UNICEF’s Office of Innovation looks at the two to five year horizon to evaluate emerging and trending technologies to see how UNICEF can work with the private sector to find shared value in this future space – for companies to do better business while improving access to essential services for children.

While many of UNICEF’s achievements in implementing technologies at scale for positive social impact have focused on the public sector, there is tremendous opportunity to contribute to the corporate bottom line while delivering essential services for disadvantaged communities. UNICEF and our partners on the ground need innovative solutions to some of the key barriers we face – such as geographical remoteness of constituents, limited infrastructure, slow data collection and ensuring that the most vulnerable populations have access to critical information and services.



Urban innovation

Cities are home to more than half of the global population and generate more than 80% of global gross domestic product. By 2050, more than two-thirds of the global population will reside in cities, and 92% of this urban growth will occur in low to middle income countries. These trends represent a growing need to address emerging challenges and tap into new opportunities, especially as they relate to vulnerable children and youth.

UNICEF in partnership with ARM developed an urbanization handbook which outlines opportunities for design, technology, and social impact communities to work together in creating technological innovations that improve the lives of vulnerable children in cities. It highlights the urgent need for innovation on behalf of children in the context of a rapidly urbanising planet, and also offers guidance on specific approaches and principles–through the lens of UNICEF’s innovation priorities. The handbook identifies five focus areas where the most pressing challenges for children in urbanizing areas intersect with the greatest opportunities for technology-based solutions: Infrastructure, Transport, Basic Services, Connectivity, Violence, and Hazards.

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Market research

Emerging technology solutions have tremendous potential to deliver social impact for women and children across a range of UNICEF priority sectors, from access to basic services to emergency response. The Office of Innovation has therefore sought to capture the most promising use cases in emerging markets and the business rationale for technology actors to enable these through targeted market research.

Building on the directive of the urbanization use-case handbook, the UNICEF Office of Innovation in partnership with ARM, alongside Dalberg Advisors and Dalberg’s Design Impact Group, conducted immersive user-level research and market analysis in Jakarta, Nairobi and Mexico City to identify the most exciting opportunity areas for technology actors to reach the urban poor in emerging markets across the globe, profitably and at scale. An advisory council comprised of leading technology actors such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft was also engaged to validate findings and recommendations.

The research findings, which will be disseminated in mid-2018, illustrate specific market opportunities for developing key technologies; offer insights into the types of technologies that will improve outcomes for children and women living in rapidly urbanizing environments; identify market opportunities for businesses to create and tailor these technologies in ways that support UNICEF’s mission; and connect technology actors and UNICEF country offices with resources and partnerships to bring these solutions to life. 





Wearables for Good

In 2017, the Office of Innovation continued to support the Wearables for Good design challenge winners—Khushi Baby, a necklace that stores immunization records for children in the first two years of life; and SoaPen, a soap crayon that encourages handwashing. This support included facilitating access to funding, development tools and expert mentoring that will help take these inventions from paper to production. Both solutions are now progressing to scale in India and beyond with the help of partners such as UNICEF India, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and Johnson & Johnson, as well as local private sector and government partners.


Khushi Baby (winner)
 continued to conduct field trials in India during the year with funding support from ARM, and by the end of 2017, had tracked 12,000 mothers across 375 villages, as well as more than 60,000 vaccination events. In addition, 87 front-line nurses and 10 health managers were trained to better serve their communities with the technology; and more than 3,200 mothers were surveyed about their experiences using Khushi Baby. With UNICEF Innovation support, the project secured a US$500,000 grant from Gavi to continue to bring Khushi Baby to scale across India. In 2017, Khushi Baby was awarded SPO Conference Emerging NGO of the Year 2017 and NFC Forum’s Best Mobile App of 2017, and was the Johnson & Johnson Gen H Challenge Grand Prize Winner.

SoaPen (winner) 
continued to demonstrate a sustainable, for-profit social enterprise business model in 2017. The company completed business registrations in the United States and India, and upgraded its formula to be sulphate and EDTA-free and use ingredients approved by Canada, China, the United States and the European Union. In 2017, nearly 10,000 SoaPens were sold, an additional 15,000 additional units were produced for distribution in the United States market in 2018 and SoaPens were introduced in 30 schools across India. The Roll On Soap formula is now at factory scale with the capacity to produce 800 SoaPens per day locally in India. SoaPen was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for healthcare and science and the SoaPen Kickstarter campaign raised US$30,000 and was recognized by the Intuit initiative #BackedByQuickbooks.

Click here for more info about the Wearables for Good Challenge.