Originally published on Silicon Valley Business Journal on 18 May, 2015. To read original story, click here.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) wants to tap Silicon Valley’s penchant for finding clever solutions to difficult problems in order to face challenges as complex as bringing health services to developing countries.
The organization is launching a crowdsourcing site, CauseTech, where members can contribute technologies and ideas that could help the poorest and most vulnerable children across 150 countries. During its announcement at TiEcon in Santa Clara on Saturday, UNICEF representatives said they hope the site will draw together venture capitalists, research labs and distribution groups to work on tough humanitarian issues.
“It’s a platform where we hope that can happen,” said Dr. Sharad Sapra director of the UNICEF Global Innovation Center, which has R&D labs in 10 countries. “In this day and age, you need to have something online for large-scale collaboration. It can mean change in the hundreds and millions.”
UNICEF is looking for technologies like self-powered streetlights, technology that works off the grid and a generator that produces pure drinking water from air using efficient mechanical processes and renewable energy sources.
Silicon Valley-based Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council and the Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network partnered with UNICEF for the project, which is of help to UNICEF because they already have footprints in the Valley, Sapra said.
“With more than 10,000 people on the ground … we are not a VC, but we have been there for more than 60 years and know the needs and are part of the community,” he said. “We’re looking for great ideas on the ground that people have found solutions for challenges on a daily basis, but there has to be funding.”
The alliance between Silicon Valley and UNICEF also brings together two worlds of opportunity, said Tanya Accone, senior advisor on innovation for UNICEF. There are often great ideas in Silicon Valley for helping issues like education, interventions for pregnant women and giving citizens in the third world voices, but companies coming up with these ideas aren’t necessarily well-aware of the context for these issues, she said.
“I’ve seen great ideas in Silicon Valley and they take it over there and put it down and it never works,” she said. “Understanding the context, designing with the users and scoping that out is something we know.”