Projects | UNICEF Innovation | UNICEF

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UNICEF Innovation


UNICEF uses innovative approaches to better the lives of children. The examples below represent just a glimpse of the more than 270 innovative projects by UNICEF offices around the world tackling problems dealing with health, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, water and sanitation, education, protection, emergencies and other needs. The main areas of focus are real-time data, infrastructure, logistics, and personal information. This map is by no means comprehensive and is being updated daily.

Fundamentally, UNICEF Innovation work has a focus on providing access to information, opportunity, and choice to the world's most vulnerable populations.  This is a description of some of the projects that illustrate that focus.

The space between young people and power structures has fundamentally changed, and we believe that only by innovating in our work can UNICEF be truly prepared for the future. We see this change coming in many forms:

  1. We know that real-time data will drive more decisions than anything else (not always for good) - that decisions, which are in any case not made on specifics of data, will be increasingly driven by trends of real-time "user" behavior.

    Example: UReport Uganda empowers young people to work with community leaders to affect positive change (RapidSMS/RapidPro family).

  2. A different picture of the world is emerging through mapping and the ability to "see" things that were previously hidden or obscured. Young people are becoming empowered to map the world around them – and these representations are new. In Kosovo, young innovators mapped their microbus routes with open source technology - making the invisible, or hard-to-describe, readily apparent.
  3. There is a new ability for young people to connect to each other and counsel each other (through technology) that allows them to share and scale their own solutions, without "top down" or more traditional information flows.  This impacts how UNICEF and our partners disseminate information - and, importantly, shows us the need for being an agent of transfer, moving ideas from one geography to another.

    Example: UReport Zambia provides 24/7 counseling services on HIV and STIs to adolescents and youth (RapidSMS/RapidPro family).
  4. This "south-south" rapid transfer of ideas - sometimes excluding traditional development actors - means that we have to be able to share knowledge and possibilities in new and open ways.  It means a changed role for large institutions – and increased need to create the pathways for idea transfer rather than the ideas themselves.

    Example: RapidFTR, an app for reuniting families in disaster situations (coming from South Sudan, Uganda, and going to the Philippines).

    This means that not only do young people increasingly have a voice, but that voice can be used for change. Example: Voices of Youth Maps empowers young people by training them to digitally map and participate in the improvement of their neighborhoods.
  5. These types of global collaborations rely on new techniques for working together. The tools we have at our disposal, in 2016, can allow us to create the largest change-engine in the world - and power that through the energy and needs of young people.

    Example: Global Design for UNICEF Challenge, an academic competition, gives students the opportunity to come up with innovative solutions to pressing development problems.

  6. In order to build this machinery, we embrace open source ideas. Open source is the single biggest idea of this generation. It fundamentally changes how intellectual property can be used for global innovation for children. It creates public goods that can be adapted and scaled by anyone – and that have business models around them that can still foster entrepreneurship and profit.

    MobiStation, a solar powered school in a suitcase, provides access to quality learning content 24/7 (China/Uganda Honghe partnership).


  7. We will need new models for investing in the type of solutions that we see on the horizon - we believe that new methods of investment and funding in low-liquidity markets are changing the way that the "global north" views previously marginalized economies. This runs the gamut from VC funds investing in new areas/regions to vehicles like social impact bonds that are providing different types of returns to investors.

    Example: UNICEF Innovation Fund has been modeled on venture investment structures that can quickly assess, invest in, and scale innovations that work.


Infrastructure remains a challenge – human advances in information technology haven't impacted transport nearly as much as they have our ability to communicate. It still takes 33 days to send a piece of paper from northeast Zambia to Lusaka even though Project Mwana (RapidSMS/RapidPro family) has reduced the other half of that journey from 30 days to 0, by using a text message.

In the space of energy, solar and alternative power will be one of the key drivers of development (and where it is lagging/lacking, so are development indicators). Models of producing and sharing electricity at a community level are emerging, and might be stymied by traditional actors.

Project Lumiere in Burundi helps identify a scalable model for delivering household energy supply in isolated areas.

And emergencies and natural disasters are going to be even more critical to all of us, and we see UNICEF increasing the amount and intensity of its work in humanitarian situations.  How we respond, as a planet, to these changing realities will require everyone to work together toward common goals.

Global Innovation Challenge: First 72 Hours challenges private individuals, academia, businesses, and organizations to come up with ideas that will help the world to respond better to disasters.

Emergency Kit for Adolescents in Indonesia focuses on building the capacity of youth to be self-empowered to address the risks associated in emergency situations.

Fundamental to all of this, is the question of learning: what adolescents have at their disposal to interact with the world around them - and we need to help suggest and provide those tools for them to interface with their future. Without a change in how kids learn, and what they're taught, none of the big global changes will have the impact on the world's most vulnerable populations that we need them to.

Examples: Foundation for Learning Equality (FLE)
 built parts of the next version of their authoring platform in South Sudan.

Raspberry Pi for Learning Initiative (Pi4L) uses innovative ways to provide non-formal education to displaced children in Lebanon.

Digital game development contest in Brazil combines education, football, video games, and the spirit of innovation.

Read more about our projects: and

Image of UNICEF Innovation interactive map



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