Posted on Nov 04, 2022
A carefully crafted guide provides a road map for future collaboration between two tried-and-true partners
In June, at the Rotary International Convention in Houston, Past RI President K.R. Ravindran struck up a conversation with representatives of UNICEF. The topic was the dire economic crisis that has left more than 5 million people in Ravindran’s home country of Sri Lanka without adequate food and medicine. From that conversation emerged Lifeline Sri Lanka, a project by Rotary and UNICEF to provide medicine, water purification supplies, educational materials, and other necessities to families in the island country.

“The significance of this historic moment is vested in the fact that these two prestigious organizations have come together to lend their support towards aiding one singular nation in distress,” Ravindran said when the project was launched in August. Within three weeks, it had received more than $70,000 in donations.

A particular aspect of that story is especially appealing to Stephanie Jacquier, a global philanthropy and partnership specialist for UNICEF. “It’s an illustration of one Rotarian driving something locally, together with UNICEF, in one specific country,” she says. Emphasis on locally.

The story of Lifeline Sri Lanka is inspiring, but such cooperation is not a rarity. Around the world, Rotary and UNICEF, each with a presence in more than 190 countries and geographical areas, work together on issues related to global development, humanitarian aid, and peace. The partnership goes back to 1988, when the two organizations joined with the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as founding members of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. The GPEI now also includes the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“Rotary and UNICEF have a long history of successfully working together, beginning with our partnership to protect children from polio and growing to other priority programs where we can jointly build on our unique strengths,” says Michael J. Nyenhuis, president and CEO of UNICEF USA.

Mark Daniel Maloney, past RI president and current Rotary Foundation trustee, extols the “mutual trust” between the two organizations. “When we place money in UNICEF’s hands, when we fund the programs that UNICEF is doing in polio eradication, we know that it is going to be put to good use.”

As the organizations look to the future, they have devised a new approach, introduced through a handbook entitled Local Collaboration Framework, that is designed to broaden and increase their collective impact. “The framework is a comprehensive guide for local Rotary clubs to work collaboratively with UNICEF in determining and addressing the greatest needs locally,” says Nyenhuis.

“It’s an invitation to create synergy and leverage Rotary’s efforts,” adds Maloney. “Rotary can provide boots on the ground, and UNICEF provides the expertise.”

To better implement this new approach, representatives of both organizations collaborated to create what Maloney calls a “road map to expanding our relationship with UNICEF.” Rose Cardarelli, a member of the Rotary Club of Washington Global, Washington, D.C., and the RI representative to UNICEF/ New York, took a lead role in that process. “Collaboration included jointly identifying countries with both Rotary and UNICEF representation, studying previous potential joint projects, and surveying and conducting extensive personal interviews with Rotary members and UNICEF staff,” she says. “It was important to have global participation through regional representation.”

The process began in fall 2020, and, over the course of a year, evolved into a two-step quantitative and qualitative process. “We didn’t want to rush; we wanted to do it right,” says Jacquier. “We knew it was important to first collect evidence from the ‘audience.’ Because once you know your audience, you’re better positioned to answer their needs.”

All that preliminary work resulted in a 64-page handbook that provides clear and useful guidance, policies, templates, and other tools to empower Rotary and UNICEF to work well together locally (see “10 steps to success,” right). “It’s a guide that provides a viable method to follow so that members of Rotary and UNICEF staff can initiate discussions for joint projects,” Cardarelli says. “It captures best practices, methods for collaboration and easing partnership engagement. It is a living document in the sense that the methods can be refined further with resulting engagements.”

Jacquier seconds that approach. “We should always have the spirit of continuing to improve this tool,” she says, adding that it would be a good idea to collectively review the handbook periodically to make adjustments to reflect evolving needs.

The handbook was introduced in March in New York City at Rotary Day with UNICEF. It is being distributed to UNICEF offices and is available to Rotary districts and clubs via My Rotary — though some Rotary members didn’t wait for the handbook to get started on collaborative projects (see “Beyond polio,” right). Now that the handbook is available, Maloney has some ideas about avenues the partnership might want to explore. Among them is “empowering girls,” which was the theme of this year’s Rotary Day with UNICEF. “That would carry on a theme that Past RI President Shekhar Mehta started and that President Jennifer Jones is continuing,” Maloney says. “UNICEF is well positioned to implement programs to empower girls — and maternal and child health [one of Rotary’s seven areas of focus] would also fall within that purview.”

Like Jacquier, Maloney sees the handbook as a tool to help accomplish these ambitious goals. But he also understands that it’s just that: a tool, or, as he put it, a road map. “The handbook is not the end result,” says Maloney. “The end result is the service and the projects that will be implemented as a result of the handbook.” It’s time for members of Rotary and UNICEF to unfold that map together and step into the future.


The Local Collaboration Framework handbook provides a step-by-step process for Rotary members and UNICEF staff to successfully implement community-based projects:
  1. Get to know Rotary and UNICEF
  2. Learn about the benefits of working together
  3. Connect locally
  4. Get to know one another
  5. Identify opportunities for collaboration
  6. Create an action plan
  7. Make it official
  8. Track successes
  9. Showcase successes
  10. Turn vision into reality


Rotary and UNICEF have been partners since 1988, when they set out to eradicate polio. But their humanitarian efforts have gone beyond that endeavor, as these recent examples demonstrate:
  • Beginning in 2018, District 2483 (Montenegro and Serbia) worked with UNICEF Serbia to advocate for children’s rights. The two organizations’ activities focused on improving the status of children, including promoting a culture of solidarity, improving corporate social responsibility, and encouraging Rotary members to champion children’s rights in their club activities and business practices.
  • In RI’s Zone 8 (Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific islands), Rotary and UNICEF began working together in 2019 to vaccinate 100,000 children in nine Pacific countries and territories. By working with local governments, the partnership has raised more than $3 million. The money is being used to provide HPV vaccines for adolescent girls and vaccines to protect children against infections that cause diarrhea and pneumonia, two major causes of death for children under 5 in the Pacific.
  • In Nigeria, District 9125 took on a social advocacy role when it partnered with the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene team at UNICEF Nigeria to support Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet, a national campaign to end open defecation in the country by 2025.
Article by: Geoffrey Johnson