Monday, May 10, 2010

A Q&A with the CEO of UNICEF, Caryl Stern

As the Managing Editor at Work It, Mom! -- which was recently ranked No. 1 among the top 100 most engaged and influential moms groups by social media platform Groupable -- I'm lucky enough to have a chance to chat with some pretty inspirational women. Last week, I interviewed Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF.

Caryl M. Stern began her career in the art world. "I started out with a degree in studio art, and assumed I would spend most of my adult life creating works of art," she says. "I have been fortunate to have actually lived out the 'creating' part -- but not the 'works of art!' " After returning to school and earning her Masters degree, she spent the next 10 years working in higher education, most recently as Dean of Students at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y. and teaching at the graduate school at Manhattanville College.

She left higher education to join the Anti-Defamation League as the inaugural director of ADL's A World of Difference Institute. She went on to become the ADL's Director of Education and then the organization’s Senior Associate National Director and Chief Operating Officer. Three and a half years ago, she joined the US Fund for UNICEF as their Chief Operating Officer, and was selected to be the President and CEO a year later.

"I was drawn to the US Fund for UNICEF because of my commitment to children, to education, and to equity," Stern says. "As the child of a woman who survived the Holocaust in Austria by being sent here to the US at the age of 6 with her 4-year-old brother, I learned early on what a difference one person can, should, must make in the life of a child. I am proud to be in a position to help make that difference for literally thousands of children."

Why is work-life balance so difficult for women in the U.S.? Stern says that we still think we can have it all. "This is not true; you do have to give something up to get most of it!" she says. "The US does not always create work environments that value family first concepts."

Here's an excerpt from the interview:

The recent case of a 7-year-old boy who was returned to Russia by his American adoptive mother has had a huge impact in the international adoption community. What do you think needs to change in order to prevent situations like this?

The world needs to treat adoption as the serious matter it is, insuring that the circumstances that lead up to the availability of a child for adoption, as well as the circumstances of the potential adoptive parents, and all that strands between them, meet the standards set out by the Hague Convention. Children are not products and must not be treated as returnable objects. Approximately 2.8 percent (732,000) of all children in Russia are living without parental care. Some 156,000 are living in institutions. In most cases -- about 80 percent -- these children have at least one parent alive. The priority for these children is to provide the services and support to safely move them back into family care. The vast majority of children in institutional care are over 5 years old. UNICEF supports adoption provided that safeguards are in place to protect children, birth families, and adoptive parents. UNICEF’s focus in the Russian Federation and other countries is to support Governments to strengthen families and their capacity to look after their children. UNICEF works with governments to diversify social services, develop day care services for working parents, offer counseling for families in crisis, inclusive education for children with disabilities, family friendly health services to soon-to-become parents and services to improve parental skills.

you can read the entire Q&A here.

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