Coordination of Innovations for Nutrition, WASH and Health Systems Program Monitoring

At the Innovation Unit, we are constantly exploring new frontiers and keeping ourselves abreast of new developments that may help drive results for children. Meanwhile, we continue to retrospectively evaluate our work and our thinking from past years. As part of an ongoing annual exercise, last year, I gave our Innovation Team Co-leads, Erica Kochi and Chris Fabian, a cumulative B+ on their 2013 predictions about changes in our field that will have the greatest impact (see post here). The duo came back with gusto on their 2014 predictions, receiving a cumulative A-. Here’s a breakdown of what they predicted as well as a glimpse into the future of our field.

Review of 2014 Predictions from Chris Fabian


  • Prediction 1: Unmanned aerial vehicles in emergencies and humanitarian interventions will yield hybrid forms of drones. However 2014 will still be a trial year; this innovation is not ready for large scale deployment.
  • Prediction 1 Score: A
  • Evaluation 1: Drones are challenging longstanding norms of conflict and warfare. Will they be the future of humanitarian aid? The jury is still out. In 2014 we saw various companies enter this space:

Most of these initiatives are still in prototype, facing challenges of cost, operability, regulations and controversies over being too fancy and alienating local communities.

UNICEF has started looking into the drone game as well.

    • UNICEF Zambia Innovation Lab is in the conceptualization and initial design stages of creating DOVE prototypes that could significantly reduce transport time of blood samples and improve detection of HIV in babies in remote communities. Five engineering students from the University of Zambia are working as a team with the UNICEF Innovation Lab on this project.
    • Through a Design for UNICEF class at NYU, a graduate student flew her drones in New York City’s Washington Square Park.

In addition to emergency and humanitarian relief, various opportunities for commercial use of drones have emerged. With attention from some of the top tech/industry players, their market potential seems promising.

It’s increasingly evident that although drones may not be deployed for humanitarian emergencies at scale any time soon, growing interest from both the private and public sector means they will likely become cheaper, more capable, and used for a wider variety of purposes. And imagine the possibilities when they’re coupled with other technologies such as 3D printing. Of course, the realization of all the above will depend on the evolution of current regulations. In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is starting to craft regulations around drones in the commercial space, and seems that it could be quite a wait (2016 at the earliest). But hey, anyone can buy a drone now. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner — you could impress your crush by delivering your message via drone mail.

  • Prediction 2: Proprietary and private interests trying to cash in on the trend of “public school systems run by private companies” will aggressively approach the development sector for trials, endorsement, and partnership – particularly in the “Global South” – to build their value and prove concept for higher liquidity markets.
  • Prediction 2 Score: B+
  • Evaluation 2: The private sector has been eyeing public education for quite a while now. Some of the best universities in the world are private, but now we’re seeing K-12 and special education being privatized as well. In the U.S., more than $500 billion a year is spent to educate kids ages five through 18. The entire education sector, including college and mid-career training, represents nearly 9% of U.S. gross domestic product, more than the energy or technology sectors. Public education is being transformed by outsourcing some of its services to private companies. For instance, earlier this year, Ann Arbor public schools earned media attention when they outsourced custodial work to a private company.

Globally, a lucrative education industry has emerged online. Based on trends and forecasting report by Docebo, the worldwide market for eLearning may reach some $51.5 billion by 2016. While the U.S. market is considered mature, regions experiencing the fastest expansion are Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America, with growth rates at 17.3%, 16.9%, 15.2%, and 14.6%, respectively (with the 2013 market size at $7,100m, $729m, $333m, $1,400m).

Unfortunately, education systems globally are not reaching all children or delivering satisfactory results are chronically broken globally, and no organization — public or private — has a universal solution. However, this has led both public and private sectors to seek meaningful collaborations. For example, a UN global compact on education has created a framework for business engagement in education. Collaborations, joint research projects, and testing have taken place, but very little empirical evidence has been identified, suggesting that they have not yet been implemented at scale and that large contracts have not been signed.

Obstacles to more fluid and far-reaching collaborations likely include the difficulty of measuring impact, the lack of one-size-fits-all solutions, and the international development sector’s caution in endorsing a private company or its services. Any solutions have the extra burden of needing to move fast to stay relevant.

In summary, private/public education partnerships are a necessary work in progress. They need each other, and there is a lot to be gained. However, collaborations should be approached with caution, and should be created after a set of principles is established to help guide the groups in the development sector as they look to enter into any large education contracts with the private sector.

  • Prediction 3: More innovation departments around the world will shape themselves around designers and the ideas good design brings to the creative process. This will help create common language among “sectors” (or “silos”) and also encourage different types of collaboration.
  • Prediction 3 Score: B+
  • Evaluation 3: In the broadest sense, “Everyone is a designer.” According to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO: “Whenever we do something to improve the state of the world, we’re designing.” As a mindset and a tool, design brings a great amount of value to how we innovate, especially when it comes to visual communications, understanding systems and building better user experiences, by way of incorporating a human-centered design process in an iterative manner. To help find solutions to world’s pressing challenges, we need all development professionals to be good designers.

When we use the narrow definition of designers as those who have undergone specific training (without getting into conceptual arguments of a designer’s identity, although I do find this New York Times article intriguing), we overlook the ways in which designers are playing more important roles in development work. At UNICEF’s Innovation Unit, we benefit tremendously from a robust design team to shape visual strategies and communicate complex systems. In many places designers may need to overcome the barriers of conventional thinking of a design as one who “makes things pretty”. To take advantage of design, in particular User Interface (UI), User Experience (UX) and Interaction Design (ID), aid organizations may need to experience a learning curve that’s not unfamiliar to other industries historically, which learned to appreciate design beyond “making things pretty”. This article describing a former industrial designer’s struggle to work in the technology product innovation space shed some light on the barriers and growth opportunities for designers to work in development.

It is important to remember that what drives innovation are hybrid partnerships and collaborative work by embracing lots of people. Innovation happens when people from different backgrounds unite to deliver enhanced results and increased value to the larger organization. This means increasing productivity by developing skills, training managers and generating new ideas. This process can benefit greatly from having a strong design team. In turn, designers can also benefit from venturing into a wider space within the organization where they can apply their expertise.


  • Prediction 4: Crowdfunding will be a way to engage new audiences in both the creative development of ideas, as well as the funding of small interventions with large potential.
  • Prediction 4 Score: A
  • Evaluation 4: Crowdfunding has become a meaningful way to bridge the funding gap to start a business. A World Bank study finds the market size to be about $5.1 billion in 2013; by 2025, the global crowdfunding market could reach between $90 billion and $96 billion — roughly 1.8 times the size of the global venture capital industry today.

We can look at a number of instances wherein small interventions have shown the potential to generate substantial impact:

In 2014, crowdfunding tapped into new audiences that have traditionally been left out of the game. New and upcoming platforms are joining the rank of major players such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Crowdfunder. One example is Portfolia, which targets female entrepreneurs and investors.

Crowdfunding is also being transformed and used in creative ways. Youtube celebrities are starting businesses in a novel way by pre-selling non-existing merchandise and avoiding traditional distribution channels. The development sector has also started looking at crowdfunding opportunities in the developing world, and its potential impact to “fuel ‘the Rise of the Rest’ globally.”

(I must responsibly note a word of caution: crowdfunding is not for everyone; think twice before you leap.)


  • Prediction 5: First examples of wearable, heads-up display (HUD) technology applications for humanitarian and development work will be prototyped – not for just recording videos of project work – but for creating efficiencies in tasks where wearable, smart, connected devices can add enormous value.
  • Prediction 5 Score: B
  • Evaluation 5: First examples of wearable HUD technology have come out in 2014, but largely for personal and commercial use. It has not yet made a meaningful splash in the development field. Companies are exploring ways for how HUD technology could make our lives easier, more interesting and more productive. Notably many of the commercial experiments occur in the automobile and related industries (see examples at BMW, Jaguar).

HUD technology also experienced some failure in 2014 as the MIT Technology Review repeatedly claimed that Google Glass is dead. Wearable smart HUD devices and applications still have a long way to go (and tremendous potential), before they enter the development space. This prediction might be one step ahead of time.

  • Prediction 6: Development funders (and fund recipients) will explore the metaphors, mechanisms, and models developed by venture capital as a way to create transparency, monitoring of projects (against “financial returns”) and an ability to fail. We will see several agencies and NGOs launch funds specifically focused on promoting innovation through these mechanisms.
  • Prediction 6 Score: A
  • Evaluation 6: Many UNICEF offices and partners are able to fund the first part of research, development and innovation work, but lack funding to take their efforts to the second and third levels. This is part of why we see many pilot projects but very few at scale. There is critical need in the development sector to establish funding mechanisms that can take activities with proven track records to scale.

In 2014, UNICEF has begun to set up its Innovation Fund, a vehicle modeled on the support and analysis approaches of successful venture investment structures. The Innovation Fund is designed to quickly assess, fund, and scale innovations that work at a pilot level, both internally at UNICEF and externally.

Other organizations are exploring new funding models as well, emphasizing credible performance evaluation.

  • The United States, United Kingdom, Swedish, and Australian Governments in partnership with a philanthropic investment firm launched a new $200 million fund in a venture capital approach to invest in social innovations.
  • Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and its dedicated education fund is exploring new funding mechanisms for 2015-18 where performance is key.
  • The Global Fund aiming at fighting AIDS, TB and Malaria assigns its portfolio ratings of A1, A2, B1, B2.

All of these funding models are currently being tested for feasibility. We look forward to see some progress documentation in the coming year.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0240/JORDI MATAS A baby at a health post in Bangui’s Bogbaya neighbourhood during a UNICEF-supported emergency measles vaccination campaign in May.
© UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0240/JORDI MATAS A baby at a health post in Bangui’s Bogbaya neighbourhood during a UNICEF-supported emergency measles vaccination campaign in May.
  • Prediction 7: Fellowships, co-ops and field work will become increasingly valuable options vs. the traditional University MA program for gaining experience, legitimacy, and a network in the space of innovation for global good.
  • Prediction 7 Score: B+
  • Evaluation: The emphasis placed on first-hand experience is universal, and not specific to the field of innovation.

Interestingly, in the academic world, first-hand experience is not viewed as an alternative to traditional university MA programs, but as an enhancement to the overall curriculum. Masters programs, pressured both by employer requirement and student demand, are quick to recognize the value of hands-on field experience and to adapt their curriculum reflecting these changes. Today, fieldwork in the forms of capstone projects, summer fellowships and others are embedded in most MA programs. In fact, many are considered degree requirements.

Review of 2014 Predictions from Erica Kochi

  • Prediction 8: Many U.S. and European-based tech companies (beyond mobile network operators) are looking towards consumers in emerging markets through initiatives such as, Loon, etc., but most have little context and are not approaching the opportunity fully. 2014 will see the creation of meaningful physical presences in emerging markets, devoting sufficient engineering resources towards these markets, creating a culture and environment of app developers, and either competing or partnering with groups in these new markets who better understand their context and consumers.
  • Prediction 8 Score: A

Increased presence in emerging markets no longer means more and shinier offices or storefronts. Now we see online stores hosted by local e-commerce companies, a partnership with a local player, an appearance on a popular reality show, or hashtags in social media. This phenomenon is shaped both by financial constraints on companies and the shifting ways consumers browse and buy.

Companies are getting smarter in emerging market expansion. Entering a market means having influence over and access to its consumer base. Companies tap in local human resources and provide local jobs; they invest in good will and build soft power (Harvard Business Review elaborated very well on the hidden risks in emerging market and coping measures). This means, for example, going green, engaging in fair trade, investing in social goods, or joining Facebook, Apple and Citigroup to get the CEO’s name on the board of a top university. Other, possibly more controversial ways to do so include providing zero-rated URLs. But we’ll leave out the ongoing debate on net neutrality…

Tech companies face fierce competition in emerging markets. In B2B e-commerce, Alibaba defeated Ebay in China; in mobile payments, M-Pesa has distinct advantages over Paypal in emerging markets; in mobile devices, hundreds of low cost manufacturers are active in China and India. These companies, based in emerging markets and operating across multiple countries and regions, are contenders at the global level.

To succeed in emerging markets, U.S. and European tech companies need to go “local”, and one way to do it is by forging partnerships with local players. A new landscape has thus emerged for partnerships where companies from developed and developing countries are on more equal footing in terms of sharing core technologies, business channels and market reach.

In addition to competition and new partnerships, M&A is another way tech companies can enter emerging markets. An ATKearney study states that global M&A between developed and developing markets grew at 19% annually from 2002-2007. Developing countries (lead by India, Malaysia, China and South Africa) are fiercely acquiring companies from developed countries, accounting for 20% of global majority acquisitions. China is the first among developing countries targeted by companies from developed countries, accounting for almost 25% of total acquisitions. Among developed countries, the U.S. leads on both acquired and acquirers at 19% and 23% of M&A activities.

  • Prediction 9: 2014 will see better and more built-to-environment smart-devices. Android, along with handset manufacturers, will begin in earnest to look towards designing with the context and constraints of emerging markets as a priority. This will not only mean lowering the price point of devices, but also creating power solutions for longer battery life, lowering data usage, and developing more rugged devices.
  • Prediction 9 Score: A
  • Evaluation 9: Wherever you are, look around you and you’ll find better and more “built-to-environment” smart devices compared to the previous year. In South Korea where Internet connection is 200 times faster than the average American household, devices are built to the highest technology and performance standards. In the vast emerging market (about 4 billion consumers and two-thirds of the world’s population), devices must be rugged, cheap, efficient with data, and have great battery life (among many other requirements).

In the next decade, the mobile device industry will find its growth potential in emerging markets. However, to make their products marketable and profitable, operating systems and manufacturers must create for the local end-users and the constraints of the environments in which they live.

In the last quarter of 2014, Google launched and expanded their Android One program aiming at reaching billions more users in emerging markets with devices in the sub $100 category. They’re still considered too pricey – to reach 1 billion users in India they may need to be in the sub $50 category. With many top tier device makers onboard, such as Nokia, Motorola and Sony, Android is marching towards the goal of capable products in an even lower price range. Samsung, traditionally a strong contender in the mid-to-high-end device markets, is joining the competition with its own open source Tizen software and TZ1 devices. Wondering when and where are they being launched? India, January 2015.

Without much doubt, we’ll see more better, cheaper, rugged smart devices in emerging markets in the years to come due to popular demand as well as business need.

  • Prediction 10: We will see more projects from the international development sector that embrace user-centered design and agility as a key element of their design; more project plans will have user-centered language built into them from the beginning.
  • Prediction 10 Score: A-
  • Evaluation: After a few years’ learning curve, human-centered design (HCD) is no longer just a mantra for software developers or UX designers, but a valuable process and tool for social innovation. UNICEF is adjusting to it. For example, UNICEF Nicaragua has supported the government develop of an empathy-driven policy for children using a HCD approach. Additionally, HCD is embedded in the Design for UNICEF curriculum, being taught at universities and empowering students to build solutions for their peers. A group of LAU students built Incubaby, a low-cost baby incubator for resource scarce environments such as refugee camps.

A quick and non-extensive search of other organizations in the UN system didn’t surface more discourse in user-centered design. However, is doesn’t mean the method or language is not being used, but the fact that projects plans are not publicly shared.

Want to learn more about human centered design? See the design worksheets for the UNICEF global challenge, design kit from IDEO or take a free 5-week online course offered by IDEO and +Acumen.

To read their initial post on predictions in early 2014, click here

Expect their new predictions for 2015 in the coming days….

Zhiyao Ma
Analyst, Innovation Unit, NYHQ

Coordination of Innovations for Nutrition, WASH and Health Systems Program Monitoring