UNICEF Innovation Fund Investments in Skills & Connectivity

Ten startups working on solutions that bridge learning or connectivity gaps graduate from UNICEF's Innovation Fund

Kennedy Kitheka, Portfolio Strategist & Zenani Orengo, Investment Adviser
Every child and every teacher connected.
28 October 2021

In 2020, 11 start-ups across 9 countries were selected by the UNICEF Innovation Fund to address four “Global Breakthrough” areas identified as opportunities in the Generation Unlimited agenda: job-matching, remedial learning, remote learning and work, and digital connectivity. 

This cohort has seen impressive traction, including successful exits of two companies; in South Africa, Giraffe’s acquisition by the Harambee Youth Accelerator will expand efforts to tackle youth unemployment in South Africa, while in India, Geospoc Geospatial was acquired by Ola to further develop mobility tech. 

Comunicación Aumentativa (Chile), and Cireha (Argentina), an alumni company, recently announced a partnership that will enable both companies to strengthen their presence in new markets. The combination of Comunicación Aumentativa's business development and marketing capabilities, AI-enabled communication assistant, and Cireha's product features will enable them to offer a suite of features/services and products to a broader customer base. Comunicación Aumentativa also achieved 1427% quarterly revenue growth and 1020% monthly active user growth during the investment period with the Fund. 

VRapeutic is piloting their solution with UNICEF Vietnam, testing a library of modules that addresses attention skills for children diagnosed with ADHD and autism. This pilot aims to improve cognitive skills for children aged 6 to 12 in Vietnam. 

In addition to this, the cohort has reached over 79,000 beneficiaries to address the skills and connectivity gaps in their respective regions.  

Here are the companies' main achievements, impact, and growth over the course of the investment period: 

Job Matching 

Giraffe (South Africa): Giraffe is a mobile job matching platform that uses AI and algorithms to reduce frictional unemployment and uses data from 1 million candidates to shorten the feedback loop between employers and jobseekers regarding critical skills that are in demand. 

  • Giraffe developed a learning management system that is optimised for mobile devices and partnered with the biggest cell phone networks in South Africa to zero-rate the data on the course platform- making it completely free for jobseekers to take the courses. 
  • Giraffe was acquired by Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator to drive the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative- the largest coordinated effort to combat youth unemployment in South Africa. 
  • 1200+ small businesses joined the platform to provide jobs in South Africa. 

Digital Connectivity 

GeoSpoc GeoSpatial (India): Platform using artificial intelligence and machine learning with satellite data to map schools and hospitals in India 

  • Geospoc was acquired by Ola Cabs; Geospoc’s geospatial scientists and engineers will be joining Ola to develop technologies which will make mobility universally accessible, sustainable, personalized, and convenient, across shared and personal vehicles.  
  • Geospoc developed Geo-Qi: Mapper that converts data into information that is very easy to understand. Built using Open Source technology, Geo-Qi: Mapper identifies features remotely, such as schools and urban hospitals, using machine learning. 
Monia (left), 23 years old, enrolled in the UNICEF-supported digital skills training.

Remote Learning & Work

Inspired Ideas (Tanzania): Health assistant tool (Elsa) to support healthcare workers in remote areas through diagnostic decision support, next step recommendations, and disease outbreak predictions 

  • Piloted solution with 10 drug dispensers, 20 clinical officers, and 3 pediatricians across Tanzania - all of whom are still using the tool in their facility.  
  • Elsa supports clinical decisions for roughly 5,000 patients per month. 
  • Preliminary results show that Elsa’s Intelligence can accurately predict the true cause of a patient’s illness 85% of the time across a set of 50 conditions 

Propter (Serbia): Propter D.O.O are developing SocioXR, a VR/AR software platform that delivers immersive learning games and experiences that empower students to learn about the world around them. 

  • Propter implemented WebXR for cross platform support as a result the solution is compatible with AR and VR headsets. 
  • Increased adaptive features of the platform for teachers and students to add custom features on the platform even if they do not have programming skillsets. 

StockKnowledge (Philippines): Remote STEM learning and management system to track student progress 

  • Formed strategic partnerships with the Department of Education in Manila and Makati divisions for pilot tests and research. 
  • Released two version of the XR and Learning Management System that improved upon asset quality and functionality. 
Ema, 6, using the OTTAA communicator
Comunicación Aumentativa

Remedial Learning 

Angaza Elimu (Kenya): Digital learning platform for adaptive assessment, and tailored support; works offline in regions with low connectivity (piloted in refugee camps) 

  • Over the last year, student users grew from 9,000 to 30,000, with user engagement lasting an average of 29 mins. The team also grew their teacher base to 2,738 on the platform.  
  • Received investment of $100,000 equity-free funding from Google’s Black Founder Fund and participated in the Google for Startups Africa Accelerator program as well as the SDG program.  

Comunicación Aumentativa, OTTAA Project (Chile): AI enabled communication assistant using pictograms for children with speech impairments 

  • Developed the OTTAA Accessibility Suite, a set of devices to ensure universal access, mainly facilitating the use of the platform for people with motor impairment, furthering autonomy of users 
  • Partnered with UNICEF Innovation Fund alumni Cboard for integration of text-to-speech into Cboard's platform. Adding three additional countries to pilot the solution.  

VRapeutic (Egypt): Personalised VR content for children diagnosed with ADHD and autism for skill-based learning 

  • Piloting their solution with UNICEF Vietnam, testing a library of modules that addresses attention skills for children diagnosed with ADHD and autism. This pilot aims to improve cognitive skills for children from 6 to 12 developmental age in Vietnam. 
  • Expanded to two new markets in two continents, and introduce new products to the market of software-based rehabilitation. 

I-STEM (India): Remedial learning dashboard for students with disabilities providing automated workflows, accessible content conversion, and mentorship matching services. 

  • Increased the overall accuracy of the document accessibility service to 92% including the processing of complex layouts, tables, images, STEM content etc. 
  • Onboarded over 800 individuals with disabilities that use the platform services for content accessibility needs. 

WonderTree (Pakistan): Game-based learning for children with disabilities 

  • Signed MoUs with Qatari and Pakistani Governments; accrediting the solution and enabling the team to sell the games locally in these regions. 
  • Improved UI/UX practices for game development and making a WebGL version of the product enabling seamless access to new markets. 


UNICEF Innovation Fund 

Launched in 2016, the Fund is specifically designed to finance early stage, open-source technology that can benefit children. The core motivation of the Innovation Fund is to identify “clusters” or portfolios of initiatives around emerging technology - so that UNICEF can both share markets and also learn about and guide these technologies to benefit children. We invest in solutions clusters around $100 billion industries in frontier technology spaces, such as blockchain, virtual and augmented reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence. 

Learn more on the UNICEF Innovation Fund website