UNICEF’s Office of Innovation helps the organization 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. This often means creating provocations to industry to show how certain technologies, if built in the right way, could have positive impact on the lives of children, while also opening new research, markets, and opportunities to UNICEF’s partners.
UNICEF Innovation Fund
UNICEF Ventures invests in early stage solutions that show great potential to positively impact children in the one-to-two-year future. This investment comes from the UNICEF Innovation Fund – the first financial vehicle of its kind in the UN. The Venture fund is a $12.6 M investment fund which makes $50-100K investments in portfolios of emerging technology being developed by companies in UNICEF programme countries. This Fund allows UNICEF to take small risks within particular technology portfolios, and ensure that even if many of the investments fail the portfolio is a success.
The Fund has invested in companies including those
- using blockchain for teacher payments in South Africa,
- building open-source mobile phone networks in disconnected areas in Nicaragua, and
- using facial recognition to detect malnutrition in children under 5.
Drones for humanitarian response and development
UNICEF Ventures also invests in new assets for UNICEF. The UNICEF Drone Corridor in Malawi is the first of its kind in the world. It allows partners (private sector and academic) to test drones and unmanned vehicles within a 45km circle around Kisungu airport. This corridor will allow for corporate partners to prototype new technology, and for UNICEF and the Government of Malawi to share the needs of children in situations where drones might help
- map out damaged infrastructure after emergencies
- provide connectivity in rural areas and
- deliver vital supplies (like vaccines) in places with weak infrastructure
UNICEF has subsequently opened a drone testing corridor in Vanuatu and will be exploring similar support to other governments. This work is an example of how UNICEF can position itself at the intersection of new markets and vital needs and make a case that companies that have not been partners in the historically collaborated with the organization, can still be partners in a shared future.
Data for good
Similar work is being done around data science. UNICEF’s Magic Box brings together partners like Telefonica, Google, IBM, and Amadeus to share their data and research and create systems for real-time information and action. Like the drone corridor the Magic Box creates a provocation to industry, a platform for engagement, and a product that can change the way UNICEF works in emergencies like Zika or Ebola.
These platforms will be transferred into the core of UNICEF’s work, and become technologies that are both familiar and accessible to the organization, leading to efficiencies in our program work, and opportunities for new partnerships.
Future platforms are expected to include: blockchain, artificial intelligence, digital learning, and other frontier technologies.