Former USAID chief Henrietta Holsman Fore named UNICEF executive director

New UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. Photo by: Kenji Takigami / Asia Society / CC BY-NC-SA

WASHINGTON — Henrietta Holsman Fore is the next executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres announced Friday.

Fore will take over for Anthony Lake, whose term as UNICEF executive director ends on Dec. 31.

Fore, an American businesswoman and former U.S. Agency for International Development administrator was the first woman to hold the top job at USAID. Prior to that she was undersecretary of state for management at the State Department. She also served as an assistant administrator at USAID during George H.W. Bush’s presidency, running the Asia bureau.

UNICEF’s executive director is appointed by the U.N. secretary general in consultation with the executive board of the organization, a process so simple it could fit on a postage stamp, a former UNICEF board member told Devex. Although there is no mention of citizenship requirements in rule or law, the top UNICEF job has gone to the U.S. candidate since the organization’s first executive director, Maurice Pate, an American businessman who took on the job in 1947 and held the position for almost two decades.

There was an effort to make the pick for executive director more transparent, and there was a formal selection process underway, with a publicly posted job announcement, an open call for applications, and a panel of three people — appointed by Guterres — to conduct interviews. But it appears that this choice kept with the historical trend of picking the U.S.-backed candidate.

UNICEF is the second-largest U.N. agency, with a budget of about $5 billion in 2017. The agency is entirely supported by voluntary contributions from governments, individuals, and the private sector. Although it does not receive any funding from the U.N.’s core budget, it is still vulnerable to the risk of funding cuts that have hovered over other U.N. entities, as the U.S. historically has served as its largest country donor.

The outgoing head of UNICEF Anthony Lake said in a statement that Fore brings a “wealth of experience” and that he knows the organization will support her.

United Nations Foundation President and CEO Kathy Calvin also praised Fore’s experience. “Her experience in international diplomacy and development can help make sure the rights, health, and well-being of children remain top priorities on the global agenda,” she said in a statement.

In 2007, Fore took over USAID at a difficult moment, after the previous administrator resigned when he was caught up in a prostitution scandal in Washington, D.C. While she didn’t hold the position very long, she did oversee the expansion of USAID’s Foreign Service Officer Corps through the launch of the Development Leadership Initiative, which was created to hire 300 additional foreign service officers, a 30 percent increase in USAID’s career foreign service workforce.

She also relied on career staff to fill many of the positions during her tenure, rather than bringing in many political appointees, which won her greater support from staff, as Devex previously reported. Fore helped USAID reclaim control of some of the budget and policy decision-making that had been ceded to the State Department in previous years, and she also was involved in the early years of public-private partnerships at USAID.

Her appointment to lead USAID, however, uncovered a controversial moment.

In 1987, Fore gave a speech at Wellesley College, her alma mater, where she said that it was difficult for her factory to keep black employees because they preferred to sell drugs and that Hispanic workers were lazy, in addition to other characterizations of racial or ethnic groups.

Twenty years later, Fore came under scrutiny for those remarks during her Senate confirmation hearing in 2007, where she said the remarks were mischaracterized. “I made the statement in the context that what we had to do was fight these stereotypes,” Fore said, according to a New York Times article at the time.

Fore is now chairman and CEO of Holsman International, her family’s investment and management company, where she advises international corporations, including the Coca-Cola company. She also sits on the board of ExxonMobil and has roles at a number of development-related think tanks including the Center for Global Development and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

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About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is a Senior Reporter at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.