Job Opportunity: UNICEF Futures Specialist
Job Opportunity: Research Scientist

This is a re-advertisement due to technical issues. Candidates who applied to the initial advertisement are requested to re-send their application to the email address quoted below. Applications sent before 28 November 2016 will be disregarded.

Download the complete Terms of Reference and deliverable here.

  • Title: Satellite Imagery Specialist
  • Location of assignment: New York, USA
  • Language(s) required: English, knowledge of another official UN language is an asset
  • Travel: Minimal travel anticipated
  • Duration of contract: 241 days
  • Section & Unite: Office of Innovation
  • Consultant reporting to: Senior Advisor, Innovation


UNICEF Office of Innovation is hiring a specialist on satellite imagery processing and machine learning to join our Technology and Data Science Team. We are looking for motivated Master Degree or PhD that can support various projects that make use of satellite images to better understand the world we live, to improve our responses to children and youth.  Satellite imagery provide important information from places that are not connected that may allow UNICEF to reach the most disfavored population.

We also have a small venture fund – the UNICEF Innovation Fund – which provides resources to quickly assess, fund and scale companies, teams, and ideas that have been developed in new and emerging markets. The Innovation Fund supports the generation of open source, public goods that address the most pressing challenges facing children. As a subject matter expert, you will guide and evaluate the projects that involve satellite imagery and machine learning that are part of this portfolio.

This role is two-fold: First, contribute to research work, develop algorithms and methods, create new ways of applying computational techniques to satellite imagery. And second, work with partners and UNICEF country offices, apply existing techniques to implement quick prototypes for specific operational challenges that we have, such as mapping of the schools or health facilities, and assess and evaluate technical solutions and pilots submitted to the Innovation Fund.


We are a small team of technologists, creatives, and “ne’er do wells” who look at developing, prototyping and scaling new technologies inside a 12,000 person, 70-year-old organization. Our team has built products with millions of active users, and have had more failures than we can count.

UNICEF Office of Innovation functions like a collection of startups in early-stage in which promising new technologies (e.g. data science, SMS technologies, UAVs, blockchain) are identified that have potential to impact UNICEF core operations (e.g. education, health, disaster response). Through our network of technology partners, UNICEF country offices and academic institutions, we construct pilots to determine potential impact quickly.

Here are some of the assets we have, that you might not have known about:

  • Did you know UNICEF has set up a system in Nigeria that reports on every birth, in real time, via text message (42 million over the last five years)?
  • Or that we have over 6 million young people worldwide who we can reach with a single text message, and use their responses to our questions to create action and change?
  • Or that we created the UN’s first-ever VC-style investment vehicle to help bring promising technology solutions that can improve children’s lives to market faster?
  • Or that we are working with private sector companies to create a platform that can collect, combine, analyze, and display real-time information to obtain insights that help inform our work, especially in emergencies.

Check out:, and @UNICEFInnovate for some idea of who we are.


You will join the Data Science and Technology team, a team of 9 people that does research and product development with non-traditional data (aka Big Data), and combine several disciplines such as network science, natural language processing, data mining, machine learning, remote sensing or artificial intelligence. The main problems that we look at are epidemiology, urbanization, migration and human dynamics

The Science Team interacts with world-class scientists, on the ground responders and private sector data holders and tech leaders to push the Data Science agenda towards the problems that affect the most vulnerable children. Breakthroughs and working methodologies are streamlined to the Development Team to scale into operational tools that can make a real impact.

You will contribute to the development of open source projects that support country offices while staying current with the latest technologies, and ply them according to best practices.

Ongoing initiatives that the candidate will be expected to support:

  • Understanding urbanization dynamics: How to use satellite imagery to understand the process and degree of urbanization better; we want to analyze and better understand the transition from temporary settlements (refugee camps, slums and more) to more formal and functioning urban areas, and understand displaced populations dynamics and the growth of informal camps.
  • Infrastructure Mapping: Using satellite imagery and machine learning techniques to identify infrastructure (schools, health centers) in regions at need (proposed pilots in Nigeria and Mozambique) to know the degree of service availability, and catchment areas, to name a few.

Primary Responsibilities will be:

  • Key point of contact for satellite imagery work between the Office of Innovation and the main actors in the field (academia, private sector, other UN agencies)
  • Produce high-impact research: Working with partners in academia and private sector to produce high impact scientific work. Conduct scientific analysis and strengthen the research collaboration network.
  • Research and evaluate machine learning alternatives and assess different platforms and libraries.
  • Build quick prototypes: Research and evaluate potential geospatial products and applications, working with partners in academia or private sector to integrate their technologies and build prototypes together. Evaluate prototype outcomes and define next iterations
  • Provide technical support to the Innovation Fund, including technical guidance documents and support to the selection and support of the portfolio
  • Documentation and knowledge management: Maintain overall satellite imagery portfolio documentation, including lessons learned.


The applicant must hold a Master’s degree and 3-5 years of professional experience in a relevant field or a PhD in a related field.

  • Master’s degree in GIS, Environmental/Natural Science, Computer Science or other applicable fields.
  • 3-5 years’ experience in the following:
    • Computational image processing tools: batch processing, feature extraction methods e.g. NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) and NDBI (Normalized Difference Built-Up Index). Knowledge of open-sourced library for satellite image processing (e.g. written in R or Python)
    • Spatial statistics
    • GIS Systems (ArcGIS, QGIS, and Carto) – a good understanding of coordinate systems and capacity to make eye-catching maps.
    • Machine learning
  • Software development skills:
    • Experience with distributed teams and version control systems such as Git.
    • Experience with cloud platforms, familiarity with MS Azure – the corporate platform that we use for scaling – is an asset.
    • Programming languages: Python required, R, gdal
  • Knowledge of open source platforms
  • Knowledge of satellite imagery products: Landsat, PlanetLabs, Digital Globe, to name a few.
  • Fair research record (scientific publications related to the professional and academic experience required)


Fluency in English. Knowledge of another official UN language is an asset.


Applicants are requested to send their submissions to with the subject line: “Satellite Imagery Specialist, Consultant” by 14 December 2016, 5:00 pm EST.

  • Applications must include:
    Cover letter,
    CV, and
    P-11 form
    *Indicate where you heard about this advertisement

Please indicate your ability, availability and daily/monthly rate (in US$) to undertake the terms of reference above.  Applications submitted without a daily/monthly rate will not be considered.

UNICEF is committed to achieving workforce diversity in terms of gender, nationality, and culture. Individuals from minority groups, indigenous groups and persons with disabilities are equally encouraged to apply. All applications will be treated in the strictest confidence.

Opening Date 22 Nov 2016 Eastern Standard Time
Closing Date 14 Dec 2016 Eastern Standard Time

NOTE: Files should not exceed 5.0MB limit

Download the complete Terms of Reference and deliverable here.

P 11 form can be downloaded from our website at

Job Opportunity: UNICEF Futures Specialist
Job Opportunity: Research Scientist