Human-centered Approaches for Innovation

UNICEF Global Innovations Summit Day 1

Nigina Baykabulova
A group of children and youth with Down Syndrome attend a brainstorming and illustration session to design smart-phone cases.
13 November 2015

HELSINKI, Finland, 10 November 2015 – The Global Innovations Summit for Children and Youth “Start-Up to Scale-Up,” being convened by UNICEF and the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs these days in Helsinki, has brought together a dynamic mix of about 500 thinkers and innovators of all ages – development practitioners, data analysts, CEOs, venture capitalists and founders of small start-ups, academics, government representatives, game developers and storytellers from around the world. Breaking up traditional silos, they enthusiastically engaged in the first ever global conversation on innovations for children to exchange ideas, experiences and concerns on how to make new technologies and innovations work for those who need it the most – children.

“We all here share the commitment to do things differently,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Yoka Brandt opening the summit. She noted it was anything but business as usual and reminded participants about the millions of children globally who continue being denied protection, education and other essential children’s rights:

“They need the best and most creative minds working to overcome the challenges they face. They need you, and they need you not tomorrow – today. Helping these children to survive, thrive and live up to their full potential is not only the right thing to do, but also a smart thing to do because today’s children and youth will decide the shape of tomorrow.”

Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Lenita Toivakka
UNICEF Innovation
Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Lenita Toivakka

The opening session also featured Finnish Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, Lenita Toivakka, who emphasized Finland’s shared commitment to innovation and its long-standing partnership with UNICEF that helps improve the lives of children worldwide. She announced that Finland will contribute 1.5 million euros to UNICEF’s Innovation Venture Fund, which was set up earlier this year to support early start-ups. This news came at a time when UNICEF received for the same fund a USD 4 million donation from the Page Family Foundation Donor Advised Fund.


Human-centred innovation

The first day of the summit focused on the future: during 30+ thematic sessions, participants explored which opportunities in technological and private sectors will have the biggest impact on children in the near future and brainstormed over how to turn those into solutions for children, especially the most vulnerable.

Drawing from his extensive experience in leveraging technology to drive social change, one of the session leads Fabio Sergio, Vice-President of Creative, frog, noted the importance of the human-centred approach and methodologies for innovation.

“The core value of adopting this approach is understanding what people at the receiving end of a technology want, desire and aspire to. The world of business is filled with the examples of technologies that were brought too early, that didn’t really meet any need, were wrongly designed for an intended audience or were culturally irrelevant and eventually failed. For the meaningful application of technology, you have to look at human beings, at what they need.”

Participants of a session on the future of emergencies also spoke about putting people and children, their needs and aspirations at the centre of the humanitarian response. “It’s absolutely essential to give a voice to people on the ground,” said Fatou Wurie, Programme Officer from UNICEF Sierra Leone, citing the example of last year’s Ebola outbreak in the country. As she noted, community empowerment and mobilization had become the key to containing the virus at the local level. The discussion around emergency preparedness and response sparked reflections on whether there is a space to innovate during emergencies and if so, what kind of new tools and shifts humanitarian organizations need to respond more effectively and efficiently to a growing number of emergencies. UNICEF Deputy Representative Luciano Calestini shared the experience of UNICEF Lebanon in engaging non-traditional actors, such as the private sector, to provide vocational training for the young Syrian refugees living in Lebanon.

Fatou Wurie, Programme Officer from UNICEF Sierra Leone.
Fatou Wurie, Programme Officer from UNICEF Sierra Leone.

Drivers of innovation

Forging private-public partnerships was highlighted at the summit as one of the key drivers of innovation. Director of Phillips Foundation Katy Hartley and Head of Sustainability and CR of ARM Dominic Vergine, panellists in the “Partnerships: Doing Good is Good Business” session, spoke about the added value the collaboration with UNICEF has brought to their organizations, noting in particular UNICEF’s convening power, issue-driven focus and first-hand knowledge of communities on the ground.

Many of the current and potential UNICEF partners attending the summit expressed their appreciation to UNICEF and the Government of Finland for facilitating this essential gathering of the innovative minds that enabled them to think beyond institutional boundaries and learn from each other.

The second day of the Innovations Summit will provide even more opportunities for building new connections. It will also showcase some of the many UNICEF-led innovations, such as U-report for example, that have spread around the world and help create a real, meaningful change in the lives of millions of children.