN orchestrated one of the most participatory projects in its history to define 17 ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) designed to move everyone, both in developing and developed countries alike, toward a better future by 2030. Embedded in this new framework was the transformational commitment that “no one would be left behind.”

One year on, overall progress toward the 17 goals in support of reaching everyone is already off track. Research from the Overseas Development Institute suggests that only three of the goals, including ending extreme poverty, are on a path to success with some additional effort, while nine goals, including many affecting children such as reducing maternal mortality, ending hunger, ending child marriage and boosting secondary school completion, are progressing much too slowly and require a major step change. Five goals, including reducing income inequality, are moving in the wrong direction. The Inter-Agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators has yet to approve a set of global indicators to measure progress on the SDGs, and the promise to disaggregate data by gender, age and ethnic group – so critical to the goals’ transformational impact — does not appear very high on countries’ priority lists.

After their strong launch a year ago, world leaders have missed opportunities to throw SDG implementation into high gear. The World Humanitarian Summit, the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), the Financing for Development Forum, and the recent G20 Summit were big opportunities for pushing the SDG agenda forward, yet failed so far to trigger concrete action accelerating progress. As one UN representative said during the HLPF in July, “Leave no one behind isn’t something that will happen by everyone just repeating that phrase again and again at the UN.” The SDGs need to be taken more seriously if the world is to be successful in delivering on these goals.

While most countries have been slow to begin implementing the goals, there is good news: some have confronted the challenge and begun to design plans for achieving success. Twenty-two countries agreed to participate in national reviews at the High Level Political Forum in July. Colombia and Sierra Leone are examples of countries that have already worked to orient national institutions toward meeting the SDG goals. In addition, both countries have made monitoring and improving data a priority. These examples underscore the fact that with political will and determined effort, progress is achievable.

Meanwhile, Germany has worked to position itself as a leader in the process of achieving the SDGs. Not only did the German government note its need to address goals that were relevant to the country’s highly developed context, but it has also taken steps to address the goals in its distribution of international aid and by wielding its influence in the European Union.

In recognition of the fact that inclusivity is at the heart of the SDGs and indispensable to achieving them, such as ending preventable child deaths or ensuring all children learn, Save the Children launched in April the Every Last Child Campaign. This campaign shines a spotlight on groups of children excluded from progress to date because of who they are or where they were born. In every country where we are present, Save the Children is working to galvanize the necessary political will, resources and innovative programs and policies that will accelerate progress and bring “leave no one behind” to life. Our campaign recognizes that the SDGs will not be achieved without ending both poverty, but also discrimination against excluded groups of children. We set out three categories of initiatives – fair finance, equal treatment and accountability – which could turbocharge SDG implementation by overcoming barriers of exclusion.

The SDGs could be transformational but with 14 years still to go, they have yet to generate sufficient urgency. There are opportunities on the horizon to bring forward the magnitude of those goals so leaders feel the weight of their responsibilities to act now to fulfill them. We see the September 19 high level meeting at the United Nations on refugees and migration and President Obama’s September 20 summit on refugees as two such moments to tackle an unprecedented crisis of forcible displacement involving 65 million people, half of whom are children. This crisis has to be resolved if SDG implementation is to get on track. We have called on leaders to commit to provide access to quality education for all 3.6 million refugee children out of school in the near future, in keeping with the SDGs. Making these calls are in the context of defining and agreeing to national interim “stepping stone” targets, such as child survival or learning, will generate urgency by showing the trajectory required in 2020 that is necessary to reach the 2030 goal.

As new leaders take office in coming months in the U.S., at the UN, and in other countries, we will work to promote increased political attention to SDG implementation, improved data and accountability, institutional changes, and a priority focus on excluded groups. The ambitious commitment “to leave no one behind” cannot wait.

 

Steps to Achieve SDG4 for Every Last Child

cocoCoco Lammers

Manager, Global Development Public Policy & Advocy

Save the Children US

August 22, 2016

This blog post originally appeared on Global Campaign for Education US. 

This is Masa. When Masa was one year old, her family was forced to flee their home country of Syria for Turkey. Today, Masa is five years old, an age when many children around the world go to school. She is among the 1 million Syrian refugee children living in neighboring countries who are not in school.

Photo Credit: Ahmad Baroudi
Photo Credit: Ahmad Baroudi

In most cases, it will take years for a refugee girl like Masa to get the chance to go to school. Even after an immediate crisis ends, if a family has the chance to return home, infrastructure is often weak and the government has a difficult time establishing funding, policies, and procedures to get the national education system on track. Teachers may not get paid for months, classrooms are crowded, materials are nonexistent, communities are afraid to send their children back to school due to safety, and governments only pay attention to whether kids attend classes, not whether they are actually learning. If the family stays in another country, it could take years for them to matriculate into the schools, if they ever do.

In 2014, a UNESCO report revealed that around 250 million children around the world are in school but not learning the basics. The result is a global learning crisis. In 2015, after the completion of the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals, all governments adopted an ambitious development agenda for the year 2030 that sets out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As a response to the global learning crisis, Goal 4 of the SDGs (SDG4) is focused on ensuring access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Achieving ’education for all’ and ensuring ‘no one is left behind’, key pledges made by all governments in the SDGs, will be particularly difficult in conflict affected and fragile states. Last year, a Save the Children report revealed that the countries furthest behind in achieving the MDGs were not the least developed countries, but were countries affected by crisis, conflict, or fragility. According to the World Bank, people in conflict-affected and fragile states are more than three times as likely to be unable to send their children to school as those in other developing countries.

So, how do we ensure that all children, no matter who they are or where they live, are in school and learning?

Step 1: Data

  • Countries, at the national and subnational level, need to identify the most excluded children.  Then they need to make a public commitment to produce more and better data that shows where the gaps are and enable targeting of resources towards the most excluded groups.  Governments must work with researchers to collect disaggregated data and to ensure consistency, allowing data to be compared across countries, regions, and at the global level.
  • There should be commitment among donors to ensure that there is a minimal level of data collected in all countries. This “data floor” is especially critical for countries affected by crisis and conflict who have the worst track record on data collection. Education must be a part of the data floor.
  • Data must be disaggregated at a minimum by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location, common differentiators for development progress, so that patterns and trends in educational inequity can be identified and plans can be implemented to ensure that these groups see progress first, not last.
  • Governments must set national interim equity targets for specific groups to monitor progress toward SDG4 and to ensure the most marginalized and excluded children, including refugees and internally displaced children, are learning and on track to meet SDG4 targets.
  • The international community must encourage citizen-led data collection, expand access to and transparency of existing data resources, and build local capacity for data use and analysis in order to drive change from the ground up.

Step 2: Accountability

  • Governments and international bodies must establish effective, inclusive and participatory accountability mechanisms at all levels to help ensure that progress is being made on SDG4.
  • Donors and developing countries alike need to make a commitment to find more and better funding for education and SDG implementation.
  • Global resources should be focused on countries where progress on SDG4 will be most challenging, including in countries affected by crisis, conflict, and fragility.
  • Civil society and other stakeholders, including young people, need to continue to push for and engage in effective governance structures and accountability mechanisms to ensure progress on SDG4.
  • Donors, oversight bodies, and non-governmental organizations need to use the data collected on SDG4 to push for greater accountability, follow-up, and review of the SDGs at all levels.

As advocates, we need both courage and persistence to keep the momentum going on this equitable learning agenda. It will take hard work and sustained attention to ensure that even when contexts change, crisis strikes, or stability is threatened that young girls like Masa and all children, regardless of their background and circumstances, are able to go to school and learn.

In 2030, Masa will be 19 years old. Imagine what a quality education and lifelong learning could do for her generation. The possibilities for her and millions of other children just like her are endless.

International Development and Humanitarian Aid: A Rare Point of Agreement Between Republicans and Democrats

Refugees in a child-safe space in Greece, run by Save the Children
Refugees in a child-safe space in Greece, run by Save the Children

For the past two weeks, Americans have watched the Republican and Democratic National Conventions with excitement and anticipation as party leaders presented starkly different visions of what the country’s next four years could look like.

The parties also adopted their official platforms, laying out their policy positions – both domestic and foreign. Save the Children has been engaged at the gatherings in both Cleveland and Philadelphia to advocate for policies in the United States and abroad that protect children and help them survive and thrive. As a child-centered development organization active in 120 countries, we are particularly interested in the two parties’ positions on international humanitarian and development assistance.

Happily – and in contrast to wide divides on other issues – the platforms indicate that both Democrats and Republicans view international development and humanitarian assistance as integral to U.S. security and as embodying U.S. ideals. According to the Republican Platform, foreign aid, “Advanc[es] America’s security and economic interests by preventing conflict, building stability.” The Democratic Platform uses similar language, stating that development assistance can, “Prevent threats, enhance stability, and reduce the need for military force.”

But there are differences between the two platforms. While both focus on making aid more effective, the Republican position on international assistance emphasizes encouraging increased private sector involvement to drive economic growth, promote country ownership, and sustainably combat poverty. For its part, the Democratic Platform emphasizes further incorporating local organizations, marginalized populations, and women in development to promote country ownership.

Due in part to recent sustained, bipartisan support for international development, extreme poverty has been halved in the past 25 years, with 50 million more children in school and 14,000 more children surviving each day. This past Congress provides examples of bipartisan cooperation on development assistance including:

But there is more work to be done. Save the Children continues to advocate to sustain efforts to help the world’s most vulnerable children, both in the United States and abroad. A key part of this effort is Save the Children’s Every Last Child campaign launched this year to reach children marginalized due to their gender, disability, geographic isolation, ethnicity, or their status as refugees or immigrants.

Many children have been left out of global progress due to a combination of poverty and discrimination, whether it be intentional or unintentional. To reach these children, the Every Last Child campaign focuses on three pillars:

  • Fair financing
  • Equitable treatment, and
  • Accountability

 The winner of the election will have a profound impact on shaping how America engages with the world. Save the Children believes that with an inclusive approach to international development assistance and a continued investment in responding to humanitarian crises, we could be generation that ends extreme poverty and preventable child and maternal deaths. The opportunity is there to be seized.

In order to reach the Every Last Child campaign’s goal of inclusion, more needs to be done by both sides of the aisle – and recent history proves it’s possible. Regardless of who sits in the White House, Save the Children will be knocking on their door to ensure that every last child, no matter where they live, has the chance to survive and thrive.

LindseyMattila

This post was written by Lindsey Mattila and Sarah Hogoboom.  Lindsey is a Global Health and Food Security Policy Intern working with the Public Policy and Advocacy Department this summer. She is from Portland, Oregon and will be a senior this fall at Claremont McKenna College where she is studying Government. Sarah Hogoboom is the Summer Global Development and Advocacy Intern with our Public Policy and Advocacy Department. A rising senior at Hamilton College, Sarah studies World Politics and works at the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center on campus.

advocacy

Advocacy: The Road to Change

15-Advocacy  (7)Olalla Duato

Student Ambassador for Save the Children

March 14, 2016

When people aspire to make a difference in the world, some may dream of going to faraway places. They hope to venture to the very spot where people are in need – performing good deeds firsthand. While immediately rewarding, we must remember that one does not have to travel far to make a change. It is possible to start amidst your own community – with your own voice.

Rather than focusing on the place where the struggle exists, one should examine the source of the struggle – striving to alter the policy that causes hardship in the first place. During my short time volunteering at Save the Children, an employee told me an analogy that conveyed this idea.

It is all much like a road trip. You can have the path planned out – the directions printed, the stops determined, and the tank full of gas. But with a broken car, regardless of preparation, you aren’t going to make any headway. In this analogy, the car symbolizes the policies in place. If the underlying policy is flawed, it will be very difficult to make any progress.

While at Save the Children’s DC office, I set out to learn what policy was all about. Before this experience, I did not fully appreciate the importance of advocacy. As a high school sophomore, I doubted that anything I would say would be significant or have any sort of impact abroad. Nonetheless, after advocating on Capitol Hill, I quickly realized the power of my words in making a difference.

I met with staffers regarding the Reach Act – a bill supported by Save the Children as part of a powerful coalition. The legislation hopes to end preventable maternal and child deaths worldwide by building on the strategies currently in place. The bill has gathered considerable bipartisan support in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

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It was thrilling to see the congressmen that I met with signing on to the initiative. At that point, it became clear to me that my voice was valuable. And even though I wasn’t witnessing any instant results, I knew that people around the world would eventually be grateful. Advocacy, by strengthening the policies in place, is setting the foundation for long-term, effective change.

Olalla Duato is a high school sophomore at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey

Humanitarian organization CEOs: Let’s show Syrian refugees the promise of America

This post originally appeared on FoxNews.com, and was written in coordination with Michelle Nunn, Carolyn Woo, Neal Keny-Guyer, Raymond C. Offenheiser, & Richard Stearns. 

 

More than 4 million Syrian refugees, almost half of whom are children, have fled unspeakable violence.   Even with winter advancing, many continue to make the treacherous journey from Turkey to Greece by boat, and many, like Aylan Kurdi, the little boy prostrate on the beach whose image sparked renewed dialogue on the crisis, have perished.

 

The attacks in Beirut and Paris were horrific and a terrifying window into the daily lives of the millions of Syrians that remain inside Syria.

 

The United States has a long, proud history of aiding persecuted people.  Instead of turning Syrian refugees away, we must both assist those who remain in the Middle East and provide safe haven for those who feel compelled to leave.

 

Unfortunately, some of our leaders have proclaimed that desperate Syrians fleeing for their lives are unwelcome in the United States. Public concern is an understandable response to recent events and the security screening process should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it is effective and efficient.

 

To be American is to be generous and compassionate. We should not close the door on all Syrian refugees in this, their darkest hour.

 

Terrorist threats to the United States are real and the U.S. government has a responsibility to keep the public safe. It is important though for everyone to remember that refugees themselves are fleeing violence and are subject to the greatest number of security checks of anyone coming to the U.S. The process can take two years or even longer due to required screenings, in-person interviews, investigations, and clearance by a host of government agencies including the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, FBI, National Counterterrorism Center and U.S. and international intelligence agencies.

 

As leaders of the largest humanitarian organizations based in the U.S., we are proud to represent the most charitable nation in the world.  To be American is to be generous and compassionate.  We should not close the door on all Syrian refugees in this, their darkest hour.

 

Even as we admit more Syrian refugees, our response must target the root causes of the Syrian exodus. The U.S. has been the most generous donor to humanitarian relief efforts aimed at supporting the Syrian people and neighboring countries.  And yet, more must be done.  The U.S. and other countries influential in the region must redouble their efforts to find a political solution to the war hand in hand with the Syrian people, do more to protect civilians, ensure humanitarian access to those in need inside Syria, and provide urgently needed financial support to Syria’s neighbors who are shouldering the burden of hosting more than 4 million refugees.

 

As the violence of the Syrian conflict spills out beyond its borders now is the time to act with compassion, not fear.

 

Michelle Nunn, President and CEO, CARE USA

Carolyn Woo, President and CEO, Catholic Relief Services

Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO, Mercy Corps

Raymond C. Offenheiser, President, Oxfam America

Richard Stearns, President, World Vision U.S.

Carolyn S. Miles is President & Chief Executive Officer for Save the Children.

 

2015 Instagram Post 10-28-15:  On a recent visit to #Lesbos, Greece, our CEO Carolyn Miles met with child refugees who arrived via the Mediterranean Sea.   Hear from Carolyn about her response to the #refugeecrisis at facebook.com/savethechildren.

Providing a Future for Millions of Syrian Children

It takes only a few hours on a beach on the Greek island of Lesbos to understand the enormity of the current refugee crisis sweeping Europe and the many dangers that refugees face, including so many mothers and children.

 

On one typically busy day, our Save the Children staff counted 22 small rubber dinghies arriving in just five hours — filled with babies as young as three months old and adults as old as 76. While no Greek official was on shore to meet the refugees, volunteer aid workers, including Save the Children staff, were there to assist and guide them toward registration. The numbers of people arriving in Greece this year is staggering — up from 40,000 last year to 580,000 so far this year. During one five-day period last month, 48,000 new arrivals — or nearly 5,000 a day — came to shore.

 

I recently visited the north shore of Lesbos and talked with a number of refugee families arriving by boat. One woman I met from Syria was traveling with her little girl, little boy, and two brothers. Her husband was left behind in Syria and was hoping to meet them later. We helped guide their boat to the shore and pulled them out of the water, and she said she couldn’t believe they were alive. She was so cold and overcome by emotion, she shook violently. We wrapped her in a space blanket and one of our workers offered her his scarf. Slowly, as we gathered warm clothes for her children, she stopped shaking and even smiled weakly as her daughter showed off her warm jacket.

 

I also visited the two informal camps outside the island’s capital city of Mytilene, where refugees must register to continue their journey to Europe. One camp was originally for Syrians and the second camp for other nationalities, the majority of whom are from Afghanistan. Our staff met several teenagers making the trip by themselves. One boy from Afghanistan was traveling with a small group including four other teenage boys. They were trying to get to Germany, where one of the boys had a brother. No one knows precisely how many children are making this journey alone, but recent estimates put the number in the tens of thousands and is growing rapidly. Recent figures from the Serbian government, for example, show that nearly one in four refugee children arriving in Serbia in recent months have been unaccompanied.

 

While the international community continues to struggle to find a solution to the conflict in Syria, now approaching its fifth year with no end in sight, the sheer numbers of desperate Syrian citizens are staggering. Four million have fled the country and over 7 million have been forced from their homes but remain inside Syria.

 

Almost 3 million Syrian children are not in school, including half of those who have fled to neighboring countries. As Secretary of State John Kerry noted last week, “Imagine what it would mean for America’s future if the entire public school systems of our largest cities — New York, Chicago and Los Angeles — were suddenly to close and stay closed.” Schools, in fact, are among many public institutions that are in shambles. More than 4,000 attacks on schools have taken place in Syria since 2011, according to the U.N. Meanwhile, two of Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon and Jordan, are reaching their breaking point in assisting Syrian refugees.

 

What can we do? Save the Children has joined other major aid agencies in calling on national governments to adopt a bold new deal for refugees. In the short term, we need to provide much more support in the region in terms of food aid, employment, medical care and education so more refugees will not feel compelled to leave the region and reduce the current huge migration to Europe. In addition, we need to eliminate many restrictions that leave refugees living in limbo — in constant fear of arrest, detention and deportation.

 

We also need a special focus on children. Donors need to take additional steps to ensure that children are protected and educated. Otherwise, we face the prospect of helping create a lost generation of Syrian children. Investments now in education and protection for these children can pay enormous dividends once the war ends and rebuilding begins.

syrian children

In recent months, we have seen growing support from individuals and corporations to assist refugees. In early September, the worldwide dissemination of a photo of a little refugee boy drowned on a beach in Turkey helped people see this crisis as a human tragedy that is affecting tens of thousands of innocent children and their families. Our long-time corporate partners, such as Johnson & Johnson, stepped up their support for our humanitarian response for refugee children.

 

With the recent attacks in Paris, we are presented with very hard choices. Our sympathies, of course, are with the hundreds of families around the world who lost a loved one in the barbaric events of November 13.

 

But we can’t turn our backs on the Syrians who are also fleeing death and destruction in their country. By continuing to increase humanitarian support in Syria, in surrounding countries, and for the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee families, we are not only doing the right thing but are also providing a future for millions of Syrian children.

 

This post originally appeared on the Global Motherhood section of The Huffington Post

The Time is Now: Delivering on the SDG Agenda

 

TheGlobalGoals_Logo_and_Icons

There’s no way around feelings of euphoria today.

 

World Leaders at the United Nations are ringing in a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that promise to end extreme poverty and the scourge of hunger and preventable deaths of infants and children around the world.

 

At the same time, the Pope is calling for solidarity with the most deprived and those displaced by conflict and climate change.

 

Over the coming days, millions of people globally – from youth in Ghana to Shakira — are taking part in the “world’s largest” prayers, lessons, and ceremonies to light the way for the SDGs. It’s one of those rare moments in which governments, faith institutions, everyday citizens and popular idols unite around a common cause to forge a historic moment.

 

Three years of debate among UN diplomats and millions of citizens voicing their priorities has culminated in the approval today by 193 nations of new Sustainable Development Goals, to replace the Millennium Development Goals established in 2000. Negotiations on the SDG agenda have been among the most collaborative in UN history. It is truly a global vision for a better world.

 

Furthermore, the SDGs comprise a holistic agenda – 17 goals rather than 8 – with ending extreme poverty at its core supported by a healthy planet in a peaceful world.

 

The goals are bold and ambitious. The trick will be maintaining the momentum once the speeches end, the crowds disperse, and the cameras turn their focus elsewhere.

 

It will take a collective effort to achieve this, but the most defining players will be governments who will bring political will and resources to deliver a better future for their people.

 

Here are six actions that all governments can take to make the SDGs real for their countries:

 

1) Create national action plans to implement the SDGs. Each government should take the SDGs back home, consult widely with local actors, and make policy and programmatic decisions to put the goals into practice in their country. The entire SDG agenda of 17 goals and 169 targets may not be applicable to every country but there are a core set – namely, the “unfinished business of the MDGs”– like health, education and poverty, which do apply to every country and can be acted upon starting today.

 

2) Commit financing to the SDGs. Countries should align their budgets to achieve these outcomes. For the United States, this may mean more investments to reduce deaths caused by obesity, heart disease, or automobile accidents, while for poor countries global health dollars could be invested in community health workers to reduce deaths associated with childbirth and malnutrition.

 

3) Assign a high-level government lead on the SDGs. To ensure rigorous monitoring and accountability, it is important to put in place a focal point on the SDGs who can reach across ministries and carry political weight to ensure action and coordination.

 

4) Communicate a clear commitment to the SDGs. Heads of state can take these goals home and share them with Parliament or Congress and speak to citizens, private companies, and others to contribute financing, technical know-how, and new ideas and innovations to deliver on the SDGs. Citizens should also play a role holding governments’ “feet to the fire” to be accountable for achieving this agenda over the next 15 years.

 

5) Prioritize action to “leave no one behind.” Many times on large agendas such as this one, people try to attain the easy solutions and quick wins. This time, however, the world pledged to achieve progress for the poorest and most vulnerable groups first. This requires investments in gathering and disaggregating data to ensure that all groups benefit from progress and no one is being “left behind,” such as girls living in poverty.

 

6) Publish an annual whole of government report on the SDGs and participate fully in the global follow up and review process. Every country should create progress reports on the SDGs and encourage citizen participation to leverage all resources and people-power in fulfilling the 2030 agenda. This will demand that we work together to strengthen our systems for evaluation and learning in order to scale projects that work and end those that don’t.

 

With the new SDGs, we can build a world in which no child lives in poverty, and where each child has a fair start and is healthy, educated, and safe. But progress toward meeting these goals in each country will depend on more government investment, open and transparent country institutions, participation by a diverse cross-section of civil society, and effective partnerships between government, civil society, private sector, and donors.

 

In 2030 we will judge success by what has been delivered, rather than by our declarations today. Let’s use this historic moment to pave the way for concrete action for children around the world.