My parents moved to Brazil for work and I wound up as first-generation Brazilian.
In Sao Paulo you would see poverty on the streets. There were a lot of children begging, not only to feed themselves, but also to provide for all their family’s needs. It was so prevalent that people like me, I’m afraid, would eventually just draw a curtain across it, just to get through the daily routine. That was one of the worst things about living in Brazil—having to shut out the poverty. It’s a beautiful country, but I didn’t want my children to see that. When I came to the United States for a graduate program in management, I was lucky to get a job. I was there for 14 years.
In the United States, the concept of charitable giving goes back a long time. But donating and helping people outside your immediate family was not so common in Brazil 15 years ago. I first saw the UNICEF image on Christmas cards in Brazil, which were sold in shops and in schools. As a child, I understood that when we bought them we were supporting a greater cause.
When I moved to the United States and became financially independent, that’s when I became more interested in financially supporting a charitable organization. I was in New York and attending UNICEF events, listening to presentations by people who had been in the field. That was my first deep introduction to UNICEF. When I moved to California I began to really get involved with the U.S. Fund for UNICEF regional office.
My experience with UNICEF goes beyond just attending presentations and galas in air-conditioned hotels. I have also made two field visits that neatly bookend the scope, scale and efficiency of UNICEF's operations.
I recently joined a U.S. Fund trip to visit the UNICEF supply warehouse in Copenhagen. It was amazing, and though it’s the largest humanitarian warehouse in the world, it only holds 5 percent of UNICEF’s supplies! That’s a good example of UNICEF’s ability to connect the needs in the field with a timely and cost-effective distribution system.
What was interesting was that though it is a highly automated facility, when it comes time for the packing of supplies for delivery, there is a lot of manual customization. The packing is tailored and strategic to the unique situation of every country or emergency. The warehouse is not only about being cost-efficient; it is about saving lives. The logistics supply house not only helps lower costs, but it also improves the response time from generation of demand to delivery of supplies—particularly important in times of natural and man-made emergencies. That's one of the things that attracts me to UNICEF—corporate efficiency on a human scale.
My second field trip was a visit to UNICEF's operations in Cambodia. I was able to see how UNICEF works with local/international NGOs, local authorities and finally the federal authority to implement short- and long-term plans and actions to improve and save the lives of children. I was able to see vaccinations, HIV support programs and health clinics, which UNICEF has been helping not only financially but also educationally.
What also impresses me about UNICEF is its policy of making sure that, wherever it is at work, there is a concerted effort to engage with the local government to ensure political support and continuity of programs. Sustainability of UNICEF's programs is supported by enabling and encouraging local government to take over at some point. It is the policy makers who must understand what their interest is. They must have ownership, responsibility and accountability. That idea—passing responsibility to the party that should really carry the obligation—is an important part of UNICEF's philosophy. UNICEF's goal is to help the child, but not just at that specific moment or during that particular emergency. That help must continue, so many parties must be involved.
I can attribute my support of UNICEF to three reasons: 1) political support: this ensures efficient operations, but also improves the likelihood that government will be willing and able to take over from UNICEF; 2) expertise to deliver services to the poor at such large scale requires a large organization with efficient operations (evidenced by the supply warehouse in Copenhagen) and 3) human scale: I saw firsthand how, despite UNICEF's enormous scale, the field operations have the ability to reach, touch and improve the life of a child. And of course it means that there must be enough money to support programs and give them continuity. That’s where regular, dependable donors come in. That’s why I give.
Photo Brigitte Posch (back row, right) visiting UNICEF’s programs in Cambodia.