UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced the appointment Friday of Catherine Russell, an assistant to U.S. President Joe Biden, as the next head of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

Russell also heads the White House Office of Presidential Personnel and served as the State Department’s ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues from 2013 to 2017.

She will succeed Henrietta Fore, who resigned in July because of a family health issue. She is married and has four children.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced the secretary-general’s appointment of Russell following consultations with UNICEF’s executive board.

He said Guterres wanted to express appreciation to Fore “for her inspiring leadership of UNICEF and in particular, UNICEF’s critical role in the global response to COVID-19 and in reimagining education.” As a result of her leadership, he said, UNICEF now has a broader array of public and private sector partnerships and “a bolder focus” on achieving U.N. development goals for 2030.

In a statement, Biden called Russell “a trusted and indispensable adviser” to him and to his wife, Jill, for nearly 30 years, praising her “leadership, experience, wisdom and empathy.”


“Our loss is UNICEF’s gain, because children around the world will lead richer, safer, and healthier lives as a direct result of Cathy’s leadership in this new role,” Biden said.

Russell, a lawyer, has worked in Democratic politics since the mid-1980s. She worked on Capitol Hill and at the White House and State Department during the eight years that Barack Obama was president and Biden was vice president. She is married to Tom Donilon, the former national security adviser to Obama.

The United States is the largest funder of UNICEF and the job has traditionally gone to an American.

UNICEF works in over 190 countries and territories with the goal of saving children’s lives, defending their rights and helping them fulfil their potential, from early childhood through adolescence.