What we do
UNICEF’s Office of Innovation uses technology to address the biggest challenges facing children today.
UNICEF has a 70-year history of innovating for children. We believe that new approaches, partnerships and technologies that support realizing children’s rights are critical to improving their lives.
The widening gulf between rich and poor, rapid urbanization, climate change and the rapid pace of technological change necessitates us to adapt and create new solutions to confront the challenges facing children today. Nearly one child in four is living in a country affected by humanitarian crises, and almost 50 million children have been uprooted from their homes. To address these challenges, innovation is more vital than ever.
1. Provide Life-saving Info and Services
We use new approaches and technologies to increase access to essential services, use scarce resources more efficiently, and communicate life-saving information.
2. Engage Young People in Change
We use technology and new approaches to engage young people around the world, connect them to their governments as well as opportunities to ensure that they are future ready.
3. Help UNICEF meet children’s needs today and tomorrow
We identify emerging technologies, conduct research, experiment with new approaches, and invest in early stage solutions. We work to ensure that children can take advantage of technological opportunities and be protected from technological risks.
We partner with the private sector, research institutions, and local entrepreneurs in new ways, demonstrating how doing good is good business.
This often means looking beyond philanthropy and working with businesses to deliver for children while identifying and meeting market needs.
Take a closer look at some of our initiatives
Giving communities life-saving information during Hurricanes Irma, Jose and Maria.
When a natural disaster is on the horizon, we can activate U-Report to send short, sharp, simple messages to those in affected areas, and keep in touch with U-Reporters in real time. We promoted U-Report Global via Facebook in the countries in the path of Caribbean Hurricanes in 2017 – and got basic life-saving information ready in English, Spanish and French. We sent 'how to stay safe' messages to over 25,000 people and answered 8,500 questions from young people over two weeks. This huge, round-the-clock effort championed the very idea of a global community, and sparked a much larger partnership with WhatsApp. UNICEF needs to get critical information to people during emergencies; technology and partners speed up that process and help us reach the hardest-to-reach communities in new ways.
Investing in startups that deliver results for children.
UNICEF's Venture Fund is the first financial vehicle of its kind in the UN. With funding from the governments of Denmark, Finland and three private investors, it is a co-leveraged $17.9 million fund to test and scale-up promising solutions from around the world. It focuses on open source technology, and the resulting IP being created, to generate value and address some of the most pressing problems facing children. So far, we've invested in 33 companies with promising projects -- from textbooks that are accessible to children with disabilities in Kenya, to drones in Malawi, to using blockchain to improve systems for government payments to schools in South Africa. These young, risk-taking entrepreneurs are using technologies in new and different ways to address local issues in their communities. We have an opportunity to catalyze these local markets by investing in businesses that ultimately solve a social problem -- as well as connecting funded companies to a network and community that can support and scale their ready-to-go solutions.
Generation AI: Upholding Children’s Rights in the AI age.
Tomorrow, AI will impact almost every part of our lives. In many cases the impacts will be greatest for children – from how they’re conceived and born, to the services they can access and how they learn, to the jobs they’ll train for. Without specific attention to children, the evolution of AI technology could proceed without sufficiently addressing children’s needs and rights. UNICEF is working with a diverse set of partners, including The World Economic Forum, UC Berkeley, Article One, Microsoft and others to set and lead the global agenda on AI and children -- outlining the opportunities and challenges, as well as engaging stakeholders to build AI powered solutions that help realize and uphold child rights. This multi-year initiative will inform sets of actionable, specific recommendations for governments, companies, and caregivers that UNICEF will stress test before striving to implement through strategic partnerships.
Using data to respond to constantly evolving humanitarian challenges.
The world faces complex, intractable, and ever-shifting problems. The advent of accessible big data, data science and AI can help us work faster and better for children. In settings like Colombia after an earthquake, or during an epidemic outbreak like Ebola, or where data on poverty estimates are inaccessible, we can use these tools to get a better picture of what's happening on the ground, and act quicker and more effectively. We're working with scientific experts and technology companies -- to bring the value of machine learning to UNICEF. This can include everything from helping those in disaster response focus their limited resources; to understanding how people who are most at risk are thinking about a threat; to knowing what information to provide to populations affected by epidemics.
Six ways that tech companies can do good while doing good business.
Despite very real challenges that technology holds for the fabric of society, if used well, also holds the potential to positively impact and transform the lives of children and their families. 4 billion lives could be improved by tech solutions to deliver social services to people living in emerging markets today. UNICEF, Arm and Dalberg did in-depth research into untapped for-profit business opportunities with the biggest potential to deliver positive social impact. By learning directly from users in Jakarta, Mexico City and Nairobi about their needs, seeing first hand how technologies are directly improving their lives, and sizing local and global markets, we came up with six big Tech Bets: Digital Learning, Multi-Modal Skilling, Smart Recruitment, Water Metering, Emergency Response, and Commuter Ride-Sharing. The research reveals that businesses who invest in technology solutions designed for emerging urban cities can do good business, and simultaneously deliver profound social change for people who need it the most.
Employing mobile phones to provide better healthcare.
Three quarters of Palestinians use social media networks, and mobile phones have become almost ubiquitous in households -- for UNICEF and partners, this represents a game-changing opportunity for two-way communication with communities outside formal systems. In the State of Palestine, more than one-third of children with disabilities are out of school and less than half are enrolled in regular education. We're working with the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Health to pilot RapidPro as a Digital Monitoring solution -- with a focus on the early detection of children with developmental delays and disabilities, and how to provide early intervention services. This is a novel and efficient way to reach and assist these families, reduce social stigma, and build a supportive environment for children with disabilities.
Product Innovation: Developing fit-for-purpose and value-for-money products that respond to the unmet needs of children.
At Supply Division, UNICEF is turning ideas into scalable solutions. Product innovation involves the development of fit-for-purpose and value-for-money products that respond to the unmet needs of children. By working with field partners and programmatic experts to understand those needs, businesses and academia to develop products that meet those needs, and with programming partners and donors to bring those new products to scale, product innovation at UNICEF is having a tremendous impact for children.
The critical role of digital innovation and technology for development (T4D) to UNICEF programming.
With the global emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, digital development has become an integral component of UNICEF’s work as national programmes shifted to distance and remote delivery means. The scale-up of T4D’s strategic integration in programming and digital innovations has allowed UNICEF to support programme partners in closing gaps to meet children’s needs, often under complex environments, and in line with existing national systems.
The following set of principles represents a concerted effort by donors to capture the most important lessons learned by the development community in the implementation of technology-enabled programmes.