This article was originally published on the August/ September Edition of SV Magazine, The Spin of Silicon Valley. It was written by Corrine E.Mehigan. To view original article, click here.
For more than 13 years, Blair Palmer has leveraged her knowledge of technological innovations, project implementation, corporate responsibility, stakeholder engagement, and social enterprise programs to empower global health programs in both the private and nonprofit sectors.
Palmer currently serves as the Lab Lead for San Francisco UNICEF’s innovation team that includes Erica Kochi and Terra Weikel. SV’s Corrine Mehigan sits down with Blair Palmer to discover how this San Francisco-based team is maximizing UNICEF’s impact.
What is UNICEF Innovation?
Blair Palmer: UNICEF Innovation is an interdisciplinary team of individuals around the world tasked with identifying, prototyping, and scaling technologies and practices that strengthen our work. We also scan the near-future horizon for areas of change that will be relevant to the organizations’ work for children—spaces that may not become relevant for several years, but where there is a confluence of private sector business opportunity and need for services from marginalized populations.
Examples include wearable and sensor technology, education and learning, transportation, identity, and financial services.
What is a typical day like for you at work?
BP: We focus on real-time information, using young people as a resource, creating access to information, and accelerating product innovations. We are a small and lean team, so program design and content development for projects all require our oversight and attention. We also manage the majority of UNICEF’s partnerships with technology companies, so we often find ourselves in meetings with the likes of Facebook, ARM, Twitter, Mobile Network Operators, or the latest startups working in the future technology space. One day we might be flying drones, exploring satellite mapping and virtual reality systems, and the next day we are at the offices of a venture capital firm or an accelerator. We certainly make a lot of trips down 101.
What is the best part of your job?
BP: The best part of my job is working with this incredible team. Together, we are directly impacting the lives of so many by creating meaningful and sustainable solutions that work. UNICEF puts in place technologies and systematic innovations that allow us to hear from even the most rural and remote communities in the world, and to help them have a say in building their future. We are trying to further the conversation to encourage innovation in development so that it is designed for social good—to make things and build systems that are not only nice to have, but that people need to have. It is inspiring to know that we are a part of that movement. We also are fortunate to work with an incredible team of people who are smart, motivated, and authentic about what we are trying to accomplish. We learn from each other every day.
BP: Just one of the technology avenues that UNICEF is currently exploring is the wearable and sensor technology space, and we recently launched the “Wearables for Good” design challenge in collaboration with ARM and frog (www.wearablesforgood.com). What if these Wearables could do more? What if they could save lives? We are seeking to create innovative and affordable solutions to make this technology a game-changer for women and children worldwide. These solutions need to be robust, sustainable, low cost, and low-tech. It’s taking the wearables industry down a different—and little-trodden —avenue. Wearable and sensor technology have the potential to deliver life-enhancing and life-saving services.
When designed specifically for the enduser,in a local context, wearable and sensor technology could revolutionize the way we deliver services to populations at the last mile. Are you listening Silicon Valley?We are looking at you to be a part of this challenge!