UNICEF invests in digital solutions for Child Online Safety
Two female-founded startups join the UNICEF Venture Fund to further develop AI-powered solutions that address digital risks to children
The UNICEF Venture Fund, in partnership with the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, invests in two new startups developing Open Source, AI-powered solutions to address digital risks to children.
The new cohort will receive equity-free investments in USD through the UNICEF Venture Fund and year-long mentorship with UNICEF’s technical and programme experts and partners. End Violence is a technical partner and will provide programmatic expertise for the portfolio management of this cohort, and enabling access to key networks across the Child Online Protection ecosystem.
Both startups in this round of investments are female founded/co-founded, bringing the Fund’s overall female-led/founder portfolio composition to 42%. The cohort also expands the Fund’s geographic reach to Sri Lanka.
With over 4 billion people (71% of whom are 15-24 year olds) and 1 in 3 children connected to the internet, children’s lives are being shaped behind a screen. COVID-19-related measures such as nation-wide lockdowns have prompted widespread school closures and physical distancing measures, making online platforms and communities essential to maintaining a sense of normalcy. Children and their families have been turning to digital solutions more than ever to support children’s learning, socialization and play. Efforts are underway to bring connectivity and access to digital solutions to all young people through initiatives like Giga.
While digital solutions provide huge opportunities, these same tools may also increase children’s exposure to online risks and harms. Being online can magnify traditional threats and harms that many children already face offline and can further increase vulnerabilities with online risks also present 24/7/365.
Technological solutions are one crucial element to efficiently respond to the threats of the online environment for children. This cohort has been selected in response to a call for applications issued around creating software solutions that respond to the four broad categories of digital risks to children: Content, Contact, Conduct and Contract Risks. The Fund received more than 500 submissions from over 75 UNICEF programme countries.
Tilli (Sri Lanka) is a game-based, AI-powered social-emotional learning tool that teaches 5-10-year-olds the skills needed to stay safe and healthy.
During the investment period, Tilli will deliver three learning modules related to child online safety skills, including trust, bodies and boundaries, and safety online.
The team will enhance the machine learning model achieving 90% accuracy and will reach over 10,000 users. The company will also make the platform available in Tamil and Turkish.
Talk2U (Brazil) is a behavioral micro-intervention chatbot to impart strategies to users for child online safety, as well as trainings on different types of abuse.
Talk2U has previously developed child online protection content for UNICEF Brazil and during the investment period with the UNICEF Venture Fund, Talk2U will develop an Open Source chat story on online safety in Portuguese.
The company will be developing an original script that can be adapted and scaled across regions. They will also develop a trained algorithm that responds to the subject of child safety.
UNICEF Venture Fund
Launched in 2016, the Fund is 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 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.
Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children
End Violence is the largest and most diverse public-private coalition focused on accelerating progress towards SDG 16.2: ending all forms of violence against children by 2030. It acts as a global platform for evidence-based advocacy, action and investments. Through Safe Online, End Violence is making investments in organizations designing tools, programmes and technology solutions to tackle online child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSEA), as well as working with global leaders and organizations to ensure a continued focus on child online safety, placing it high in key global policy debates.