UNICEF Innovation Fund Invests in Skills and Connectivity
Eleven new startups added to the Fund’s 2020 Investment Portfolio
Eleven startup companies using frontier technology solutions to address complex challenges and create fairer opportunities for children and young people will receive seed funding from UNICEF’s Innovation Fund.
This cohort focuses on solutions that bridge learning or connectivity gaps towards employability - bringing the portfolio of start-up investments to 50 - and features two technology areas (data science and extended reality).
Nearly 4 billion people (29% of whom are 18-24 year-olds) remain unconnected from the internet, and by extension unconnected to digital products that could dramatically improve their lives. Adding to this challenge, the gender digital divide is also growing, and studies show men outnumber women on the internet as much as two to one. COVID-19 has and will change the world permanently - communities are experiencing an unprecedented level of dislocation where people must stay connected through technology at a level that has never been seen before.
In the post-COVID-19 world, the need for connectivity for all is even more clear – and that need is not simply for gigabytes, but for what those gigabytes contain. An entire global population will need to work–and to work in new ways–to provide for their families and communities. That means new skills, new ways of collaborating, globally, and new ways of getting paid.
UNICEF Innovation has led the establishment of Giga, a global initiative which aims to connect every young person to the internet and to information, opportunity and choice. As schools and their communities are brought online through Giga, the Innovation Fund will be able to increase access to valuable open-source digital solutions.
For the latest round of investments, UNICEF’s Innovation Fund has selected 11 startups across 9 countries 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.
In addition, 5 out of these 11 companies have female founders, bringing the proportion of female-founded companies in our portfolio closer to 50% - the goal of our Smart Investing Initiative.
This cohort has been selected in response to a call for applications issued around skills and connectivity for youth, and based on the potential of their solution to address UNICEF programmatic needs related to COVID-19 response. The Fund received over 350 submissions from 60+ UNICEF programme countries.
A brief overview of the eleven startups:
Remote Learning & Work
The companies will not only benefit from the seed investment provided by UNICEF, but will also gain access to UNICEF’s Innovation team and networks -- providing support from technical assistance to networking with industry leaders, as well as creating a community around the open source solutions developed.
UNICEF’s Innovation Fund has been 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.
Generation Unlimited (GenU) is a global partnership to change the status quo and overcome barriers to young people’s progress, such as the lack of basic connectivity, quality education and training opportunities. This round of investments will address four “Global Breakthrough” areas identified as opportunities in the GenU agenda: job-matching, remedial learning, remote learning and work, and digital connectivity.
Giga, an initiative launched by UNICEF and ITU in September 2019 to connect every school to the Internet and every young person to information, opportunity and choice, is supporting the immediate response to COVID19, as well as looking at how connectivity can create stronger infrastructures of hope and opportunity in the "time after COVID."