Try and fail. Insist on open source. Imagine your project at scale. Make yourself obsolete. Map the middle man. Attentive CUNY students scribbled down these five rules for designing a successful project from Jorge Just, NYU Adjunct Professor and creator of RapidFTR. Just spoke at a Meet & Greet on May 9th for student teams participating in UNICEF’s first academic competition, Fulfilling the Promise: A CUNY Design for UNICEF Challenge.


The Meet & Greet took place at a crucial juncture in the competition, after the teams had developed their initial project proposals and were hard at work honing their designs. Just joined a panel of experts, including CUNY Vice Chancellor of Research Gillian Small and UNICEF Deputy Director of Programme Division Maniza Zaman. These experts helped the teams work through some important aspects of the design process, such as effectively identifying end-users, mapping stakeholders, and considering how their project idea fits within existing efforts.

There are currently 45 teams from 15 CUNY schools working on innovative solutions to some of the most pressing challenges to child survival. A majority of teams are tackling the issues of water and sanitation, nutrition, and pneumonia, and their proposed interventions range from newly engineered products to creative communications strategies. The Challenge leverages the energy and creativity of CUNY students, who come from 130 countries around the world, and uses UNICEF’s institutional expertise to guide them through a three-phase design process that started in March.


The May 9th Meet & Greet was an opportunity for the students to meet one another, share what they had been working on, and learn from the group of experts, all of who played a valuable role in bringing about this initiative. The biggest takeaways from the evening included the importance of doing exhaustive research, and finding the simplest intervention that will have the greatest impact.


Motivated by the inspiring words of the guest speakers and armed with new advice and perspectives, the students are now finalizing their proposals and gearing up for a judging event in July. The top three teams will win an opportunity to travel to a UNICEF Country Office to test their prototype in the field with end-users.

In A CUNY Design for UNICEF Challenge, we see a model for engaging young minds around global development problems, which will increase UNICEF’s capacity to find innovative solutions and help take them to scale. As Zaman told CUNY students at the Meet & Greet, “Let this be a hallmark of partnerships that UNICEF has with universities of talent.”

For a summary of the experts’ advice and key messages to the teams, click here.