Devolution of higher funds to states in India is leading to decentralisation of programmes undertaken by the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef), said Karin Hulshof, Unicef’s regional director for South Asia, during a three-day visit to Odisha. The agency is engaging more with state governments than the central government now.
She said that the funding pattern for Unicef’s India operations is changing. From being primarily funded by governments of the developed world, Unicef in India is now increasingly funded by private companies.
Hulshof was visiting Odisha to monitor the progress of open defecation programme and reduction in childhood stunting. She said that she has asked Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik to start a nutrition mission in the state to tackle malnutrition in children.
“We have seen that in India when government goes in a mission mode, the progress is much faster. Maharashtra saw a huge drop in malnutrition after it started its Health and Nutrition Mission,” said Hulshof.
Talking about devolution of taxes to states from 32% to 42% since financial year 2015-16, she said state governments have become the site for both planning and implementation of social sector schemes. “We have to now engage states more than the central government, especially in social sectors like health and education. Almost two-thirds of our staff is working at the state level at present,” said Hulshof.
Unicef had strategically started engaging state governments from 2013. “Financing of social sector in India is changing rapidly. In our five-year plan starting 2013, we had consciously focussed on state governments and their state-level programmes. In this sense, I can say, we were ahead of the Indian government. In the next plan, we might decentralise our workforce and funding further,” said Hulshof.
She said Unicef’s funding pattern for India is going through certain changes. “The share of money that came from governments of developed nations is decreasing. Countries like the UK and The Netherlands hardly contribute money for our India operations. The share contributed by private players like Exide Industries and IKEA Foundation has increased substantially,” Hulshof told Mint.
Exide is supporting Unicef programmes on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) in India. IKEA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Swedish home furnishings company IKEA, is the largest corporate donor at Unicef India and contributed towards many programmes in last 14 years.
She said that Unicef is also receiving a number of individual donations in India. “Individual people’s donations also constitute a big amount received by us,” she said.
She added that developed countries are withdrawing from India because of high growth rate that the country has recorded in the last few years. “Now that India has her own money, she should spend it. The developed countries are moving to other deprived countries which do not have money to support their populations,” she said.
Hulshof said that even though her organization is receiving a big share from private companies, it ensures that their agenda does not seep into the working of the Unicef. “We have many checks and balances in place. We accept funding only against our country programmes, which we decide independently. We take money without any conditionality from the donor. We do not take help from alcohol and tobacco companies,” said Hulshof.