African youth offer solutions to COVID-19 challenges in their communities

80,000 young people take part in digital innovation challenge

29 September 2020

DAKAR / JOHANNESBURG / NAIROBI, 29 September 2020 – Inspirational young people from Burundi, Malawi, Nigeria and Tanzania are designing solutions to help their communities confront COVID-19. More than 80,000 youth aged 14 to 35 have taken part in the COVID-19 Design Innovation Challenge for UNICEF, via Cartedo, an experiential learning platform that helps youth develop employability and entrepreneurship through innovation challenges.

COVID-19 has drastically changed the lives of young people living in Africa, where those under 35 make up 75 per cent of the continent’s population. From loss of income and job insecurity to stalled education and a lack of clean water, young people and their communities are being forced to explore new and innovative ways of coping.

Nigeria piloted the global challenge in May 2020, inspiring a wave of youth participants elsewhere on the continent. The top youth-produced solutions were recently chosen with different rewards given in the various countries. Some young participants received funding and coaching to support scaling up their ideas; other rewards include Zlto digital points used to redeem UNICEF certificates, airtime and data, mentorships with industry experts, and CV reviews and soft skills training provided by partners.

The top innovative solutions received include: the use of solar panels for sustainable water supply systems in communities without safe water access; digital applications that enable children to continue learning; and online market places to enable continued income generation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I started developing the idea as soon as I saw the problem,” said Chukwuma Nwachukwu, 28, from Nigeria, who produced a prototype for a solar-powered water pump to support community handwashing. “I also did some research to understand how this innovation will be beneficial to the community. One thing that really stood out for me is the fact that this solution is reliable. It is cost-effective." 

UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed Malick Fall, said the impacts of the challenge have been immense: “Youth have been given an avenue to prevent and mitigate the longer-term impacts of COVID-19 on their communities, and they have also had the opportunity to develop skills that will enhance their future employability. This is fundamental in today’s world in which COVID-19 is putting up yet another barrier to young people’s access to the job market as economies suffer.”

Young people entered the challenge by exploring the human needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. They then channelled their findings into solutions that ordinary people in their communities can use. By utilising the tools and techniques within the Cartedo platform, they generated multiple ideas to solve the challenges faced and prototyped solutions in their communities. Cartedo incorporates an online human-centred design thinking process that is supported by psychometrics and provides feedback to the young participants and guides them towards resources that allow them to complement their newfound skills.

“Even before the pandemic, education in Malawi was in crisis. Only about 35 per cent get to complete their primary education and move on to secondary school and 8 per cent finish secondary education,” said Sam Masikini, 23, from Malawi, who designed an offline mobile learning app called Inspire to make e-learning work in a country with low digital literacy, poor infrastructure and widespread poverty. “The idea is to reimagine education in Malawi and offer equal opportunities for continued learning to a boy or girl in a remote village and a privileged urban child with high-end devices.”

“Young people hold unique viewpoints with regards to the challenges faced by their communities,” said Marie-Pierre Poirier, UNICEF Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “It is fantastic to see the breadth of innovative solutions they produce. Investing in Africa’s youth through the Generation Unlimited partnership, so that they gain the necessary skills and expertise, can be the key to their successful employment.”

UNICEF is working with partners to expand education, training and employment opportunities for young people, aged 10 to 24, through Generation Unlimited, a global multi-sector partnership including governments, multilateral organizations, civil society, private sector and young people themselves. The COVID-19 Design Innovation Challenge for UNICEF was supported by government, private sector and local partners such as schools, churches and youth organisations across the participating countries.

The challenge is part of Yoma (Youth Agency Market Place) supported by the Botnar Foundation and UNICEF, which enable young people to complete social impact tasks and challenges. Through helping their communities, they accrue points that can then be used to unlock skills-based online courses, or phone credit, thus building their online CVs and gaining traction with UNICEF and Yoma’s partners in the world of work.



Scouts, Jimbere, REJA, World Merit, Association pour une Jeunesse Africaine Progressiste (AJAP), Jimbere, Association des Guides du Burundi, le Province des Eglises Aglicans du Burundi, Enfants Journalistes, Umunynia, Reseau des Organisations Jeunes en Action (REJA), Yaga, Giriyuja

Malawi: Segal Family Foundation, Social Impact Incubator Malawi, UK Aid

Nigeria: Goodwall, Botnar Foundation, National Centre for Disease Control, National Information Technology Development Agency, Office for ICT Innovation Entrepreneurship, CC Hub, Lagos Innovates, Jobberman, Ventures Platform, Saed Connect, and in close collaboration with Generation Unlimited,U-Report Nigeria and U-Report 24x7.

Top Youth Solutions

In Burundi, 1722 young people took part in the COVID-19 Design Innovation Challenge for UNICEF. UNICEF selected five young people to receive 1000 USD as a seed grant to help them design and test their proposed solutions. They will also receive coaching on project planning and budgeting;

  • Chanelle Iteriteka, 16, online platform to support continuation of learning.
  • Joahnna Bizindavyi, 16, creation of a rainwater filter to support handwashing.
  • Elsie Jennifer Hakizimana, 21, production of radio and television shows, and a website, dedicated to raising awareness of COVID-19 and key protection messages.
  • Didier Niyonkuru, 15, promotion of how to make your own mask videos utilising easy-to-find materials in Burundi, as well as dissemination of information about correct usage and wearing of masks.
  • Arnaud Kwizera, 26, digital platform for volunteers engaged in spreading risk communication messages to communities.

In Malawi, 1717 young people participated; UNICEF supported finalists to take part in a 21-day incubation programme in August and September leading to the production of viable prototypes and fundable solutions, with the Top 5 solutions selected in partnership with the Segal Family Foundation;

  • Sam Masikini, 23, an offline mobile learning app to make e-learning work in the face of low digital literacy and poor infrastructure.
  • Maryam Latif, 14, an app aimed at enabling the elderly to stay at home while still accessing the basic supplies and services that they need.
  • Brenald Dzonzi, 24, designed a hand sanitization unit to promote touch-free disinfection in public places.
  • John Maneya, 29, a steam-based disinfectant sprayer which can disinfect without necessarily wetting surfaces.
  • Mtheto Sinjani, 23, an automatic touch-free hand sanitizer dispenser which detects hand movement.

In Nigeria, about 80,000 young people participated in the challenge. UNICEF and partner Goodwall supported four winners with N100,000 (US$ 250) to pilot their COVID-19 solutions;

  • Habiba Erinfolami, 24, online market place for female sellers. 
  • Emmanuel Udochukwu, 28, digital platform for accessing PPE and factual information about COVID-19.
  • Chukwuma Nwachukwu, 28, solar-powered water supply to aid handwashing. 
  • Winifred Nnamdi, 25, booklet to help children continue learning who have no access to digital or remote learning means.

In Tanzania over 200 young people took part; UNICEF Tanzania selected four solutions from young people;

  • Khadija Assad, 21, micro learning platform that allows for young people to teach small groups of interested individuals for a fee
  • Henry Mathayo, 28, mobile application that can be used to deliver medicine prescribed to a user
  • Emmanuel Waitare, 19, graffiti art battle to share information about COVID 19
  • Ali Kamila, 24, digital market place linking market vendors to buyers

Media contacts

Patsy Nakell
Chief of Communication
UNICEF Africa Services Unit
Tel: +27 79 495 5938


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