UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Sunita Grote
UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Nelson Rodrigues


Hawi Bedasa. Knowledge Management and Innovation Specialist, UNICEF Tanzania

Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I hold BBA, BSC, MS and trying hard to progress with my PHD. I’m the first born in the family and I have a brother and sister (both entrepreneurs). My wife is a UNICEF staff and she is currently with the Syria Country Office but relocating to WCARO Regional Office shortly. My mother is a retired Pediatric Nurse and my father is a businessperson.

What do you do?
My job is to mainstream innovation across UNICEF programmes. I support our programme sections in identifying, testing, prototyping, and scaling technologies, processes, and practices that improve the lives of women and children in Tanzania.  Our work around innovation mainly covers three key areas:

  1. Strengthen national systems to improve service delivery.
  2. Strengthen programme monitoring and social accountability.
  3. Improve access to life saving and actionable information to parents, caregivers, and young people.

What’s your working day like?
My days start early – I am usually in the office by 6:30AM. This will give me 2 to 3 hours to work on the most important tasks for the day. Afterwards, I try to spend an hour or two with the innovation team brainstorming new ideas, designs, progress, and challenges. The rest of the day until 4PM is mostly dedicated to working with partners and programme specialists in UNICEF. This might be a regular project meeting or designing new solutions. After 4PM, I get to do the less pressing tasks like writing ToRs, preparing contracts, approving and processing payments, responding to emails…

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
I get to spend my day helping and learning from very smart people whose job is to make sure that all children stay alive and succeed in life.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be a lot of things. I used to get inspired by what I was reading and watching. For the longest time, I wanted to be an Astronaut because I used to be fascinated by the stars.

How/when did you join UNICEF?
I joined UNICEF as an intern at the end of 2004 after a failed startup. I was in my last semester doing my second degree in Information Systems. I joined as an information management and GIS intern and developed databases and GIS maps to strengthen programme monitoring and evaluation.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
I get to learn and work with almost all UNICEF programmes and partners. My day might include anything from participating in a national steering committee meeting, to discussing operational details on last-mile distribution of essential medicines using Unmanned Aircraft Systems, to developing/testing survey questions with the community.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
I would say our internal processes but at the same time I do understand why we need to have such a strong accountability and so many checks and balances. It is true that it gets better with time as you learn and understand the system. However, the rules and regulations get revised so often that it is hard to keep up.

What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?
The week after we launched our mobile birth registration system in Mwanza region (in Tanzania). In the first six days we registered and provided birth certificates to 15,000 children per day on average and I could see the number of children registered increasing by hundreds every time I refreshed the dashboard.

What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?
When I was doing my second degree, I started an ambitious tech start-up, which failed measurably.

What are your passions?
I am passionate about photography and reading. I like to read and learn about new things and understand how things work.

What advice would you give others who are seeking a similar job as yours?
Learn learn learn.  The problems children face are complex and interconnected – as are UNICEF’s solutions. To provide an innovative solution that really adds value, one needs to understand both UNICEF/government programmes and the context.

Who do you look towards for inspiration?
Children. I travel to the field to visit our projects to keep me focused and motivated.

My colleagues don’t know…
I used to play basketball for my high school and we won three national championships consecutively. I would have become a professional player, if I had not broken my leg.

UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Sunita Grote
UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Nelson Rodrigues