NEW YORK, 8 May 2015 – At UNICEF, Innovation is not just another buzz word used casually, but a serious practice being followed by a team of experts around the world who are working hard to find sustainable solutions to the problems faced by women and children everywhere. This fact was highlighted by the launch of the UNICEF Global Innovation Centre (GIC) and Innovation Fund (IF) on the 7thof May 2015 in New York Headquarters, during which over 200 UNICEF staff and special guests gained special access to view some of the amazing innovations the Innovation team has been hard at work on in the field over the last seven years, including six notable innovations that are going to scale in 2015.
The GIC and the IF were created in order to accelerate the way in which UNICEF innovates, providing leadership and valuable resources to help scale-up proven innovative solutions from the local and country levels to the global level, supportive of south-south collaboration. As Chris Fabian, Co-Lead of the Innovation Unit in New York puts it, “the GIC and the IF are two vehicles internally that help our Country Office colleagues do their work better, faster and connect across thematic areas, across borders, regions, and time zones.”
Based in Nairobi, Kenya, the GIC, along with the IF and 12 other Innovation Labs around the world, is guided by nine key Innovation Principles, which emphasize the “importance of designing with the end-user, understanding the ecosystem, designing for scale, using open source data available to the public, and being collaborative by engaging with diverse expertise across multiple disciplines and sharing best practices widely.” These principles have enabled the team to help find cost-effective solutions that reduce inequities and accelerate results for children, changing the way UNICEF works in the field and in emergency situations.
“What the GIC does is essentially helps identify solutions, tests them for rigour, scalability, replicability and relevance, and finds the scientific evidence to support them,” said Dr. Sharad Sapra, Director of the GIC.
Moreover, “one of the unique properties that the GIC brings to UNICEF is this focus to engage with the external ecosystem across the world,” said Tanya Accone, Senior Adviser of Innovation, based in Thailand. It has the ability to bring together different partners from the private sector, such as tech companies like Amazon and Google, and the public sector, such as Phillips Foundation and the Government of Korea, and connect them with the social entrepreneurs and end-users from the south who understand the context of the issues their communities face, but lack the ability to create solutions that can be taken to scale.
There are currently over 300 innovation projects being prototyped at the local and national levels, which engage young people from the start and use locally available materials that are easily accessible. These Innovations range from products that provide Real-time information for monitoring, tracking and data collection, such as RapidPro, an open source software that makes it easy for anyone to build mobile phone based text messaging applications; to programmes and tools that educate young innovators, foster youth activism, and inspire young people to be agents of change, such as the Adolescent Kit for Expression and Innovation, a package of tools aimed at engaging adolescents affected by conflict and crises.
Within the treasure of innovative tools being produced with the help of the GIC and IF, six notable tools that have been in the prototyping phase for the past three years have generated exemplary results for children, and are now being scaled globally this year: U-Report, By Youth for Youth (BYFY), EduTrac, mTrac, Internet of Good Things (IoGT), and EquiTrack.
U-Report – a mobile phone, text based service designed to empower youth to speak up and share their opinions about issues they face in their communities, was launched in Uganda in 2011, and is now operating in over 14 countries including Indonesia, Mexico and Nigeria, with over 750,000 U-Reporters sharing their thoughts and opinions, and actively participating in community development.
By Youth for Youth– a programme started in Kosovo, helps prepare young people from the most vulnerable communities identify, analyse and take action on the challenges most affecting them in their communities. At the heart of BYFY is a three-day Social Impact Workshop, in which young participants learn about human-centred design, creative ideation, prototyping and user-testing.
EduTrac and mTrac – are data collection systems that use basic mobile phones to send and receive information. This real-time information can strengthen education and health systems (respectively) and help frontline workers do their jobs better. These systems have reported on the whereabouts of millions of dollars of medical supplies in Uganda, and on the delivery of more than 6,000,000 textbooks, in real-time, in Zimbabwe. They have also created the capacity for real-time birth reporting systems in Nigeria and registration systems in Uganda. EduTrac started in Afghanistan and may be in seven countries by the end of 2016. mTrac started in Uganda and may be in six countries by the end of 2016.
Internet of Good Things – is a set of mobile-ready web based resources and applications that enable individuals with no internet connectivity to get important health and education information at no cost. Information delivered by IoGT includes: health and hygiene information, information on Ebola, family planning, HIV and sexual health advice, and information on children’s rights and youth empowerment. Currently in nine counties, IoGT plans to scale up to over 100 countries by the end of 2015.
EquiTrack – is a centralized online database developed by the UNICEF Lab in Lebanon, which helps manage and track partnerships, including partnership agreement documentation, grants, geographical locations and field results. It is currently being rolled out in Iraq, Jordan, South Sudan, and Syria, and is expected to scale-up in 30 more countries in the next few years.
Dr. Sapra put it best when he said “Innovation is not a job description, it’s an attitude. Essentially, the crux of innovation is to change the conversation from rhetoric to possible solutions. The moment you do that, innovation happens.”