By PRETHIBA ESVARY
She left her job as a journalist of 20 years to champion children’s rights.
While Wivina Belmonte believes that journalism is a really good way to make a difference in the world, she wanted to give a shot at something different, and henceforth made a career switch to United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), to help the Unicef family in improving the lives of children in every situation.
Currently Unicef’s deputy regional director of east Asia-Pacific, she conveyed that her transition was a smooth one as she believes in what Unicef does and what it stands for – which is to give every child a fair chance at life.
Hailed as the youngest person and the second woman to be a senior producer of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (based in London) and recognised by Unaids for her global campaign project on raising HIV/AIDS awareness within the Red Cross movement, Belmonte brings with her a vast depth of experience and knowledge to the leading humanitarian and development organisation.
Having covered historic events in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia during the 1990s, Belmonte has observed the world at its worst. In fact, what’s worse is the impact it has on children, she conveyed in an interview with Leaderonomics at the Global Child Forum on South-East Asia 2016.
The challenges that come with doing good
Throughout her 15 years with Unicef, two impediments remain consistent.
One has to do with selling the idea to businesses that it is vital, if not necessary, to invest in children today, as they are the future of our world.
Belmonte said, “Children are going to make up our future labour force, investors and customers. This means that children would affect a country’s progress and development in the future.”
While most people adore children and want what’s best for them, businesses ought to realise that they need to engage in more than just charitable causes, to ensure that children everywhere have a right to survive, thrive and reach their full potential, for their own benefit and for the betterment of the world, Belmonte relayed.
The second is about opening the eyes of business people to the fact that businesses have overlapping interests with Unicef.
“Business people want a good labour force. For that, the labourers would need to possess good health and have access to quality education.
“They want to build a vibrant economy. For that, you need labourers who possess the brain power to fuel that.
“Science also tells us that the way to get to that is to ensure that in the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, they are provided with essential micronutrients and care that they need,” she added.
Leveraging today’s changing landscape
While there are intractable issues plaguing the world today i.e. terrorism, corruption, etc., Belmonte believes that with the advent of technology, comes new and advanced means of dealing with some of these everyday issues.
“For very little amounts of money, for very small interventions, we are able to save children’s lives in a way that we could not before.”
Take crowdsourcing for an example. Organisations are now able to work together with other entities to bring in more ideas, and develop solutions together.
She added that technology not only enables communication with the people directly affected by it, but it also helps to bring their voices to the decision-makers, who will then be able to devise solutions accordingly.
While it seems as though Belmonte has a huge responsibility to carry as a leader for Unicef’s global communications and public advocacy strategy, her passion for the job is unmistakable, which was evident throughout the interview.
She is living proof that working in the field of advocacy does not necessarily mean that one has to be unhappy in order to do good for others. One can be happy and fulfilled so long as they have a strong sense of purpose and resilience while doing their job, and this applies to any job for that matter.
Prethiba is an Assistant Editor and Writer with Leaderonomics. She is passionate about impacting people through the written word. She believes that our lives are solely written by us, and thus the power to change for the better lies within us. To connect with her, e-mail email@example.com.
Where do we stand?
A benchmark study series was conducted by the Global Child Forum and Boston Consulting Group in 2013 to measure the extent to which the corporate sector in South-East Asia integrates children’s rights into their businesses.
One of the key findings to note is that 70% of companies in Southeast Asia are pushing their own children’s rights-related strategic programmes, with the Internet and Communications Technology (ICT) sector recording the highest average score of 3.5 out of nine, in comparison to other sectors.
Where does Malaysia stand in all of this?
According to Wivina Belmonte, Unicef’s deputy regional director of east Asia-Pacific – who was overseeing the Unicef country programmes in Malaysia prior to her current role – the outlook for Malaysia is positive in terms of its education and innovation sector.
She commended Malaysia’s efforts in the last few decades to produce universal and quality education, for both boys and girls.
She also expressed her admiration for how innovation is permeating the country, and how this has spurred the growth of social entrepreneurship among the younger audience. Looking at the current economic context, Belmonte believes that this is good progress for the country.
While the issue of child protection, for both local and migrant workers’ children, is still an area that requires a lot more improvement in Malaysia, bit by bit progress can already be observed in some companies.
Digi Telecommunications Sdn Bhd, Sime Darby Bhd, and Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, are the few names mentioned by Belmonte, which are already excelling at incorporating children’s rights into their businesses.
Other businesses in the country would thus benefit a lot from taking a lesson or two from these corporate champions, in order to provide fair and equal opportunities to every single child in the country, so they are able to grow in a safe environment, and progress effectively with the nation’s development.