UNICEF in collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan establishes two Drone testing corridors in Kazakhstan.
How do we keep socio-economic estimates up-to-date?

Written by: Cecilia Chapiro

One person is displaced every 2 seconds in the world – less than the time it takes you to read this sentence. That’s 30 people who are newly displaced every minute. By the end of 2017, there were 68.5 million people that were forced to leave their homes due to violence, persecution, or human rights violations, including 40 million displaced internally within their home country and 25.4 million refugees.

Children walk home after school at the Minawao refugee camp in Northern Cameroon © UNICEF/UN0240784/Johnson

UNICEF’s Venture Fund team helps UNICEF as a whole prepare for the technologies and changes that are on the 3-5 year horizon and experiments with new approaches to solving the most pressing problems facing children. Faced with the global emergency of the refugee crises, the team is exploring how blockchain technologies would help.

Blockchain hackathons have now become an important part of these explorations, with three goals in mind:

  • Education: share the applications and fundamentals of blockchain for social good to open a path for our offices, technologists and government officials to join our explorations.
  • Community: strengthen communities of software developers in emerging countries by connecting professionals around the globe.
  • Construction of platforms: support the continuation of the projects that emerge in the hackathons through venture funding allowing platforms of solutions to social challenges.

“Initiatives like this hackathon will allow us to find solutions for problems that global migrants and refugees have – we are very happy to foster these spaces with UNICEF Mexico”  Christian Skoog, UNICEF Mexico Representative.

Pursuing the first in a series of 12 hackathons, on September 22nd and 23rd, UNICEF Ventures and Endeavor, with the support of Blockchain Academy, and Maker hosted a Blockchain Hackathon in Mexico City (“Hackathon Blockchain MX”).

The event was held within the facilities of CENTRO University where 100 participants divided in 12 groups had to develop, in a span of 36 hours, decentralized and open applications that help with the international refugee crisis. The hackathon challenges were then framed around building blockchain solutions around:

  • Identity: Helping refugees be identifiable and owners of their identity.
  • Payments: Helping track and validate payments to/from displaced people without a bank account.
  • Tokens: Helping generate, register and trade tokens for social good.

“We suggest that efforts to build capacity in key markets begin immediately by teaching fundamental skills and concepts of distributed networks.” – Chris Fabian, UNICEF Ventures.

Throughout the hackathon, the participants received personalized mentoring and took part in four workshops: Blockchain Fundamentals, Decentralized Applications, Design Thinking, and Delivering an Elevator Pitch.

Ending the event, the teams presented their ideas before a jury composed of experts in different sectors: Hector Shibata, Managing Partner of Fintech Fund; Vincent Speranza, CEO of Endeavor México; Cecilia Chapiro, UNICEF; Mariano Conti, Head of Oracles of Maker DAO; Eugenio San Ciprián, Head of Revenue Strategy & Operations for Twitter LATAM; and Roberto Cabezas, Digital Media Design Director at CENTRO.

After the finalist teams pitched to the jury, they chose the three best proposals under a rigorous evaluation criteria considering: 1) Originality of the idea, design and functionality; 2) Technical difficulty and degree of completion; 3) Social impact and value proposition; 4) Project viability and team skills; and 5) Scalability of project.

The three winning projects were:

Winning team smile on stage
Team VR3: Oscar Chávez, Patrick Moss, Humberto Alcocer, Irving Cabello, Cornellius Ngondo and Mathilde Vank. ©CeciliaChapiro

1st place: “Linda”
Team: VR3

Through an identity data storage platform, with access from a mobile application, an SMS or a call, “Linda” seeks to simplify the on-boarding process of refugees to make it possible to register documents, track and identify. The problem they identified was the loss of identity due to the theft or loss of documents due to political crises, border dangers, integration processes at the destination, legalization, trafficking of women, forced labor and impact on mental health.

Punkeys: Alberto Enriquez, Ana María Toledo Palma, Jonathan Horta Pérez and Ricardo Gaspar. ©CeciliaChapiro

2nd place: “New Born”
Team: Punkeys

Problems of identity and lack of a medical history with specific information on the health of refugees poses a challenge for organizations to provide timely, planned and/or immediate medical attention to illnesses upon arrival in the host country’s camp. This can also be a health threat to the group that welcomes them. “New Born” developed a Dapp that will allow the refugees to create their decentralized digital identity, grant access to the users they enable and allow camp doctors to input their medical assessment upon arrival and upload the information through IPFS to the blockchain. New Born will allow the construction of a database of the refugee records and their medical characteristics.

Blockchain Ninjas: Armando Rodríguez, Christopher Martínez Zepeda, Diego Bernardo Mondragón Ramírez, Gerardo Granados López, Yael de Jesús Rodríguez Ruíz, Ángel Santos Escamilla, Isabel Cristina Zaragoza Ayala and Uziel Jair Mejia Amador. ©CeciliaChapiro

3rd place: Digital Passport
Team: Blockchain Ninjas
Members: Armando Rodríguez, Christopher Martínez Zepeda, Diego Bernardo Mondragón Ramírez, Gerardo Granados López, Yael de Jesús Rodríguez Ruíz, Ángel Santos Escamilla, Isabel Cristina Zaragoza Ayala and Uziel Jair Mejia Amador.

The passport is the main identification document when trying to cross to another country. If it is not updated, it is rejected by the governments which hinders the migratory situation in which the individuals are in. “Digital Passport” seeks to reduce the problems caused by the lack of a valid passport when crossing borders or arriving at refugee camps in other countries. Through the creation of a digital passport, using blockchain and biometrics, this team allows information to be consulted through the refugee’s fingerprint at any time during his/her journey. Its differentiator lies in the level of security through a unique Key and its international acceptance.

Alfredo Yanez (UNICEF Blockchain Architect) and Alex Sherbuck (Airbus) working alongside with hackathon participants ©CeciliaChapiro

“I think it is a great opportunity to work with international bodies for the development of these type of applications and to know what kind of solutions, especially beyond fintech issues, can be applied to social good” – Benjamín Casazza

“It is a very useful event to learn about technology and Blockchain topics, taking into account the mentoring and the format” – Maria José Florez

“Because it is an event in which you meet people from different disciplines striving for a common goal and you learn a lot from this type of experience. Also, because you find people more prepared than you can learn from, as well as opportunities to teach what you know to others” – Humberto Alejandro Ortega Alcocer

Blockchain Hackathon MX participants huddle around ©CeciliaChapiro

This Hackathon Blockchain MX allowed our team to build the foundations of future hackathons. UNICEF Ventures is planning to co-organize a series of hackathons in the next year, all solving similar challenges. If you’re interested in partnering with us, please reach out to venturefund@unicef.org.


The UNICEF Venture Fund is the first financial vehicle of its kind in the UN, which makes $50-100K investments in portfolios of emerging technology like blockchain. Read more at http://unicefstories.org/unicefinnovationfund/.

The blockchain team within the Ventures arm of UNICEF’s Office of Innovation explores the potential of blockchain, to positively impact children in four main ways: 1) new ways of donating money 2) creating better transparency in internal processes, 3) educating communities through hackathons in developing and emerging countries, 4) building a network of tokens for social good.

Read more at http://unicefstories.org/blockchain/

UNICEF in collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan establishes two Drone testing corridors in Kazakhstan.
How do we keep socio-economic estimates up-to-date?