UNICEF Innovation Fund Call for Frontier Technologies

Looking for technologies that bridge learning or connectivity gaps towards employability

Adolescent girls look at social media posts while attending a "Lifeskills" event in Union Development & Culture Community Centre in Djibouti.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking to make up to 100K equity-free investments to provide early stage (seed) finance to for-profit technology start-ups that have the potential to benefit humanity.

If you’ve got a start-up using machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain or extended reality, registered in one of UNICEF’s programme countries, and have a working, open source prototype (or you are willing to make it open-source) showing promising results, the UNICEF Innovation Fund is looking for you.


To apply, click here


*Deadline for application submission is 30 September 2019

**Female-founded start-ups are encouraged to apply

The Challenge

Nearly 4 billion people (29% of whom are 18-24 year-olds) remain unconnected from the internet, and by extension unconnected to digital products that could dramatically improve their lives. Adding to this challenge, the gender digital divide is also growing, and studies show men outnumber women on the internet as much as two to one. Unless things change, a big part of this rapidly growing group of young people is in danger of being left behind, excluded from the modern digital world.

What We're Looking For

We are currently looking to invest in companies that are using machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain or extended reality (virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR)) technologies to build software solutions that respond to the following questions:

OS City in Mexico uses blockchain and AI to increase transparency and accountability of government resource allocation
OS City
OS City, a Mexico-based UNICEF portfolio company, uses blockchain and AI to increase transparency and accountability. These principles can support predicting and identifying job demand toward job matching and can encourage exploration of 21st century skills.

What skills will be in most demand tomorrow, to bridge the gap between education and decent work?

Are you trying to use frontier technology solutions to generate new skills and job insights from data?

  • Using ML/AI to match people to jobs, by identifying what is needed in the job market and what is available
  • Predictive analysis to understand changes in the world such as job market trends or the supply and demand of skills
  • Exploring new techniques for promoting 21st century skills among children and youth
  • Building incentive mechanisms and platforms to encourage content creators, researchers, developers, etc. around the world to get paid with blockchain based payment solutions

Read more about job matching here

A student using VR headset in the Imisi 3D creation lab.
UNICEF Nigeria/2019/Achirga
A student using VR headset in the Imisi 3D creation lab. Imisi 3D, from Nigeria, is one of UNICEF's portfolio companies.

Are you bringing online opportunities to teach new skills or employ young people in remote areas?

Or providing personalized learning solutions for children whose learning has been disrupted by conflict, shock or migration?

  • Tailored online learning solutions for young people to acquire skills based on their specific needs, using AI 
  • Developing platforms that allow young problem-solvers to learn and work remotely, for both domestic and international ‘gig’ opportunities 
  • Building VR learning spaces (classrooms, labs) for places without capacity and budget to maintain a real physical facility
  • Game-based learning using VR/AR to help children better understand complex concepts, subjects, theories and increase learning motivation
  • Using VR/AR solutions to quickly create real world scenarios and transmit skills for the fast-changing world of work
  • Creating blockchain based digital records that are tamper-proof and shareable to employers, schools, and governments to enable individuals to validate their experiences and qualifications to anyone around the world

Read more about remedial learning here, and remote learning and work here

On 20 June 2019, a young student walks to a UNICEF learning centre in the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh: Where W3 Engineers, our portfolio company, is providing connectivity to refugees.

Or are you building tools and models that directly focus on digital connectivity?

Are you developing solutions to connect schools to the internet and disconnected children to digital skills?

  • Using DS or AI to estimate where internet connectivity and other infrastructure is available - and where it is missing
  • Optimizing the delivery of supply chain and services such as internet connectivity in public institutions
  • Using DS or AI to build financial models for infrastructure projects to help reduce costs and maximize impact
  • Building solutions to measure and monitor internet connectivity in real-time
  • Leveraging a blockchain smart contract platform to facilitate fair and transparent management of internet service providers enabling school connectivity around the world

Read more about digital connectivity here

The Background

UNICEF’s Innovation Fund has been specifically designed to finance early stage, open-source technology that can benefit children. The core motivation of the Innovation Fund is to identify “clusters” or portfolios of initiatives around emerging technology - so that UNICEF can both share markets and also learn about and guide these technologies to benefit children. We invest in solutions clusters around $100 billion industries in frontier technology spaces, such as: blockchain, virtual and augmented reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.

Generation Unlimited (GenU) is a global partnership to change the status quo and overcome barriers to young people’s progress, such as the lack of basic connectivity, quality education and training opportunities. This round of investments will address four “Global Breakthrough” areas identified as opportunities in the GenU agenda: job-matching, remedial learning, remote learning and work, and digital connectivity.


Read our FAQ's about the process here

Read our eligibility criteria and how we score here

Browse through our previously funded projects here


For any questions regarding the application process, please write to us here.