How can accelerators support digital public goods?

UNICEF and the DPGA have created a DPG Accelerator Guide to support creating global DPGs that can be repurposed, adapted, and scaled to address a wide range of challenges.

UNICEF Innovation
Vui Nguyen Hai Dang (left) 11 years old and Cu A Chuyen (right) 11 years old were playing with robots.
UNICEF/UN0610370/Le Vu
05 May 2022

UNICEF Ventures and the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA) are excited to announce the public launch of the DPG Accelerator Guide.

Building on the work of the UNICEF Venture Fund, which has invested in 124 open source solutions in 69 countries - 33 of which have been nominated and 3 recognized as digital public goods (DPG) - the guide aims to support accelerators in supporting and accelerating ventures that are building DPGs backed by sustainable business models.

What are Digital Public Goods?

Digital public goods are open-source software, open data, open AI models, open standards, and open content that adhere to privacy and other applicable laws and best practices, do no harm by design, and help attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This definition is drawn from the UN-Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

To earn recognition as a DPG, digital solutions must adhere to the DPG Standard, which is stewarded by the DPGA and is a set of nine indicators which all solutions must meet. These indicators include confirming an open license, relevance to the achievement of the SDGs, as well as important measures such as data privacy and taking steps to do-no-harm.

22 startups join the 2021 cohort of UNICEF Ghana's Startup Lab
UNICEF/UN368822/Acquah
22 startups join the 2021 cohort of UNICEF Ghana's Startup Lab

What is the accelerator guide?

UNICEF’s Venture Fund has been a leading example of an accelerator programme supporting startup solutions that have the potential to become DPGs, such as StaTwig, Cirrolytix, Somleng.

UNICEF’s Office of Innovation and the DPGA have created a DPG Accelerator Guide for startup accelerators, development partners and organizations looking to support solutions which are creating global digital public goods that can be repurposed, adapted, and scaled across a wide range of challenges.

View the DPG Accelerator Guide

This guide is meant to be directive, with a collection of many relevant cases, templates and resources to help set up a pipeline of locally developed DPGs that are addressing national priorities and are regionally scalable. The guide seeks to cover all the crucial steps from scoping the initiative with public and private partners, to graduating DPGs, providing tools and templates along the way that can be tailored as needed.    

Startup accelerators (including startups themselves) and other organizations such as development agencies can utilize this DPG Accelerator Guide as an advocacy tool (in their respective networks and the startup ecosystem when speaking about open-source business models and DPGs), but also as a technical tool with resources on how accelerators can support DPGs. 

Informed by UNICEF’s DPG pathfinding pilots, included in the guide are collective learnings from startups themselves who have become DPGs such as Accessible Kazakhstan and Bisa App, and case studies of accelerators supporting startups solutions becoming recognized as DPGs, such as Astana Hub (Kazakhstan), IdeaSpace (The Philippines), and UNICEF’s Startup Lab (Ghana).

UNICEF and ING hosted an application bootcamp to support startups developing fintech solutions in the Philippines
UNICEF/Philippines/Salcedo
UNICEF and ING hosted an application bootcamp to support startups developing fintech solutions in the Philippines.

Why now?

There are big shifts happening in the tech world. Entrepreneurs are becoming more aware of what solutions they create and how they translate into meaningful impact. This pushes traditional profit seeking startup accelerators to rethink their focus areas to include the criteria of startups they support, thematic programmes they want to run, and impact ROI in their investment thesis. Incubators and accelerator programmes focus on success indicators such as sustainability of startups post-programme, follow-on investments received, and of course, the potential scale of the startups that have graduated from their programmes. 

Combining the scale of implementation opportunities, user growth and beneficiaries of these startups, more entrepreneurs are embracing the value and opportunities that open source solutions can create. This has been proven through UNICEF’s Venture Fund, where 124 investments have been made to a diverse group of founders across 69 countries building early-stage open source solutions. 88% of portfolio companies are still active and 79% are generating revenue. UNICEF’s portfolio companies have raised $16.2M in follow-on funding ahead of traditional industry standards and 5 companies have successfully exited in the past 12 months, such as Veative which was acquired by Dev Clever for approximately US$74.62M.

For startup solutions that become recognized as a DPGs, it opens up avenues to grow quicker such as a global network, and deployment opportunities with governments, UN agencies and development partners. 

By collaborating with accelerators, startups gain the network, tools and learnings which are the building blocks for their products and who these products ultimately impact. This is why it is crucial for startup accelerators to take part in the efforts to build DPGs, putting in place safeguards for technology, accelerating the attainment of SDGs and ensuring that no one is left behind.

Startup accelerators and other organizations supporting early stage innovations are powerful entities that provide critical support to startups in their development. If startup accelerators can create an enabling environment in building DPGs, the by-product of these efforts can ultimately lead to making these digital solutions more discoverable and accelerate the attainment of the SDGs and impact at scale.

View the DPG Accelerator Guide