Love and respect

Almost a century ago, the Polish medical doctor and pedagogue Janusz Korczak, famously wrote: “Children are not the people of tomorrow, but people of today. They are entitled to be taken seriously” (The Child’s Right to Respect, 1929). Korczak was well known in his contemporary Poland as a writer and director of orphanages, where he - in line with his pedagogy – created a “children’s republic”, a democratic system with a parliament, a newspaper and a judicial system run and enforced by children.

Beyond teaching his children democratic and civil values, and the importance of accountability and mutual respect, Korczak, as a medical doctor, also cared for their physical and mental well-being. He understood the harm inflicted by broken families, poverty, and other social problems. Korczak’s lifelong study of children’s reactions, emotions and behaviour, and his writings, including “How to Love a Child” and “The Child’s Right to Respect” laid the basics for the UN Convention on Children’s rights, adopted in 1989.

“People speak of the old with weighty respect. They speak of the child patronizingly and condescendingly. This is wrong, for the child, too, deserves respect. He is still small, weak. He does not know much; he cannot do much as yet. But his future – what he will be when he grows up – commands us to respect him as we respect the old.”

But even if it became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and helped transform many children’s lives around the world, there are still too many who are deprived of their basic rights, who do not have the childhood they are entitled to. Moreover, it is the children of today and the generations after them who will suffer the most from our current challenges, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and growing inequality. The current adult generation - governments, the corporate sector, and civil society – is responsible for the world that children will inherit.

Investing in the future

To solve the challenges we face today, we need to transform our economy and society and make them regenerative and more inclusive. As an impact investor, we take a ‘Future Generations’ thematic approach to advancing child prosperity, building a portfolio of companies whose business relates to one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and particularly to five areas related to children’s rights and well-being, among which access to education, a clean and safe environment, and survival and health. The three examples below show how companies can make a difference.

Access to education

Education empowers people. It builds knowledge, capacities, and confidence, and opens new opportunities for children and communities. Every child must have the opportunity to learn and acquire skills for the future. Sanoma is a Finnish company committed to equip the world with the highest-quality learning resources. The company provides a diverse set of learning material and platforms for education and learning that enable access to quality and inclusive education. The company’s digital learning and teaching platforms enable remote learning and monitoring of students as well as access to a diverse set of learning material. Sanoma uses authors from diverse backgrounds and experts with insights on stimulating diversity to create content to ensure students identify with the learning materials. Sanoma serves over 25 million students in 12 countries.

Clean and safe environment

Every child must have access to water, sanitation and hygiene and live in a safe and sustainable climate and environment. SABESP is a Brazilian company providing water and collecting and treating sewage both households and industrial and public customers in the state of Sao Paulo, as well as constructing water-related infrastructure. It is among the largest sanitation companies in the world in number of customers served. The company supplies 28.4m people with water and provides sewage collection services to 25.2m people. In Brazil, 39% of all schools lack basic hand-washing infrastructure. SABESP accounts for 30% of the investment made in basic sanitation in Brazil. Sanitation is important for all because it contributes to maintaining health and increasing life expectancy. It is especially important for children. According to UNICEF, each day over 800 children under age five die from preventable diarrhea-related diseases caused by lack of clean water, sanitation, and poor hygiene. SABESP applies lower tariff to low-income households and shantytown residents.  

Health and Survival

Every child must survive and thrive, with access to nutritious diets, quality health care and nurturing practices, and essential supplies. Royal DSM is a Dutch company active in the fields of health, nutrition, and bioscience. The company is a key supplier of food ingredients, which improve the nutritious value, taste and environmental footprint of food and drinks. DSM is a leading producer of early life nutrition, and nutraceutical solutions for mothers prior to giving birth as well as for infants. Further medical nutrition products or dietary supplements include products focused on immunity, gut health, brain development and skin health. DSM is committed to making the world’s food systems more sustainable, and to enable healthy diets with a limited carbon footprint. Currently, 50% of nutritional ingredients in DSM’s Food & Beverage segment are linked to bio-based production or natural materials. Moreover, DSM is also the number one producer of vitamin A. This vitamin is key to prevent pneumonia, which still kills 800.000 children each year.

Side by side for the future

Experiencing three wars in his lifetime, Janusz Korczak found clear words for the implications of war for children: “War is an abomination […]. No cause, no war is worth depriving children of their natural right to happiness.” Since then, these words have lost nothing of their value. If Janusz Korczak were alive today to see the threat of the climate crisis, the effects of the COVID‑19 pandemic and its harm on the health, social and material well-being of children worldwide caused by school closures, social distancing and confinement, or the war in Ukraine and its worldwide repercussions, he would strongly call on the world to keep the promises of the UN Convention and urge governments, companies, civil organisations, and all us as individuals to do what we can to make children and our world fit for the future, and the future fit for them.