UN Secretary‑General António Guterres announced on Friday, that Catherine Russell of the United States will become the next Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

She will succeed Henrietta Fore, who said she was “delighted to hand over to someone with her knowledge, experience, and deep care for children and women”.

“Ms. Russell brings to the role decades of experience in developing innovative policy that empowers underserved communities around the world; delivering high-impact programmes that protect women and girls, including in humanitarian crises; building, elevating, and managing diverse workforces; and mobilizing resources and political support for a broad range of initiatives”, Mr. Guterres said in a statement.

At the same time, Rytis Paulauskas, President of the UNICEF Executive Board, warmly welcomed Ms. Russell to the top job, assuring the “she has the full support” of the Board to carry out the critical leadership role.

Wide-ranging experience​

Ms. Russell is currently Assistant to the President, and Director of the White House Office of Presidential Personnel.

From 2013 to 2017, she served as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues at the US State Department. There, she integrated women’s issues across all elements of US foreign policy and was the principal architect of the ground-breaking “US Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls”.

Before that, Ms. Russell served as Deputy Assistant to President Obama, Senior Adviser on International Women’s Issues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Associate Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice, and Staff Director of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

She also taught at the Harvard Kennedy School as an Institute of Politics Fellow.

Previously, she served as the board co-chair of the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, as a board member of Women for Women International, as a member of the Sesame Street Advisory Board, the non-profit organization KIVA advisory council, and the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Trust Women initiative.

Fore’s ‘inspiring leadership’​

The Secretary‑General also expressed his gratitude for outgoing UNICEF chief Fore “for her commitment and dedicated service to the Organization”.

Ms. Fore tendered her resignation in July, in order to take care of her husband full time, who is suffering from a serious health issue.

Mr. Guterres acknowledged with appreciation Ms. Fore’s “inspiring leadership of UNICEF and in particular, UNICEF’s critical role in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in reimagining education”.

“As a result of her leadership, UNICEF is now an organization with a broader array of public and private sector partnerships and a bolder focus on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”, he stated.

UNICEF ‘in capable hands’​

Before deciding to step down, Ms. Fore said it had been “a difficult decision” and described holding the office of Executive Director as “a tremendous honour”.

In full support of Ms. Russell’s selection, she said, “I have no doubt that UNICEF and the world’s children will be in capable hands under her leadership”.

Ms. Russell will assume her new functions early in the new year, said UNICEF in its statement. She is UNICEF’s eighth Executive Director, and the fourth woman to lead the 20,000-person-strong agency in its 75-year history.