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the big picture

UNICEF Economist Tackles Macro-Projects to Ensure Invaluable Resources for Children

Ronald Mendoza

It’s not everyday, Ronald U. Mendoza, Ph.D., GSAS ’97 and ’08, gets to take measure of the full impact of his work. An economist at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Mendoza works on public finance policies and government budgets to help ensure that countries devote adequate investments in the education, health and protection of children.

While some may think this is less immediate than, say, bringing clean water to a village in a developing country, his work is no less crucial in ensuring the well-being and security of literally millions of children around the world.

“Without financing, policy pronouncements are merely rhetorical,” said Mendoza, who earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in economics at Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. “My colleagues and I provide technical assistance to UNICEF’s country offices and partner governments in the developing world to make public finance policies much more responsive to the needs of children.”

Since 2001, Mendoza has worked with government officials, donors and other stakeholders to design and implement policy innovations that would help address the scourge of global poverty—first with the United Nations Development Programme then, as of 2008, UNICEF.

During his tenure, Mendoza has researched trade policy reforms, economic crisis management and such issues as disease eradication, climate stability, international financial stability, and a free and fair world trade regime.

He recently worked with UNICEF’s regional and country offices in the field to expand social protection and increase social budgets for children in response to the global food, fuel, and financial crises of 2008 and 2009.

One of his recent studies explored how good governance and better public finance policies could help reduce the staggering number of children worldwide—8.8 million in 2008—who die before their fifth birthday.

“One of our key contributions,” Mendoza explained, “is in working with stakeholders, such as civil society groups and NGOs, to develop the evidence and set up the instruments and policies for stronger accountability and better transparency in the public finance policymaking process.”

Among the many results of UNICEF’s budget work are policy observatories, child-friendly budget studies, and expenditure tracking analyses that build the case for reforms that maximize investments in children.

In fact, Mendoza has collaborated with professors and graduate students at Fordham to set up an international database on innovations in social budget work, “Eyes on the Budget” (www.fordham.edu/unicef), as a global hub for development practitioners to learn about public finance policies and reforms for children, women and poor families.

What makes UNICEF a leader in this effort, is its unique role in promoting the Convention on the Rights of the Child—almost all countries of the world are signatories.

“The convention requires that countries involved utilize the maximum available resources at their disposal to advance child rights in their countries,” he said.

While the temptation is there to go for immediate policy changes in the interest of keeping children from harm’s way, Mendoza noted this approach might not sustain reforms over time.

“Even as we recognize the immediacy of the challenge and we continue to advocate for adequate and timely policies for children, we also work with partners so that reforms take root,” he said. “We build coalitions and partnerships to establish appropriate policies and long-lasting institutional reforms for sustained improvements in child outcomes.” 

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