The innovation portfolio management approach aligns technical and financial resources to promising projects from across the organisation that can accelerate results for children.
A problem driven approach to innovation
UNICEF’s Global Innovation Strategy developed in response to the 2018 Evaluation of Innovation at UNICEF, ensures that all investments we make in innovation fit with our global aim of ensuring that every child can survive, thrive and live and learn in a safe, inclusive space, and that innovation is applied to the most pressing problems faced by some of the most vulnerable children and young people. In line with the strategy, UNICEF’s innovation portfolio management approach aligns technical and financial resources to promising projects from across the organisation that can accelerate results for children.
What is UNICEF’s innovation portfolio management approach?
UNICEF’s innovation portfolio approach focuses our innovation efforts on the most challenging problems UNICEF is trying to solve for and with children and young people. There are 9 innovation portfolios, with each portfolio containing innovative solutions (sourced from across UNICEF and beyond) that have potential to scale and significantly accelerate results for children.
Children are the least responsible for climate change, yet they will bear the greatest burden of its impact. The worsening effects of climate change mean that children face both the immediate impacts of climate-exacerbated humanitarian emergencies and the slower-onset impacts such as water scarcity and disease burden. For children who are already disadvantaged, the risks of climate change are even higher: as crises become more common, poorer families will face even greater difficulties recovering from these increasingly frequent shocks. The climate crisis is a child rights crisis, and time is running out to make the transformations necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Innovation can and must play a central role in finding solutions to this crisis and accelerating the impact of our work in protecting children from the effects of climate change, placing their needs at the center of environmental strategies, and empowering them as agents of change.
The Gender Equality Innovation portfolio focuses on bridging the gender digital divide for today's generation of youth and children, a problem that innovation can be most effective in addressing and accelerating results. This translates into three broad areas: 1. Innovative skills development programmes that deliver the range of skills that prepare adolescent girls to excel in a world of work increasingly shaped by the digital revolution; 2. Innovation and technology tools for and with girls; 3. Gender-equitable digital access and meaningful connectivity. All three of these areas are aligned with and support UNICEF's leadership role within the Generation Equality Technology and Innovation Coalition, its contributions to the EQUALS partnership, and align with Reimagine Education and Generation Unlimited.
The needs of children in today's humanitarian crises are immense, with protracted conflicts, climate related extreme weather events, natural disasters and health emergencies, affecting entire generations of children. The number of countries experiencing conflict is at its highest point since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Children have become frontline targets, resulting in death, serious injury and lasting trauma. Humanitarian emergencies also deprive children of health, nutrition, water and sanitation, education and other basic needs. Advances in our programming strategies coupled with new analytical capacities and new financing approaches to persistent humanitarian challenges hold the promise of accelerating UNICEF's delivery against the SDGs, even in the most vulnerable communities.
The focus of UNICEF's work in education is on ensuring children are "ready" for the key transitions during their learning journey. Age 5; ready to start school, based on the importance of Early Childhood Education, age 10; ready to access the academic curriculum by having basic literacy and numeracy skills and age 18; ready to enter the labour market/contribute to their community. The availability and potential of technology means that digital learning should be part of a basic basket of essential services for every child and young person. UNICEF is strategically placed to broker innovation in education. The need for innovation in education is acute: even before COVID-19, traditional service delivery channels were strained with learning increasingly taking place in new ways and places, including outside of the classroom and remotely. Focused investment in innovation will support Reimagine Education to ensure every child can access education.
At the rate of current progress, we will not meet our goals to reduce mortality and improve newborn and maternal health. Eighty percent of newborn deaths are preventable, their causes include preterm birth, complications such as lack of breathing at birth, infections like pneumonia and sepsis, and birth defects. High-impact interventions include treatments for pneumonia, vaccine coverage, building stronger health systems and services, care at birth and in the first week of life and engaging with mothers, health workers and their communities. UNICEF has identified a range of problems that, if solved, could unlock faster progress. These mothers and newborns, detection of pneumonia in newborns, responsive transport systems for maternal and newborn care, inpatient newborn care records, community kangaroo mother care, community follow-up of small and at-risk newborns.
Children, adolescents and their families face barriers to availability, acceptability, and accessibility of quality mental health and psychosocial support services. The lack of availability of services is significant with a current gap in the provision of mental health care of over 90% globally. Even with available services, quality remains a concern with a dearth of trained workforce and few systematic training and career development opportunities in the countries with the greatest need. Mental health is a global issue, yet it remains stigmatized in almost every country, rich or poor; contributing to (1) acceptability challenges (2) decrease in levels of demand for and use of mental health care services, and (3) limitations in developing creative ways to promote positive mental health and increase awareness. Access to available care can be very challenging in rural areas, for children and families on the move or emergency contexts such as conflict, natural disaster, and displacement.
Universal access to basic sanitation services by 2030 is the goal, but the current annual rate of progress needs to be doubled to achieve that. The provision of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions play an essential role in protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including the current COVID-19 outbreak. UNICEF has identified problems that, if solved, will unlock faster progress. Innovation is key to co-creating new solutions to problems like lack of handwashing stations, leaks in water networks, climate-resilient sanitation services, remote monitoring of water or wastewater systems, remote sensing and other technologies for locating water sources in water scarce environments, fecal sludge management in humanitarian settings, absence of adequate sanitation products and accessible menstrual health information for women and girls.
There are 1.2 billion adolescents worldwide, the largest cohort ever, with 90 per cent of those living in low- and middle-income countries, and 125 million living in areas affected by armed conflict. Despite progress in advancing the wellbeing and participation of adolescents and young people, there remains an urgent need to empower greater numbers of young people as change agents, promote global connectedness, and support these young people through their civic engagement journey. The Youth Innovation portfolio seeks field-tested solutions that contribute to young people's empowerment, leadership and agency, and improved accountability by decisions makers to young people's rights in both development and humanitarian settings. Young people offer skills, knowledge, ingenuity and sense of justice and this portfolio seeks innovative solutions that enables them to take charge of their future and take responsibility for changing it to the better.
How are innovations selected for the portfolio?
Digital innovation – New or existing digital technologies that are adapted into solutions e.g. EduTech, digital health, data innovations, real-time monitoring, mobile youth platforms
Physical products – new or improved physical goods created to meet the needs of children and young people e.g. multi-purpose, lightweight tents, accessible latrine slabs, portable incubators
Innovative finance – non-traditional mechanisms of raising rsources to meet children's needs e.g. bridge funds, innovation funds, blended finance, cryptocurrency, transactional financing
Programme approaches – Different approaches, processes and ways of working to improve effectiveness/efficiency e.g. human-centered design, behavioural science-driven C4D, 'smart' contracts
Data innovation – Use of new or non-traditional data sources and applications of data science to gain new insights including through predictive analytics
Frugal innovation – Simple products or services that dramatically cut costs, outperform alternatives and can be scaled up e.g. Kangaroo care and safe birth kits, youth social innovation & entrepreneurship
Social innovation – new solutions that simultaneously meet a social need (more effectively than existing solutions) and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. Social innovations are both good for society and enhance society's capability to act.
UNICEF’s portfolio steering committee has designed a 7-step process to develop and manage portfolios
To be included in the global innovation portfolio, projects are scored by relevant technical experts against criteria that are agreed and common across all portfolios, including
- Alignment to one or more identified programmatic challenges
- The ability of the innovation to reach large populations, with a focus on the most disadvantaged
- Evidence (to date) of effectiveness of the innovation
- Potential for a pathway to scale and sustainability
The portfolio steering committee includes representation from Country Offices, Regional Offices, Programme Division, Emergency Operations, Data, Analytics, Planning and Monitoring (DAPM), Supply Division, ICT. It is convened by the Portfolio, Culture and Scale (PCS) team in the Office of Innovation. Each innovation portfolio has a programmatic focal point (within HQ programme division) and a portfolio manager within the PCS team in the Office of Innovation.