Carol Bellamy, Former Director of UNICEF
A life of service: Carol Bellamy talks battling terrorism and bureaucracy, saving children's lives at UNICEF
On this episode of SPx, former director of UNICEF (1995 to 2005) and the United States Peace Corps (1993 to 1995), Carol Bellamy joins Joe in the studio to preview her keynote at the Conference on World Affairs. Bellamy discusses the lessons learned from her rich professional history, which began in the private sector, moved to politics, and later into global public service efforts. Bellamy shares her work immunizing children around the globe with UNICEF and preventing terrorism with the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund. As first female President of New York City Council, elected in 1977, Bellamy discussses the state of gender discrimination around the globe.
- Carol Bellamy was appointed by President Bill Clinton to head the Peace Corps from 1993 to 1995, the first Peace Corps volunteer to hold the position. She was later appointed director of UNICEF from 1995 to 2005.
- As Director of UNICEF, Bellamy worked toward: immunizing every child; getting all children a quality basic education; reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS; protecting children from violence and exploitation; and implementing early childhood programs in every country.
- Bellamy says it can be easy to get bogged down in the plights of children around the world, but she tries to keep a broader perspective. "Children are healthier around the world today than they've ever been," she said. "But there are still too many children that die before the age of five from totally preventable causes. More children are at school today than at any time around the world, but there are still over two hundred million children not in school, still more girls not in school than boys."
- Bellamy's advice? Be a good global citizen. "To me, a global citizen is not somebody who has a lot of stamps in their passport, it's somebody who wants to try and make a difference and improve their community, be a good citizen in their community."
- Success usually means more than a vocation, Bellamy says. "I've often argued that people who are successful in whatever career, a business career, or a career in public service, if they've had some opportunity to do something else - an advocation as well as a vocation, it actually strengthens their success in their vocation."
- Most systems, in both private sector and government, have too much bureaucracy, Bellamy says. We should all try to simplify over sophisticated systems. But, Bellamy says, that doesn't mean dumbing them down.
- On politicians: "Most people in politics, whatever their political views, are people who actually care, who want to make a difference, who work very hard, particularly local officials frankly because actually you can't escape from your constituency as a local official."
- On successful careers: "If one has the opportunity in one's career to spend some of it in the public side and some of it in the private sector, but that's a good mix. You learn not different skills necessarily, but different ways of using skills."
- While Bellamy was director of UNICEF, she teamed up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization Gavi. The Gates Foundation donated $750 million in the project, "UNICEF had always focused on children's health as one of its major areas of engagement around the world," Bellamy says, "and immunization for young children is about the most successful and best health intervention that one can have."
- In her current role, Bellamy works for the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund. The fund seeks to provide stability and support for areas in danger of becoming radicalized. For example, in Nigeria: "We're not functioning where Boko Haram is ... But we're functioning in the middle plateau which is the area that some of the radicalization from the Boko Haram area is beginning to infect. And so if we can help through the funding of these local groups - moderate religious voices, youth peace camps - to try and reduce the possibility of that radicalization."
"I don't think life is an either/or." - Carol Bellamy
"I think by having a multi-faceted life which isn't a matter of how many things you're involved in, but trying some other types of things, it strengthens whatever your day to day activity is, but it also gives you an outlet for determining other skills that you have." Carol Bellamy
(00:00 to 03:05) Introduction
(03:05 to 04:36) Breaking Down the Barriers to Action
(04:36 to 9:20) Thoughts on Bureaucracy
(9:20 to 10:46) The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
(10:46 to 14:04) Preventing Radicalization and Terrorism
(14:04 to 16:24) Terrorism and the Internet
(16:24 to 18:55) Equality Today
(18:55 to 20:15) Carol’s Work With Children
(20:15 to 23:01) Supporting Carol’s Work
(23:01 to 25:14) Conclusion
Transcription begins [00:00:54]
Joe: Joining me today is Carol Bellamy who is in town for the Conference for World Affairs, she will be delivering the keynote tonight. And she’s currently the chair of the governing board of a global community engagement and resilience fund. Welcome.
Carol: Thank you very much.
Joe: So, can you give us a little preview of your talk tonight?
Carol: Well, I’m actually not going to be talking about the fund tonight, although I’ll be participating in a panel around the issues of terrorism and preventing violent extremism. But tonight I’m going to be speaking about children largely, both the good things that have happened for children over the last 20, 30 years in this world and the bad things, the plights and rights of children.
Joe: And you’ve had a front row seat to that with your time at UNICEF and even I guess, older in the volunteer world, with the Peace Corps. One of the things I was most curious about digging into when I heard you speak and seeing some of the things that you’ve talked about even going through the worlds of banking going through the world of law going through politics and all of that you still have what I would call a front of the curtain earnestness about getting the work down. There is a lack of jadedness in your tone and I wonder if you could dig into how you made it this far without getting there.
Carol: Well, one has good days and bad days. I mean, one can get pretty discouraged sometimes when one does think about the plights of children. I mean, there are so many good things that have happened, children are healthier around the world today than they’ve ever been, but there are still too many children that die before the age of five from totally preventable causes. More children are at school today than at any time around the world, but there are still over two hundred million children not in school, still more girls not in school than boys. Both boys and girls deserve to go to school, but the fact is if you at least take into account the advances that have been made it makes you want to do more. So, I can’t say that every day is a perfect day, but I feel that we have made – we the world – we’ve made changes and I still want to be a small part of that.
Joe: And I don’t think there are many folks that would not want that to occur. And we start to dig into the barriers between what would be a pretty normal desire for people and then the actual impact and the activation of that on the other end. What are some of the barriers that stand in the way of that? How much of it is communication, how much of it is bureaucracy, how much of it is corruption? I mean, how would you kind of break down the barriers to action?
Carol: Well, I think an initial barrier is just I want to help, what can I do, where can I help? And I mean, there are now particularly with I suppose social media, and the good parts of it, there are ways of finding out opportunities in your community when you can try and make a difference. I talk about the fact that I think everybody should be a global citizen, if you will, and to me a global citizen is not somebody who has a lot of stamps in their passport, it’s somebody who wants to try and make a difference and improve their community, be a good citizen in their community. So, just going down and working through your local church, or school, or soup kitchen, or perhaps signing up to become a Peace Corps volunteer, it could be all of those things. It doesn’t have to be something that is Earth shattering.
Joe: Right. So, you feel that there are sufficient mechanisms to – if enough people took action – you feel that the mechanisms in place aren’t the biggest barriers, it’s actually just the number of people taking action?
Carol: No, I think there are a lot of opportunities. So, I don’t think the barriers are insurmountable. Again, people need time, you know, when you’re young and developing your career if that’s what you’re doing, you’re going to have less time. On the other hand, I’ve often argued that people who are successful in whatever career, a business career, or a career in public service, if they’ve had some opportunity to do something else – an advocation as well as a vocation, it actually strengthens their success in their vocation.
Joe: I do want to get your thoughts on bureaucracy. I know that you were transformational with UNICEF being appointed to two terms. I think before that you had tried to tackle, there was a department of mental health in New York in the early ’70s and that the bureaucracy there I think I read was “too much to untangle” I think was the exact words. So, has that been a point of pride for you for untangling bureaucracy? What’s sort of your take on the evolution of bureaucracy?
Carol: First of all there, is too much bureaucracy everywhere. Not just in government I will tell you, not just in government. Having spent half of my career in the public sphere, but the other half in the private sector when people go, “Well, it’s just that bureaucracy in government.” I wanted to tell you there plenty of bureaucracy in the private sector as well. So, I don’t think that one should ever accept it. Hopefully I’ve cut it out in some places, but I know there was still more than there should have been bureaucracy at UNICEF when I left, hopefully I reduced some of it. I know there is probably more bureaucracy in some of the other things I’m involved with even though hopefully I’ve helped to reduce some of it. So, I think that taking on bureaucracy, taking on things becoming too overly sophisticated if you will, that doesn’t mean we need to dumb down things, but taking on things and making them a little bit more simple, a little bit easier to do, is something that everyone should do whatever they are.
Joe: And bureaucracy is often put in place as a countermeasure to abuse of systems. And so, if that’s the case and we want to reduce bureaucracy what are the alternative countermeasures?
Carol: Well, I guess I’m going to say – in my view – again there is too much abuse, and too much corruption in the world all over not just in poor countries and rich countries, everywhere, more corruption then one would like. I think it comes back to your upbringing, I think it comes back to a sense of values. We can have differing values, I’m not suggesting that everybody has to have the same values, certainly not the same values that I might have. But there is a basic commitment to being a good citizen wherever you are and participating as a good citizen wherever you are. If you look around the world for example the turnout to vote in countries is much higher than it is in the United States, that’s really deplorable in my mind. I mean, that’s only one element of being a good citizen, but it is an element that is an important thing to do. So, again, I think to me it’s why education is so important from the earliest years, that’s why hopefully being supportive of whatever the family environment is, and there is in my view, not a single kind of family environment but at least supportive of that so it’s that upbringing and that foundation you have as a children that contributes a lot – in my view – to having a world with a little less corruption and a little less bureaucracy.
Joe: So, assuming that we were to do better at that and then coming up you’ve gone both roads, you’ve gone into banking and law and then moved into public service. So, do you think the sort of flow into public service, does it also tend to attract people who aren’t as earnest as well? Do you think we have a, you know, it’s almost like the barriers to becoming a teacher, you know, the low pay or whatever. Do you think that more people being service-minded in their upbringing would lead to more politicians doing with that mindset?
Carol: I don’t think it has to be a do-gooder, but I think it is a false sense that everybody who goes into politics is going to become corrupt or is corrupt, it just isn’t so. Most people in politics, whatever their political views, are people who actually care, who want to make a difference, who work very hard, particularly local officials frankly because actually you can’t escape from your constituency as a local official. Sometimes when you go to the state capital or you go to Washington you’re a little further away. But most elected officials I know actually and I don’t know a lot now but most in my view really are hard-working decent people and it’s just wrong to board brush them and assume that they are not.
Carol: I actually think if one has the opportunity, and I’m not talking about elected office, but if one has the opportunity in one’s career to spend some of it in the public side and some of it in the private sector, but that’s a good mix. You learn not different skills necessarily, but different ways of using skills. For example, I would hire a good public sector manager probably over and equivalently good private sector manager because they’ve had to manage probably this slightly different more complex way. If somebody needs to be a perfect expert in a very narrow field I would probably go with the person who had the private sector experience. So, I think both give you good experience and I think in most cases both the private sector and the public sector have good people and then there are a few bad apples in both.
Joe: Sure, and in a perfect world they overlap in synergistic ways. And you’ve had some successful public/private partnerships and you’ve also worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, can you talk about your experience in that?
Carol: I worked most closely with the Gates Foundation many years ago with the start of something called the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization Gavi. It was when I was at UNICEF, UNICEF had always focused on children’s health as one of its major areas of engagement around the world and immunization for young children is about the most successful and best health intervention that one can have. And so UNICEF and the world health organization both organizations were actively involved. The Gates Foundation forward and argued that we could actually expand globally the immunization efforts and they offered to provide 750, as I recall, million dollars. I remember reporting this to the UNICEF board and I remember one of the board members saying, “Did you say million?” And so, with that money and with the on the ground efforts of both UNICEF and the World Health Organization, at that point in time there was a dramatic expansion of immunization coverage. Now Gavi has been around for 20 years. It started out literally in a small office near my office with two people. It now is a humongous big organization, it probably has a little bureaucracy, but it’s done an incredible job. And so, you know, the Gates folks can sometimes be a little strong, they can bully a little bit sometimes, but I will then tell you, Bill and Melinda Gates have made a significant positive contribution, and I’m not just talking about money, but a significant positive contribution to improvement of global health.
Joe: Wonderful, so let’s change topics. You’ve had, like I said, a front-row seat into a lot of the darkest areas of the world, how has that come through now to guide the work that you’re doing?
Carol: Well, we know that there is extremist behavior around the world, terrorism very often used as the definition. And there are many efforts to confront it then most of those efforts around military and law enforcement and security and intelligence. And there’s been very little effort at prevention on the first hand. So, the fund that I chair which is a fund that is overseen by a board of various representatives. Some government representatives, some private sector representatives, and some civil society representatives. This is a fund where we’ve raised money to invest at very local levels in communities that are trending toward radicalization to try and strengthen those communities so that they don’t become radicalized. So, for example, in Nigeria where we have some activities, and again we fund local activities, we don’t send in people. We’re not functioning where Boko Haram is because that’s kind of overrun already. But we’re functioning in the middle plateau which is the area that some of the radicalization from the Boko Haram area is beginning to infect. And so if we can help through the funding of these local groups – moderate religious voices, youth peace camps – to try and reduce the possibility of that radicalization, that’s what we’re doing. So, we’re on the prevention side.
Joe: And can you dig into some of the tactical ways that you do that? The different communication channels you use, the type of information, the vehicles for spreading that information?
Carol: Well, many people think it’s that terrorism or terrorist are all poor and they didn’t have anything and they didn’t have an education. If you really look at it, much of the terrorism, or much of the extremism that has resulted in the loss of lives or resulted in terrible situations really has happened as a result of people who are educated, university students in Bangladesh, not dissimilar from that in Sri Lanka for example. So, we are not necessarily just funding in the poorest area, we are also looking at what might make a difference. And it isn’t all just religion. It’s interesting we did a study of young people in Bangladesh and the young people going to religious schools, they were less outward looking but they were also less interested in engaging in violence. Whereas the young people going in the public schools were more open to the culture, the positive culture, but they were also open to violence. So, one has to break away from this assumption that it’s just poor people and if you give them an education then they won’t engage in violence. It has much more to do with people who feel disenfranchised, who feel marginalized who want to act out. It’s men and women, I mean, more men than women but women are not only victims, they are also perpetrators but they also can help resolve some of it. So, again, we fund local activities, we fund some women’s groups, we fund I mentioned peace camps, we fund some local radio media because you can reach broader that way, and we fund some skills development. Education isn’t irrelevant but it isn’t just a matter of if they only had education they wouldn’t engage.
Joe: And now the vehicles for carrying out, you know, it’s not just even sort of the violence that we’re used to seeing, there’s all types of opportunities online and with cyberterrorism and things like that. So, it seems to be an ever-fragmenting puzzle with more and more pieces all of the time. So, it’s definitely a big and worthy mountain to climb.
Carol: Yes, so social media plays a role both positive and negative as it does in so many ways. One of the other things I’m involved with is again fighting the sexual exploitation of children and again the role of the internet in allowing things to happen that never would have happened in the past. So, many countries have passed laws to try and protect children in these situations. But then you have the internet coming in and I’m a believer that it has much to offer, but I’m also a believer that if everything from recruiting foreign fighters to really being a terrorist against little children if you will, and I’m using terrorist in a broader way, that the internet facilitates all of these things, the good and the bad.
Joe: And I’ve always thought a big part of that was how much information the internet made available so quickly. And you think about the evolution of a society, there are societies in more rural areas that are just getting on the power grid that are just getting clean water and all of a sudden the internet drops an entire world of information on them. You know, how much of that can you attribute to sort of as shock to the system of people being exposed to things they are completely not used to being exposed to?
Carol: Well, it has an impact and I’m not an expert in this field at all. I mean virtually everyone around the world has a handheld, I don’t mean everyone, but you don’t need to have a power grid for example in many of the poorest countries as such, you jump several generations and because it may not be a smartphone, but you have a handheld. On the other hand, think of the good things it can do, I mean it can facilitate children getting a birth certificate when they’re born. It can facilitate paying teachers in rural areas by e-transferring the payment that they deserve. It can facilitate teaching even in areas where you wouldn’t have materials to teach. It can facilitate small farmers understanding better how to grow their crops and what kind of markets are out there for them. So, I’m not suggesting that it’s all negative at all, in fact for the most part I think it’s quite positive, but we have to deal with it so let’s deal with it and let’s try and use it in the best way we can.
Joe: You were the first woman to be the president of the New York City Council and you’ve broken a lot of ground as a woman. I’d like to know now a lot of the women that I encounter now to get an award for the women’s x, y, z of the year, their preference now is to be the x, y, z of the year and not have that extra identifier attached to it. You know, you’ve had this great long career, how do you feel we’re coming along in regards to equality for women?
Carol: Well, I’m glad we’re moving passed the first and the seconds and the thirds and the fourths. We still have a ways to go, I mean the issue of discrimination based on gender and many other things frankly I’m not going to go down the whole list but there’s still too much discrimination, certainly racial and ethnic and in fact in many ways more in some cases. The international conflicts today or local conflicts today are very much based on these kinds of things. Our wars aren’t really between nations anymore, they’re internal based on so much marginalization and discrimination. But I mean when it comes to women I’m glad we’ve moved on and I’m happy that I was the first in a couple of cases, but what the heck, that was a long time ago and let’s keep moving. I mean, people should be judged, whoever they are, male, female, whatever, they should be judged on who they are, what their performance is, how they respond, their commitment to whatever they’re doing. So, no, I don’t think it should be in- We’re happy to give the woman’s prize, I think we’re happy to give the prize for the best speller, or we’re happy to give the prize for the most accomplished person in science whether it’s male, female, whatever, great.
Joe: So, you know, with that, that’s sort of meritocracy mindset, is that fair to say?
Carol: That sounds very fancy actually, I’m not sure I’m there. But I mean, it is 2020, I mean, we still have a lot of work to go. For example the amount of violence in this world is just totally unacceptable and there is still much more violence against women than men. Now nobody should accept a single bit of violence against men, but there is still much more. Issues like maternal/mortality, there is still too often an assumption that a woman when she’s pregnant and going to have a child just has to put up with difficulties, well that’s unacceptable. So, there are many elements, it’s just not a matter of am I going to promote this woman or not promote this woman. There are many facets of gender discrimination against women, gender discrimination could also be against men but there are many facets of gender discrimination that have very serious consequences. It’s not just simply a matter of whether I’m going to get promoted tomorrow.
Joe: So, coming back to the talk that you’re giving tonight it’s about children and education, let’s dig a little more into that.
Carol: Well yes, I want to talk about the successes or at least the improvements, but also some of the challenges that still remain. Much of it is a result of the convention on the rights of child being adopted in 1989 and then global goals that include a challenge to improve education and health for children and also to confront some of the protection issues around children. So, for example there are more children in school today, boys and girls, then at any given time before, but still 280 million children who are not in school. It’s no surprise that those not in school tend more often to be disabled or in rural areas or refugees and people who are displaced or children who live in conflict zones and wars today go on for years and years. And one of the most important things that you can do for a child in a conflict zone is to get them back into some kind of schooling because it brings a little normalcy back into this abnormal situation. Every five minutes somewhere on this planet violence takes the life of a child, so again, there are challenges out there. That being said, on the protection side, there have been dramatic improvements in reducing the number of child marriages in the world, it still exists, but there is big improvement there. There is big improvement in reducing corporal punishment against children. So, I want to encourage people to recognize the challenges but to understand that there are ways to overcome the challenges.
Joe: And what are some of the best uses of time and money to support the work that you’re doing?
Carol: In terms of money. I think people should be generous if they have the capacity to make contributions, but they need to determine what are their priorities and where do they want to- Perhaps their priority is in the area of climate, so then do the research and find good organizations that are involved in confronting the climate challenges today. If it is children, do the research, there are lots of good international organizations. I mean, I’m a fan of the UN, but you can give money to some UN organizations. Actually, I’m a big fan of some parts of the UN. There are some parts like the Security Council, in my view, should be changed. But there are good organizations like Save the Children, and Plan, and Oxfam, and others that do good for children. But maybe they don’t want to deal with children, maybe they want to deal with older people. I don’t think anyone should feel that they are constrained because somebody else is engaged in a particular way. Whatever issues appeal to them they should become involved in and it can be both as a volunteer, or money, or both.
Joe: It’s been natural for you to be in service, like I said politics and running non-profits and working for government organizations. Assuming that people have this desire in them and potentially it’s laying dormant, can you sort of talk about maybe what seems obvious to you is giving back and doing the right thing that people might search for in themselves to unlock some of that activity?
Carol: I don’t think life is an either/or. And so, again, I strongly feel that whether one gets up in the morning and says I want to save the world or one gets up in the morning and says I want to save my client who is going to court today, one can have a fuller life, I believe, if you not only engage in whatever your vocation is and vocation could be I want to make more money today. That’s fine, that could be what you want to do. I want to make more money because I want to take better care of my children or parents, or I want to travel. I don’t have any difficulty with that, but what I’m saying is that I think by having a multi-faceted life which isn’t a matter of how many things you’re involved in, but trying some other types of things, it strengthens whatever your day to day activity is, but it also gives you an outlet for determining other skills that you have so that later in life if you’re thinking about change and you’re doing a different job you’re not simply constrained to say I was the x, y, z and I need to be another x, y, z but you think about the skills you have. I am a good communicator, I’ve been able to raise money for my friends to support good things, I listen well, I’m a consensus builder. You develop skills that way by being active not only in whatever your day to day activity is, but some of these external activities.
Joe: And sort of moving on from that, given the varied career that you’ve had all over the world, what now gives you meaning on a day-to-day basis?
Carol: One of the most exciting elements of the things I’ve been lucky enough to work on has been to work in what I call a multicultural environment. I’m from New York so you kind of think you’re in a multicultural environment and yes you are, but particularly working with the Peace Corps and working with the United Nations, the diversity of the different people you get to work with has been for me the most exciting thing in my entire career. And it’s not a matter of how many, it’s who. And people with different views or different backgrounds or coming at things slightly differently we don’t all agree. I think it’s very important wherever you are to make sure you’re not just working with people who will say yes to everything, hopefully they don’t say no to everything, but they won’t say yes to everything. So, for me, it still is a matter at this point mostly I’m involved with a number of just separate activities, but it’s the people that I get to work with because I just love the differences and the energy that you get from people who have had different experiences. It can’t be beaten.
Joe: I appreciate it, thank you for your time.
Transcription ends [00:24:13]
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Joe Hamilton is publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst, co-founder of The St. Petersburg Group, a partner at SeedFunders, fund director at the Catalyst Fund and host of St. Pete X.