The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Nicaragua recently launched a Challenge seeking our Solver Community’s ideas for increasing demand among indigenous families in Nicaragua for birth registration services for children below the age of one year. We spoke with Natalia Adler, Chief of Social Policy at UNICEF Nicaragua, to find out more about this important humanitarian Challenge.
Hello Ms. Adler – thank you for joining us. Can you explain why birth registration is such an important issue, and the impact increased registration rates could have?
Birth registration is a human right. Everyone has a right to a name. However, only half of children under five are registered in developing countries. Without a birth certificate, a child often cannot access certain social services. They are more exposed to trafficking and other forms of exploitation. Later in life, they won’t be able to vote or open up businesses, affecting democracy and even hurting the economy, as informal businesses don’t pay taxes.
In Nicaragua, close to 20% of children don’t have birth certificates. In some municipalities, this number is closer to 65%. Children not registered cannot get a school diploma. It’s not easy to register an older child because registration is not free after the age of one. So, poor children may end up dropping out of school. When these children become parents, they won’t be able to register their children, creating a cycle of under-registration. So, increasing birth registration rates is not only a right in itself. It also helps prevent other rights from being violated.
What are some of the issues that led you to focus this Challenge on indigenous families in Nicaragua?
Indigenous and afro-descendent children are amongst the poorest and most vulnerable groups in Nicaragua. UNICEF Nicaragua is committed to leveling the playing field for all children by ensuring a good start in life. Plus, investing in early childhood is good economics. It’s about getting things ‘right’ from the start as opposed to fixing problems later.
We’re in the 21st century, so why is the lack of birth registration still a problem for many countries? We decided to look at this problem by asking simple ‘why’ questions, starting with “why parents don’t register their children?” This is the Ishikawa method and it’s incredibly simple and useful. That’s how we decided to re-focus on demand, not just on the supply-side of birth registration services. I guess it’s a bit of private sector thinking. It’s not enough to have these public services available – it’s also necessary to ensure people want to use them.
What are some of the key factors you are looking for in an ideal solution from our Solvers?
Solutions must be simple and affordable. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, so keeping costs down is important.
The focus of this Challenge is on creating incentives for parents to want to register their children despite opportunity costs (e.g., time, absence from work, household responsibilities, distance). However, we’re open to suggestions on how changes to birth registration services can be used as incentives themselves. Maybe we need to ‘reinvent’ these services. Maybe we need an alternative service. It would be great to explore these ideas.
And if such solutions come in, what do you plan to do with them? What are the steps involved in moving them forward?
Changes are not always easy to accept, particularly in the public sector. So, the first step is to ensure buy-in from our government counterparts by showing the benefits of this new solution. Arthur Schopenhauer used to say, “Every truth passes through three stages. First, it’s ridiculed. Second, it’s violently opposed. Third, it’s accepted as being self-evident.” So, depending on how much change we introduce, the more aware we need to be about resistance. We might need to pilot the solution in small scale first to monitor its effectiveness.
What do you think is the potential for open innovation in humanitarian development? And how do you see it fitting into the future of organizations such as UNICEF?
I think it requires a lot of humility to recognize that no organization has the solution for all the problems under its mandate. Plus, we’re all going through an interesting transition period where many existing solutions are becoming obsolete. Today, we recognize that solutions can come from different sources and the internet has made this interaction much easier.
But this is not a question of where the solution is coming from. I think it’s more about questioning the very problem that we want to fix in the first place. That’s why we also need to think about new alternatives as part of the solution. To get there, we need to go beyond our four walls and reach out to other sectors. Innovation usually comes from integrating opposing ideas.
UNICEF has a long history of innovations. We also believe in collaborative solutions. So, it would be great to further explore methods of open innovation for humanitarian and development work.
Thank you for speaking with us, and we look forward to the continued discussion with our Solvers in this Brainstorm Challenge. Are there any final reminders you’d like to add for our Solvers?
Be creative. Think outside the box. Do good.