UN statis­ti­cians gather unimag­in­able reams of data that shape na­tional and global pol­icy in every imag­in­able area.

Statis­ti­cians can change the world, write Marc and Craig Kielburger.

Montreal Gazette - - YOU - Craig and Marc Kielburger are co-founders of the WE move­ment, which in­cludes WE Char­ity, ME to WE So­cial En­ter­prise and WE Day. For more dis­patches from WE, check out WE Sto­ries at we.org.

Some he­roes wear blue hel­mets and stand in the line of fire to main­tain peace. Oth­ers bring food to those on the brink of star­va­tion. And some wield a cal­cu­la­tor.

Th­ese he­roes rarely make head­lines, yet with­out them most of the United Na­tions’ goals would be un­achiev­able. In hon­our of World UN Day this month, we raise our glasses to its least rec­og­nized cham­pi­ons — the statis­ti­cians.

Th­ese bean coun­ters are chang­ing the world.

“Count­ing counts. If we’re not count­ing, we can’t see where the gaps are and what we’ve ac­com­plished,” says Kathryn White, pres­i­dent and CEO of the UN As­so­ci­a­tion in Canada.

UN statis­ti­cians gather unimag­in­able reams of data that shape na­tional and global pol­icy in every imag­in­able area. Their cal­cu­la­tions can al­ter our un­der­stand­ing of global is­sues.

Per­cep­tions about the role of women and the econ­omy in de­vel­op­ing re­gions changed dras­ti­cally when UN statis­ti­cians delved deep into gen­der-spe­cific stats in the early 1990s, White says.

Pre­vi­ously, poverty-fight­ing ini­tia­tives rarely con­sid­ered gen­der. But crunched num­bers in­di­cated that tar­geted in­vest­ment in women’s em­pow­er­ment had a ma­jor im­pact on poverty and other so­cial is­sues. Every ad­di­tional year that a girl at­tends school re­sults in a 9.5 per cent de­crease in child mor­tal­ity. In­creas­ing in­come for women re­sults in bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and health for chil­dren; they are more likely than men to use re­sources to ben­e­fit the whole fam­ily.

Gov­ern­ments and de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions shifted fo­cus to women’s em­pow­er­ment.

Stud­ies also showed that men tended to hoard food aid ra­tions for sale, while women were more likely to share it with their fam­i­lies, lead­ing to bet­ter child nu­tri­tion. So food aid pro­grams be­gan work­ing di­rectly with women wher­ever pos­si­ble.

The UN’s flag­ship sta­tis­ti­cal doc­u­ment, the an­nual Hu­man De­vel­op­ment Re­port, launched in 1990, has in­spired more than 140 coun­tries to en­gage in sim­i­lar sta­tis­ti­cal self-ex­am­i­na­tion, sup­ported by the UN, with big ben­e­fits. Dur­ing Uganda’s AIDS epi­demic, bet­ter data tracked fac­tors that spread the dis­ease, lead­ing to pro­grams that have sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced the preva­lence of HIV-AIDS. The coun­try of Jor­dan iden­ti­fied its most im­pov­er­ished dis­tricts, and tar­geted them with em­ploy­ment and de­vel­op­ment pro­grams, boost­ing qual­ity of life.

To­day, the UN Statis­tics Di­vi­sion part­ners with more than 30 na­tional statis­tics agen­cies around the world, build­ing and min­ing big data that will help both the UN and in­di­vid­ual coun­tries de­velop poli­cies and pro­grams to ad­dress so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues. For ex­am­ple, to­gether the UN and Statis­tics Canada de­vel­oped in­dexes on re­mote­ness and ac­ces­si­bil­ity to ser­vices like health care and trans­porta­tion. Th­ese will help fu­ture pro­grams for hard-to-reach ru­ral and north­ern com­mu­ni­ties.

“We need to en­sure that ev­ery­one is counted, es­pe­cially the most poor and vul­ner­a­ble. We need lo­cal statis­tics to en­sure that every child has ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and we need global statis­tics to mon­i­tor the over­all ef­fects of cli­mate change,” said Ban Ki-moon, for­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral, in a state­ment for World Statis­tics Day ear­lier this month.

So here’s to the an­a­lysts, the num­ber-crunch­ers and the bean coun­ters of the UN. The knowl­edge they pro­vide pro­motes world change.

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