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MANILA, Philippines – Is your community a good place for children?

Many local government units (LGU) like Mandaluyong City, Tagayatay City, and the town of Baras, Rizal, have received awards for promoting the welfare and development of children, but what about the others?

To make sure children’s futures do not depend on their place of birth, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), through the Local Government Academy (LGA), and the Galing Pook Foundation are partnering for the 2016 Galing Pook Governance Fair on November 10 to 11, 2016 at Novotel Manila in the Araneta Center, Quezon City.

The fair, titled Adapt+Innovate, will bring together LGUs, local government leagues, and nongovernment agencies to discuss how the Philippines can improve children’s welfare and development.

Plenary sessions will cover issues like federalism and the protection, welfare, and development of children while local officials will present their LGUs’ best practices during group discussions.

Explaining the theme, Galing Pook Executive Director Eddie Dorotan said in English and Filipino, “If we have good leaders, good programs, targeting education, health, children with disabilities, preparedness for disaster, poverty alleviation, all of that will impact the development of our society.”

“At the end of the day, innovation is about sharing. You don’t innovate through the abstract,” he added.

The LGA will also present their Mentoring for Optimal Leadership and Development NEOs Program (MOLD the NEOs Program) and Innovative Solutions Bank, which were previously launched during the 25th anniversary of the Local Government Code.

(READ: #25ANDBEYOND: What moving out of the box means for the future of local governance)

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the fair’s main partner and support institution, will launch their Innovations Challenge Fund. The conferment of the 3rd Jessie Robredo Leadership Award will be held in the afternoon of November 11.

Uneven progress, unequal futures

For its 2016 State of the World’s Children report, UNICEF chose to highlight inequality in children’s development.

“As we look around the world today, we’re confronted with an uncomfortable but undeniable truth: Millions of children’s lives are blighted, for no other reason than the country, the community, the gender or the circumstances into which they are born,” wrote UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.

In the Philippines, there is a clear divide between children from wealthy backgrounds and those born to poorer families.

Metro Manila’s childhood mortality was halved over the course of 15 years, according to the 2015 study from Save the Children. This progress is not reflected in the rural areas. The 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey shows that every region other than the Cagayan Valley had under-5 mortality rates higher than the National Capital Region’s (NCR) 22 deaths out of every 1,000.

Children who do survive are not necessarily better off.

National nutrition rates are some of the worst in recent years. Save the Children and the Food and Nutrition Research Institute’s (FNRI) 2015 data, malnutrition among children aged 0 to 2 was the highest in 10 years at 26.2%.

Underweight children are particularly prevalent in Region IV (MIMAROPA), Eastern Visayas, and Bicol. NCR, on the other hand, had the lowest prevalence of underweight children at 15.1%.

Available data also shows that this gets worse as the effects of climate change continue to worsen. Coconut farmers, in particular, are in constant danger of losing their livelihood, making the task of keeping families afloat more punishing.

After Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), 340,000 of Leyte’s farmers’ livelihoods were ruined, leaving them without the means to support their families.

Beyond a social issue, persistent rates of malnutrition have become an economic problem, costing the country P328 billion a year, according to Save the Children, and underscoring the benefits of child-friendly governance to national development and politics.

“Change is faster when you start with children,” Dorotan explained, “Focusing on the children is also politically correct no matter where you are on the political spectrum—whether you’re on the left or on the right—you will care about children.”

No room for ‘business as usual’ governance

So what can local governments do? A lot, it seems, and these solutions are not difficult either.

Dorotan stressed the urgency behind innovating, especially “in a local, national, global situation of uncertainties,” particularly climate change.

In Yolanda-affected areas, many local governments have put in place no-development zones, which have forced residents to relocate. However, others chose to return to their former homes.

“Do you force them out? Do you offer better? So this is probably where innovation comes in. Your housing structures might get better or you move them to better, higher places—but even your structures are different there—or better preparedness,” Dorotan said.

He added: “That's an engine for innovation, the mere fact that you cannot do it as business as usual. You can’t do it like before. It will force you to seek new things of doing.”

This is exactly what San Mateo, a town in Isabela, did. The local government turned to munggo (mung bean) as the central factor of their nutrition program. Partnering with the Department of Agriculture, farmers received seeds they used to plant the first crop.

 “It’s very simple, but it’s still protein,” said Dorotan, “You plant those left and right, and you can actually end malnourishment. You won’t need to buy meat or fish.”

Simple solutions are welcome in a country with 81 provinces, 145 cities, 1,489 municipalities, and 42,036 barangays spanning more than 7,000 islands. Sweeping policies will not cut it, says Dorotan, arguing that “there should be a core program, but you adapt to your situation, that is the role of the local [governments].”

He added, “The challenge now for everybody—when I say everybody: leaders, managers, CSOs, academe, national—is to develop the skill to adapt.”

The Local Government Academy will be streaming the event. Like its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/lgaphilippines) to catch the live feed.

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