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By: Gbolayemi Lufadeju, Communication Officer, Media Relations

Record breaking profits and mergers and acquisitions in the tech industry confirm that year on year the influence and power of tech companies is growing.

There is no doubt that, collectively, their products and services reach billions of people around the world, so much so, in recent decades new tech products and platforms have transformed societies in all spheres of life – education, health, environment and entertainment. Our news intake has changed – more people discover breaking news on their mobile phones, digital watches or on social media; learning and working can be done remotely and social media platforms allow us to share our lives, and stay connected regardless of time and distance. It’s safe to say that technological dependence is a growing trend that is here to stay.

With this in mind, UNICEF’s Office of Innovation which is tasked with identifying, prototyping, and scaling technologies and practices that strengthen UNICEF’s work for children, set out to explore new approaches, types of partnerships, and technologies to deliver results for children at the Global Innovation Summit in Amman, Jordan.

Below is a summary of discussions and talks from the three-day meetings.

There’s great change in the world and great change for children. Much of this change is being driven and enabled by technology.

DAY 1 started with a reflection on 30 years of innovative work spearheaded by Dr. Sharad Sapra, the Principal Advisor of UNICEF Innovation. His message to colleagues was to focus on solutions, to leave lasting change, and think beyond present obstacles and challenges. Erica Kochi, Senior Advisor, Futures at UNICEF Innovation followed this discussion with an overview on emerging technology.  The exponential growth of data, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence were listed as trends which have wide ranging impact on the lives of children. Erica alluded to the fact that technology’s advance is like a double edge sword – enhancing  lives while also destroying future sources of employment for young people. She noted mass migration to urban areas for economic reasons is a ticking time-bomb if left unchecked. In her introduction she also pointed out data and information are more available than ever which made room for answers to the question, ‘How can UNICEF use data for good?

There’s a lot of dynamism and hope on what technology can bring.

A panel discussion explored how these trends have wide ranging effects in areas of development, education, health and employability. Solutions were discussed on how to address the potential problem of mass unemployment caused by educating twenty-first century children with twentieth century skills. UNICEF’s Office of Innovation’s progress with UPSHIFT and Innovation Fund in partnership with ARM were a source of hope in an otherwise dreary outlook, highlighting how such problems can be addressed globally when taken to scale.

The potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to help the non-literate engage in the digital era was touted as a solutions to ameliorating potential challenges of tech advancement. The use of drones, and solar powered batteries in the delivery of vaccines, to improve connectivity and generate electricity in hard to reach areas were also discussed as viable options in addressing potential equity gaps.

Ian Ferguson, VP Worldwide marketing and Strategic Alliances ARM admitted that with the advent of artificial intelligence job losses are inevitable, but he added, ‘There will be a need for people, [but] they need to acquire different skills to think and analyse. Robots can remember data, but people need to be able to think through what that data can do.’

The importance of engaging young people in issues which affect them using technology was stressed by  Jad Esber, Partner Manager – YouTube Online Partnerships and Development YouTube/Google. He highlighted key things young people expect from international organisations like UNICEF; To be heard, to be spoken to with sincerity and directly in a language they would understand  and thirdly, to be involved and given the lead in the movement for change. He emphasised that despite the potential challenges of tech advancement, engaging with young people could empower them to use tech developments to solve some of those difficulties.

There was a general consensus by the end of the first day that UNICEF has to develop twenty-first century programmes and build twenty-first century partnerships to deliver them.

On day two, UNICEF’s Regional Director in the Middle East and North Africa, Geert Cappelaere explained that in a region where children rise up from the rubbles of devastation caused by war with school bags on their backs ready to learn, there is hope to build up on. He enthused that innovative solutions could encourage a culture shift and equip colleagues with the tools and skills to remain connected to the realities of the children they serve.

We can’t transform policy without good data that gives evidence to bring action.

Speaking about the need and use of data in UNICEF, Toby Wicks Senior Policy Specialist highlighted the need for a more coordinated approach to the collection and use of data. He was clear about the value of being contemplative in developing pilot projects and selective in forging partnerships that have the most potential to deliver on a larger and more successful scale. He advised that UNICEF’s approach to data for children is to make data a team sport through collaborations and upskilling, to establish strategic investments in data for children and push the boundaries of what can be achieved.

Representatives from UNICEF Pacific Islands and Indonesia shared their challenges and successes in data collection in the field. Sheldon Yett (Pacific Islands) referenced his experience working on the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and Lauren Rumble (Indonesia) spoke of plans to take RapidPro to scale to provide vaccination to 70 million children who need them especially in urban slums where there is a lack of birth registration and access to services.

We need to move quickly, and we need to reach farther.

Panel discussion on private sector partnerships helped colleagues delve deeper into the practicalities of rolling out UNICEF projects and programmes to scale. Shane O’Connor from UNICEF Sierra Leone pointed out that making specific asks of partners in the private sector is good practice. He explained how partnering with a local phone company gave access to data which helped develop mobility mapping in Sierra Leone during the Ebola outbreak.

Evariste K Komlan from WASH also pointed out the need for innovative solutions and tools for real-time monitoring of data to inform the joint monitoring programme for water supply and sanitation, noting the importance of sustainability.

The summit concluded with deep-dive sessions which offered country specific examples on inter-agency and private sector partnerships in the Netherlands, Uganda, Spain and Tanzania. There was an explainer session on Magic Box, which proved truly insightful on how UNICEF is leading the use of big data for social good.

Guest speakers and colleagues ran simultaneous group session on a range of topics; urbanisation, Facebook’s free basics and the Internet of Good Things and Primero.

The meetings proved both necessary and timely and served as a platform to reignite the collective sense of purpose and commitment to serving children and young people, today and in years to come.

Colleagues would have departed better informed not only of the challenges that lay ahead, but also on the avenues and opportunities to explore for developing solutions that could improve the lives of children and young people inspired by the words of Sharad Sapra,

‘Being innovative is not a career, it’s an attitude.’


UNICEF’S Global Innovation Meeting held in Amman, Jordan from 16 -18th of May 2017 brings together UNICEF colleagues, representatives, and private-sector partners to discuss the global trends shaping children’s lives, understand the skills that children will need for the future, and discuss how UNICEF needs to respond.
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So you want to be a YouTube star and change the world?
Janani Express - A look into the referral transport system in India