10 ways UNICEF innovates for children

From frugal innovations to high-tech improvements, UNICEF is turning ideas into scalable solutions.

UNICEF Innovation & Supply Division
Happy child smiling in Gonzagueville, in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.
17 April 2020

COPENHAGEN, Denmark and NEW YORK, New York – On World Innovation Day, UNICEF demonstrates 10 ways the organization innovates for children. This includes system-changing innovations that improve a country’s service-delivery system, co-creation innovations that bring manufacturers to the field to understand user needs for a new product, high-tech innovations that harness the capacity of the technology sector, and frugal innovations that show us how sometimes the simplest of solutions can have the greatest impact on children's lives.

1. The Disability-Friendly Latrine

The Disability-Friendly Latrine reveals the importance of involving children with disabilities when creating inclusive products. This innovation includes a modular component that fits onto latrines to support access to sanitation services for persons with disabilities. When testing the prototypes in Bangladesh, UNICEF involved persons with disabilities (including children). Their feedback helped inform the development of the products, as well as the emergency programming for the products’ introduction in refugee camps. More here.

UNICEF Supply Division

2. Empowering Young People to Speak Out on the Issues that Matter to Them 

U-Report, UNICEF’s free mobile platform, gives over 10 million young people in 68 countries a voice on the big issues that affect them. It also shares vital information in emergencies and across all areas that impact on young people’s lives. The new U-Report COV-ID-19 Information Chatbot strengthens our ability to assess needs, tackle misinformation, and, in partnership with governments, share reliable information on where communities can seek assistance. Through communication channels like SMS, Viber, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp, users can ask U-Report questions about the Coronavirus and receive preprogrammed answers from experts. To date over 2.2 million people across 43 countries have accessed the new bot. More here.

U-Reporters in Man, in the West of Côte d'Ivoire.
UNICEF/UNI321770// Frank Dejongh
U-Reporters in Man, in the West of Côte d'Ivoire.

3. The Oxygen Therapy Project

The Oxygen Therapy Project demonstrates the importance of investing in a systemic approach to providing health services, in this case, in creating access to oxygen therapy so health facilities can support those suffering from respiratory illnesses, like pneumonia, hypoxemia, and most recently, COVID-19 (for example, to support the distribution of oxygen concentrators, as explained in the video below). 

The project includes a computer-based planning tool to help countries map out oxygen equipment needs at health facilities across a country and a product procurement manual with guidance on what types of equipment is needed to administer oxygen. More here

UNICEF Innovation

4. High Performance Tents

The High Performance Tents show us the benefits of working through a co-creation process with industry partners when developing high quality products. Multipurpose tents are used in emergencies to provide essential services in education, health, nutrition, and child protection. To ensure the new tents would meet programmatic needs, UNICEF and manufacturers travelled to Afghanistan for testing in cold climates, the Philippines for hot and humid climates, and Uganda for hot and dry climates, in addition to laboratory testing in a wind tunnel to see how the tents performed in below-freezing temperatures and hurricane level winds. More here

UNICEF Innovation

5. Inclusive Period Tracking App

Developed by UNICEF EAPRO, Oky is the world’s first period tracking app co-created with girls, for girls. Packed with information vetted by global health experts, the app is tailored to Indonesian and Mongolian cultures and available in local dialects. To support further advancements in this sector, the app is open source, digitally inclusive and available even in areas where online access is limited. In its next phase, the organization plans to scale and adapt the app for use in East Africa. More here.

EAPRO Gender is also leading the co-creation of a Mobile Phone Period Tracker App for and with Girls.


6. Non-pneumatic Anti-shock Garment (NASG) 


The Non-pneumatic Anti-shock Garment shows us that sometimes we don’t always need to innovate – we can take a proven life-saving innovation and focus on ensuring it is available and accessible for those who need it most. The NASG is a low-cost first-aid compression suit that limits persistent postpartum haemorrhaging in new mothers, originally designed with NASA technology. UNICEF didn’t invent the NASG nor was it part of the product’s development. However, UNICEF noticed that this proven technology wasn’t reaching coverage at scale, so instead, in partnership with UNFPA, is using its know-how capacity in scaling proven technologies to ensure a fit-for-purpose and value-for-money product is available and accessible in locations where NASG will be most effective.  More here

Non-pneumatic Anti-shock Garment (NASG) 
UNICEF Supply Division
The Non-pneumatic Anti-shock Garment (NASG) 


7. Improving Service Delivery and Skills with Drones 

Drones help reduce carbon emissions and cut transport times from 1.5 hours driving to 25 minutes flying. Leveraging this technology, UNICEF works with drones to deliver crucial medical supplies to the hardest-to-reach areas. The African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi, a first-of-its-kind program, trains and certifies young students across the continent on building, operating and maintaining the drones, building a pipeline of future experts in the field. More here

ADDA student from Kenya, Annie Nderitu (R) and Malawian student Hope Chilunga attaching a sensor to the s-500 drone
UNICEF Malawi/2020 Moving Minds Multimedia
ADDA student from Kenya, Annie Nderitu (R) and Malawian student Hope Chilunga attaching a sensor to the s-500 drone.

8. Using Cryptocurrencies to Invest in Tech4Good & Young People

A first for the United Nations, the UNICEF Cryptocurrency Fund is able to receive, hold and distribute donations in ether and bitcoin. The Fund is helping accelerate and grow social good projects such as Prescrypto, Atix Labs, Utopixar and GIGA, which work in the areas of prescription tracking, investor-matching, community engagement tokens and bringing internet connectivity to schools around the world. More here

9. The Complementary Feeding Bowl 

The Complementary Feeding Bowl demonstrates the importance of frugal innovations. It’s just a simple bowl — or is it? UNICEF is working with manufacturers to develop a solution for combatting malnutrition in young children. With poor quality diets driving malnutrition and almost half of all children not eating a balanced diet, a practical solution is needed to ensure families continue good nutrition practices at home. The project focuses on developing two products: a complementary feeding bowl with nutritional diversity and handwashing messages included in the design to address food quality, and indications for age group within the bowl to address food quantity; and a slotted spoon to ensure that the first semi-solid food after exclusive breast feeding is the right consistency (i.e. energy-dense and not watered down). More here.

Complementary Feeding Bowl
UNICEF Supply Division
The Complementary Feeding Bowl is currently under development. This image includes some of the design requirements.

10. GIGA: Connecting Every Young Person to the Internet

3.6 billion people lack internet access — 360 million are young people. This leads to exclusion, fewer resources to learn and to grow, and limited opportunities for the most vulnerable children and adolescents to fulfil their potential. ITU and UNICEF have joined forces in a bid to connect every community to the Internet by 2030. GIGA will bring the power of meaningful connectivity to fast track young people's access to educational resources and opportunities — and will make sure every child is equipped with the digital public goods they need, and empowered to shape the future they want. More here.


Promoting use of safe internet.