Tony Lake announces search is on for new UNICEF chief

Anthony Lake, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Agency. Photo by: Steve Shapiro / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

UNITED NATIONS — Anthony Lake, the executive director of the United Nations Children’s Agency, is clearing the path for an imminent successor, he wrote in an email to colleagues on Friday.

Lake, the head of UNICEF since May 2010, announced his departure “within the weeks ahead,” expected to be by the end of the year, with the promise that while “transitions are times of uncertainty,” he will work to ease the process.

“I write with personal regret, but great optimism about the future of UNICEF, to let you know that as the extension of my term ends, the Secretary-General is about to initiate the process of identifying my successor. I wanted you to be the first to know and to hear from me directly,” he said in the internal email, seen by Devex.

“I will do all I can to make sure that it is a smooth and successful one.”

Lake’s long-expected departure, marking the end of his second five-year-term, is the latest of several handovers among U.N. organization heads and senior roles since Secretary-General António Guterres assumed his post at the beginning of year.

The United States has historically been closely tied to the leadership of UNICEF, which, as one of the U.N.’s largest entities, is projecting a growth in its integrated budget from about $5.3 billion in 2014-2017 to $6.4 billion in 2018-2021.

As US interest wanes, UNICEF pivots strategy

The U.N. Children's Agency is prioritizing building local institutions, drawing on domestic resources in a global environment that has seen donor attention and buying power wane.

Under Lake, the organization has taken a new direction, further linking development and humanitarian response and finding unique solutions to address the needs of displaced children, for example, as the protracted crises of Syria and other emergencies have required more funding, as Devex reported.

A U.N. program director said it is not clear which potential candidates are being considered to replace him.

Lake, an international development and U.S. foreign policy expert who has worked with Save the Children as well as with formers presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton as an advisor, signaled that there is now a need to focus on the present.

“There remains too much work to be done in the weeks ahead to begin thinking about farewells. There will be time for that,” he wrote. “So as always, let us focus on the jobs at hand. They have never been more important.”

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.