The energetic advocate for children James P. Grant (1922 – 1995) became UNICEF’s third Executive Director in January 1980.
Grant was a visionary who insisted on strategic action and measurable results. He led UNICEF in a major campaign to combat what he called a “global silent emergency,” the deaths of millions of children each year from easily preventable illnesses. This ‘child survival and development revolution’, launched in 1983, mobilized international, national and local initiatives to bring life-saving, cost-effective techniques to children in developing countries. These included immunization, oral rehydration therapy to prevent death from diarrhoeal dehydration, and breastfeeding. By the end of the 1980s, this revolution for children was estimated to have saved 12 million young lives.
As the 1980’s drew to a close, Grant helped expedite another milestone for children, the 1989 adoption by the UN General Assembly of the ground-breaking treaty The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force as a part of international law within a year.
The growing global support for the Convention and for children’s rights and well-being inspired UNICEF to become a driving force behind the1990 World Summit for Children, at the time the largest-ever gathering of Heads of State and Government. Summit participants created a global Plan of Action and established concrete goals for children’s health, education, well-being and protection. To help add substance to the promises made and to further mobilize the world’s leadership for children, Grant successfully urged countries to formulate national plans of action. For the first time, the global community began work on international goals — at the highest political level — to reduce rates of mortality and disease, malnutrition and illiteracy, and to reach specific targets by the year 2000.
Grant was the son of an internationally recognized public health specialist based in Asia. He had worked for UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in China after World War II, and then with the US International Co-operation Administration, where he was appointed Deputy Director in 1958. After working briefly at the US Department of State during the Kennedy Administration, he served with the US Agency for International Development during the 1960s. In 1969, he became the first head of the Overseas Development Council, a private ‘think tank’ he founded in Washington, D.C., where he worked until becoming UNICEF’s Executive Director in 1980.
Recipient of Lifting Up the World Award from Sri Chinmoy