Drones for Social Good

Let’s continue delivering opportunities by air

Jaime Archundia, Global Drones Lead, UNICEF Office of Innovation

07 May 2019

In December 2018, the story of one-month old Joy Nowai— the first child to be given a vaccine delivered commercially by a drone— turned the world’s attention to the small South Pacific country of Vanuatu. A drone covered 40 kilometers of rugged mountainous terrain and flew through wind gusts to finally deliver the vaccine to a remote health post in Dillon’s Bay, where 13 children and five pregnant women were vaccinated.

Registered nurse, Miriam Nampil, 55 years, receives the first vaccine delivery from Swoop Aero drone in Cook’s Bay, on 18 December 2018.

Four months into Vanuatu’s drone delivery trials UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Health to reach almost a thousand children and 100 pregnant women who live in remote communities. In a country where 1 in 5 children are not fully immunized, drones have been able to reduce a journey of several hours into just 25 minutes to safely transport the vaccines from distribution centers to rural vaccination posts. In May of this year, the second stage of the Vanuatu’s drone delivery trials will come to an end, and it will be time to plan the scale up of this initiative.


The questions now are how might UNICEF help governments to implement, safely and in a sustainable way, a drone delivery supply chain for the last-mile at scale? And how might UNICEF integrate drones in the emergency response toolkit of country and regional offices?

A drone lands at Cook’s Bay after flying 25 minutes over mountainous terrain to deliver vaccines to Miriam Nampil, a registered nurse, who was waiting to vaccinate 13 children.

Last week, while looking into answers on how to scale, UNICEF hosted its 1st Drones for Social Good global conference and workshop at our New York Headquarters. Colleagues from UNICEF offices in Malawi, Vanuatu and Kazakhstan shared lessons and their experiences using drones— from delivering life-saving medical supplies in hard-to-reach areas, to saving lives in search and rescue operations. For instance, UNICEF collects aerial imagery using drones and later analyzes these using AI algorithms to strengthen emergency preparedness and response. We also revealed plans to launch a first-of-its-kind educational institution in Africa that will be known as the Africa Drone and Data Academy, which will train and certify young students on how to build, operate and maintain drones.

UNICEF Innovation
Day 1 at the Drones for Social Good global meeting — UNICEF staff from the Office of Innovation and country programmes, drone experts, and partners all met to steer a roadmap for UNICEF’s drones programme building from their experiences.

Along with our UNICEF colleagues, a multidisciplinary team of more than 85 drone experts from across the world came together over 3 days to share experiences and lessons learned, helping to create a roadmap that will strengthen UNICEF’s Drones programme. Discussions revolved around the work of UNICEF and partners using drones for global health, to save lives in emergencies and strengthen community resilience. (Full recording and presentations).

UNICEF Innovation
Hani Shannak, Senior ICT Adviser facilitated a panel discussion around lessons learned with Andrew Parker (Chief Field Officer, Vanuatu Field Officer), Michael Scheibenreif (Drones Expert Advisor, Malawi), and Veronika Vashchenko (Deputy Representative, Kazakhstan)

We were inspired by the amazing collaborative spirit and determination to overcome the significant challenges of deploying drones safely and at scale. We explored the journey from local ecosystems to global collaboration and identified 3 key themes:

  1. Locally, it’s incredibly important to build a self-sustaining ecosystem of experts that can support the deployment of drones, for example immediately after an emergency. This means ensuring training, regulations and certifications are in place to make things happen quickly and effectively. In Malawi, we are working on creating an African Drone and Data Academy, which will build local capacity, as well as provide young people with the skills to analyze aerial imagery, build and operate drones.
  2. It was also clear we need to ensure the information captured by drones is useful, stored safely and can be effectively translated into action. This is where partners from academia and the private sector can play a vital role.
  3. And finally, it is clear that UNICEF is uniquely positioned to share international codes around drone deployments for humanitarian benefit. Whether it’s enabling countries to learn from our experiences in places like Vanuatu, or ensuring a systemic approach to data collection or pilot accreditation, we recognize the huge potential for global coordination.
UNICEF Innovation
Day 2 at the Drones for Social Good global meeting — Technical deep dives on drone technology, data collection and analysis, and UTM system development and integration.

For more information on the Drones for Social Good program, the outcomes of this workshop, or guidance on how to implement a drone-based initiative in your country, please send an email to drones@unicef.org.

UNICEF Innovation
Some colleagues around the globe working on Drones — from left: Christian Vazquez Paez (Drone Technical Project Coordinator, Vanuatu), Jaime Archundia (UNICEF Office of Innovation, Global Drones Lead), Anna Stativkina (Resilience Officer, Kazakhstan), Shane O’Connor (Technology for Development Specialist, Sierra Leone), Tautvydas Juskauskas (Drone Technical Project Coordinator, Malawi), Michael Scheibenreif (Drones Expert Advisor, Malawi), and Veronika Vashchenko (Deputy Representative, Kazakhstan)