As part of our “Americans in the UN” project to share the stories of Americans who work for the United Nations, we talked to Mary Catherine “Kati” Maternowska who has worked for UNICEF and leads data, evidence, and solutions for the Global Partnership to End Violence. She grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she spent her Halloweens trick-or-treating for UNICEF.
What motivates you to work for the UN?
Mary Catherine Maternowska: I believe in government and as an American, born into one of the most democratic governments in the world, I particularly value what civil servants can contribute – even when the Head of State may not fully represent or protect the rights of its constituency. Because of its neutral positioning, I think the UN has huge leveraging power to create a better world for all, and in my case within UNICEF, for children and young people around the world.
What is your message to Americans about the importance of the UN?
MCM: In these days of unpredictable political winds, the UN is a beacon of neutrality, and I am proud to serve in this organization. While we are known as a hugely bureaucratic organization, we are also, at least in UNICEF, an organization that delivers change and contributes to well-being around the world.
What is the favorite part of your job?
MCM: I love the field of violence prevention, and my job is unique in that UNICEF supports me administratively now and I work within the Global Partnership to End Violence. As the Lead on Data and Evidence, I am able to apply years of training (in economics, in public health, in anthropology, and in epidemiology) toward improving children’s lives and health outcomes. I love that I can use all the skills I was trained to use and so fluidly. Every day I am asked to analyze and take action and that makes for a very fulfilling job.
From your experience, what is an example of how the UN has made a difference in someone’s life?
MCM: I have countless experiences, and this is after having worked for a decade in the international NGO world and then for a decade as an academic holding a faculty position – all to say I have worked in numerous environments, but it is in the UN where I have been able to use ‘power’ in an effective manner to forward the agenda on violence affecting children.
In Peru, where I worked through UNICEF Innocenti and with UNICEF Peru CO and the Government of Peru, we collaborated on a study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children. The study was designed to ‘recycle’ existing data (i.e. avoid fielding a costly survey) and to build capacity for statisticians and child protection experts to analyze their own data through their own national lens (rather than exporting data to headquarters in New York).
In the process of doing this, the Peruvian Government started taking ownership, accountability, and action – reallocating their budget to violence prevention work, uncovering and analyzing data that was previously too shocking and devastating to understand, and using a multi-stakeholder and mixed methods approach to generate evidence proving how harmful corporal punishment is to children’s math, verbal, and self-esteem scores over time. We used the data in Parliament (designed on an easy-to-read two pager), and we helped pass a longstanding reform of the law on Corporal Punishment. Laws aren’t everything, but when implemented they can protect children – this was a huge victory, contributing to legal reform and new types of implementation of programming.