Summer at UNICEF’s Office Innovation is always exciting. We get to welcome talented fellows who lend their expertise to support us on current and future projects. Over the past three months, they’ve enriched our team’s work and culture through sharing their fresh perspectives, unique personalities, and creative ideas.

Instead of keeping them all to ourselves, we’d like to introduce them to the world. For they have all the capabilities to make significant contributions to our work for children and in solutions that could combat global issues we all face.

So, world, watch out for…

Emily Middleton, Our 5-star Fintech Researcher.

I’m Emily Middleton, a graduate student at the Harvard Kennedy School. I’m halfway through a Master in Public Policy degree and focus on global affairs and digital technologies. Before that, I was a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group. I’m originally from the UK and have worked in the UK, Southeast Asia, and Ethiopia.

On joining the (Office of Innovation) madness: When I was a teenager I used to volunteer with UNICEF UK! So partly I was curious to learn more about UNICEF from a different perspective. Plus I wanted to explore how FinTech can benefit vulnerable families who have historically been excluded from the formal financial system – and this internship was a unique opportunity to do so for one of my favourite organizations.
My mission: I was a researcher for UNICEF Futures. As part of a small team, I researched and co-wrote an internal working paper on how FinTech can benefit children and families. I also strategized about how we can take this work forward within UNICEF. Our project set out to identify how financial technology or “FinTech” can benefit children and families in the short to medium term, and to propose how UNICEF should take advantage of these opportunities.
My game plan: To utilize my research skills and my curiosity. Identifying topics we needed to know more about – and seeking out experts to lend their insights – was an important part of the project. Speaking to a wide range of experts from FinTech startups, banks, venture capital, and other development agencies was a real privilege.
A challenge I’ve encountered: The scope of the project was enormous. Being focused, and being able to bounce off ideas with a wide range of UNICEF colleagues was hugely important.
Stand-out memory: Presenting our findings to sixty people in dozens of different countries during UNICEF Innovation’s monthly internal call was a real highlight. It was great to see how much engagement there was with our work.
On working with the team: The team at UNICEF Innovation is incredibly friendly — it’s a big, super international, multilingual, yet globally dispersed family. Their use of Slack, Skype and Google Docs is second-to-none. And I certainly shared their insatiable curiosity for trying out the latest lunch spots near the office…
Five words to describe my experience: An inspiring FinTech-filled summer!
What’s next: I’m back in Cambridge Massachusetts to complete my master’s degree.  After that, I plan to avoid the New England winter by moving somewhere warmer. I hope to work in digital financial inclusion in the future.
Read “How Fintech can benefit children and families” where Emily shares the research and exploration that UNICEF Office of Innovation is working on around financial technology.

Tulio Takeda, Our Emerging Markets Investing Enthusiast.

Hi, I’m Tulio, I am very interested in emerging markets investing – especially in Latin America. My connections with Latin America come naturally, as I was born and raised in Brazil. Prior to joining UNICEF, I’ve worked at the World Bank’s IFC, where I sought ways to combine investments with economic development in the private sector, looking at sectors such as retail, real estate and healthcare and education. Before, I worked as a sell-side equity research analyst. I’m currently pursuing an MBA at INSEAD, in France.
 On joining the (Office of Innovation) madness: As much as I’ve been learning at business school, this is a year that I proposed a different kind of challenge to myself – to really go out of my comfort zone. Therefore, the opportunity to spend the summer with UNICEF came in as a “no brainer”, as I could: (1) be exposed for the first time to early stage investments and venture capital topics; (2) learn more about the booming world of social entrepreneurship in startups; and (3) be at the heart of a global city, in UN Headquarters in New York. Most compelling, I reasoned I could do all of these with a true sense of purpose – work for the children in an organization passionate about its mission.

My mission: I had the opportunity to work with UNICEF’s Office of Innovation, specifically the UNICEF Ventures team to design a study about investments in start-ups that are developing open source tech solutions. UNICEF abides by open source for all its investments and engagements in software, hardware and content. UNICEF’s Venture Fund requires all solutions that it invests in to be open source while portfolio companies build profitable business.

My game plan: To continue supporting start-ups in developing countries to adopt profitable and sustainable business models around open source, I helped conduct related research on ‘how to be open source and ensure financial sustainability’.

A challenge I’ve encountered: There is limited documentation of proven business models and valuation around open source – so I had to spend time conducting both topic assessment and interviews with key players to gather and validate related data, case studies, and market screenings.

Stand-out memory: I was consistently surprised by what a thrilling (and sometimes odd) work environment I was in. I guess that in more traditional places, one would spend lots of time crafting daunting memos and writing old-fashioned reports. With this team, we quickly agreed that I could outline my research report over visuals. I thought it to be very practical and showed how open-minded the people in the team are. Still, I need to get used to having fast paced and sometimes, informal meetings. For these and others, this is just the necessary “madness” to the overall common sense to create such a unique, innovative team.

On working with the team: The team at UNICEF Office of Innovation has a tremendous pool of diverse and talented individuals. For me, in my never ending motto of learning more and more, this has been incredible exposure. When I was not trying to apply concepts that the team taught me on human-centered and design thinking principles to tackle problems (after a full-day of workshop at the School of Visual Arts), here and there, I would catch myself in conversations about blockchain, drones and initial coin offerings (ICOs).

Five words to describe my experience:
Fun, memorable, challenging, exhilarating and, of course, Dag’s (that hotdog place near the office)

What’s next: After, I will return to the calm city of Fontainebleau in France, for the cheese and croissants, as I’m on track to finish my MBA. I feel that this is the right balance for me to recharge, after two months of frenzy in New York and, more so, with the non-stop UNICEF Innovation team!

Olatubosun Adebayo, Our Crowdsource Mapping Instigator

I am Olatubosun Adebayo, a Nigerian analyst en-route to fulfill a Masters in Geographic Information System (GIS) & Remote sensing. Prior to UNICEF, I’ve worked in various capacity in different GIS and Fieldwork around Nigeria these include working at National Population Commission as a GIS Analyst capturing and analyzing data on the field.
On joining the (Office of Innovation) madness: I applied to UNICEF because I wanted to learn beyond what I know, particularly I want to have a first-hand practical experience with the office of innovation, and also to have a feel of the working environment within an internationally context. Even as a remote Intern, UNICEF was a great fit, and the reception was like home away from home.

My mission: As a crowdsourcing mapping Intern, I was tasked with the analysis of existing open source crowdsource products and applications. Crowdsourced mapping is a new methodology of mapping features, places and information using the “crowd” as the mappers. This method is quite faster, easier and less expensive than the conventional method of mapping.

My game plan: To pilot a school mapping project through a full day mapathon using one of the researched crowdsourced mapping platforms. I worked with some colleagues at the UNICEF Innovation department (Naroa, and Clara) who were based in New York office. They really helped me fine-tune my research and gave me good directives on what and how to do. As part of my plan, I sourced for volunteers who can help map school buildings in the study area (Tarauni LGA of Kano State, Nigeria). The schools to be identified on a satellite imagery needed to satisfy a pre-determined criteria like the shape, structure of the building, size of building, and more. The final output of the project was an extract of the locations and footprint of the building.
A challenge I’ve encountered: As with most Mapathons, a common challenge is internet connectivity, getting a dedicated network connections to serve all computers is very difficult. But ultimately, having a committed volunteers, who are always ready to share and utilise their skills in mapping for humanity makes a huge difference.

Stand-out memory: My unforgettable experience was being able to meet a diverse group of people who share same vision and motive, and are passionate to contribute to the project. These volunteers (my friends) made the school mapping project so much fun. I love you guys 🙂

On working with the team: Working with the UNICEF Innovation team has expanded my thinking and broaden my horizon on key issues surrounding information poverty. This challenge my mind on creating new ideas, and improve on my research skills. The criticism is also very constructive, and I have been able to see beyond my own lenses. The team were very friendly and easy going, and I have been able to relate well with them despite my remote location.

Five words to describe my experience: Mind blowing. Grand. Challenging, Wonderful experience.

What’s next: I aim to round up my Masters Degree in Gis and Remote sensing, and dive straight into humanitarian mapping, using crowdsource platform and VGI to adequately source and verify information for NGOs. Of course, aiming to have a chance to work again with UNICEF 🙂

Pratik Kulkarni, Making Magic, One Open API at a time.

 Hi, I am Pratik Kulkarni. Originally from India, currently pursuing an MS in Computer science from Rochester Institute of Technology.
On joining the (Office of Innovation) madness: As a software developer,  I was curious to see how humanitarian organisations can make use of the latest technologies and online platforms.  

My mission: As a software developer intern, I was tasked with helping enhance the back-end of MagicBox through supporting the development of a magicbox-open-api. Magic Box is a platform that collects real-time anonymized data such as mobile phone usage from private sector companies to better understand human activity. An analysis of the data is then used to improve the management of humanitarian disasters.

My game plan: The enhancements I worked on were to implement models that estimated the risk of importation of Zika based on various factors. In addition, as parts of this information are sensitive, an authorization layer needed to be developed. This led me to also work on integrating services to provide access tokens to users that will access MagicBox.

A challenge I’ve encountered: Because of the complexity of the projects, it took me a bit of time to be able to understand, and plan how to best support the team.

Stand-out memory: The moment when you can see your contribution to the project being used by others to build their application through the magicbox-open-api. Also how this open-api built can encourage contributions from other humanitarian organisations.

On working with the team: Everyday at UNICEF’S Office of Innovation was exciting and dynamic – full of interesting conversations and new learnings shared by each member of the team. I am surely going to miss working with them.

Five words to describe my experience: Madness, fun, innovation, friendship, Beer!

What’s next: Back to school (just 4 months away from graduation :).  I am not really leaving as I’ve been given an opportunity to continue working on this project part-time through my college. 

 

Peg Schreiner, Writer by night, Scaling Up RapidPro by day.

Hi, I am Peg Schreiner.  I am from New York City and will be completing the final year of my undergraduate degree at Colby College in the fall.
On joining the (Office of Innovation) madness: I was inspired to intern with the Office of Innovation because of how the group is constantly redefining the ways in which we help children. The team is diverse, enthusiastic and unrelenting in its mission.

My mission: The majority of my time was spent assisting the team with our scale-up of the RapidPro platform in programme countries, which made exciting progress in the short time I was at UNICEF. This scaling up project was in order to increase the prevalence of real time monitoring in programme countries – so far we are scaling up RapidPro in 11 countries.  

My game plan: To use my past journalism and editing experience, I was able to help ensure that vital documents to the RapidPro initiative were clear and concise for a wide audience’s consumption.

A challenge I’ve encountered: Aside from struggling (and failing) to keep the office plant alive, I’ve had to adjust to the technical language used at UNICEF and learn how to translate it into something easy to understand for an outside audience. I was also lucky to be included in many smaller projects and meetings, which exposed me to an interesting variety of work. The more meetings I participated in, the easier this obstacle became.

Stand-out memory: One of my biggest learning moments was when Chris Fabian pulled the office in for an impromptu presentation about the history of the Office of Innovation and the impact it has had. It was a great reminder of why this work is so important.

On working with the team: Going to work in a bureaucratic organization I was expecting to be surrounded by some pretty stern people, but I was quickly proved wrong. The UNICEF innovation team is fast moving, energetic, and hilarious. I’ll miss having lunch at the communal table.

Five words to describe my experience: open office space is chaos

What’s next: I am going back to Colby in a month for my final year of study. My internship at UNICEF equipped me with a better perspective on international organizations, so I plan to keep that in mind while searching for an internationally focused fellowship or work opportunity after college.

 

Farid Adibi, Iranian Startup Scene Investigator

Hi my name is Farid Adibi from Los Angeles, currently a junior in high school.
On joining the (Office of Innovation) madness: I applied to this internship to be part of something bigger than myself. I wanted to see on a first- hand basis what’s it like to have an everlasting impact upon people.
My mission: I was an intern in the UNICEF Ventures team trying to find startups and familiarize the team in/with the Iranian startup ecosystem.
My game plan: To research, present, and provide more information around the Iranian startup ecosystem.
A challenge I’ve encountered: It was really difficult gathering data/numbers to back up claims, as there was not a big database for such a topic.
Stand-out memory: Coming into my internship at UNICEF’s Office of Innovation, I did not know what to expect, other than a team tackling problems across the world. Being a 16-year-old intern, I thought that although there will be projects for me to work on, the workload that the team faces every day will only lead them to minor interactions with me. This was a complete fallacy. The team were very receptive of me and put me in action from the first hour. The experience so far has been unbelievable and far different from regular internships that I have previously had.
On working with the team: My time working with the UNICEF team was absolutely unforgettable. The team was truly receptive of me and really took my work seriously. It was an honor to be part of this special group.
Five words to describe my experience: Memorable, exciting, dynamic, fun, and demanding (in a good way)
What’s next: I plan on working on social entrepreneurship and hope to cross paths with UNICEF in the near future.
 

 

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