Companies investing in urban emerging tech opportunities could change 2 billion lives and make up to $2 trillion in revenue according to Arm and UNICEF

20 September 2018
Street views in District 1 in Ho Chi Minh city.
UNICEF/UN0213428/Viet Hung
street views in District 1 in Ho Chi Minh city.

Today, UNICEF releases findings of ground-breaking new research in collaboration with Arm, revealing that over 2 billion lives can be changed by investing in emerging cities across the world, while also generating up to $2 trillion in revenue by 2022. The Tech Bets for an Urban World research reveals that businesses who invest in technology solutions designed for emerging urban cities can not only do good business but also simultaneously deliver social change for people who need it the most. 

Commissioned by UNICEF and global technology leader Arm, the research highlights the scale of the unrealised potential of emerging cities extrapolating findings from three up and coming locations: Nairobi, Jakarta and Mexico City. It identified six technology areas where the industry can collaborate, innovate and invest to deliver social change and financial return. The ‘tech bets’ are:

  • Smart water metering which could see 2.5-3 billion people gain access to affordable and clean water;
  • Emergency response, where innovation could link 3-3.5 billion people to a range of life-saving services
  • Blended learning, where teachers could use online content in lessons to engage and inspire up to 500-600 million children
  • Multi-Modal Skilling, which has the potential to equip up to 60-120 million young people in developing countries with the skills they need
  • Smart Recruiting for the Informal Economy, connecting between 0.8 – 1.2 billion people across the informal economy
  • Commuter Car Share, a carpool system to provide safer, more efficient, and better quality transportation for potentially 350 million people around the world

“Tech companies can do good business by investing in innovations that lift children and their families out of poverty,” said Erica Kochi, Principal Adviser, UNICEF Innovation. “They have the potential to deliver more than corporate social responsibility – they can deliver long-term life-changing solutions.”

By 2030, up to two thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, with approximately 1.8 billion of them under the age of 24. Tech bets for an Urban World highlights that the technology sector has a crucial role to play in driving sustainable growth and social inclusion worldwide. It confirms the potential of the private sector to accelerate progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. 

Dominic Vergine, Head of Sustainability, Arm, said: “There are very real concerns about how our teeming cities will provide for a significant proportion of the world’s population. The pressures on infrastructure, transportation, basic services and the threat of violence are real barriers that will have a significant impact on the most vulnerable and their ability to thrive and survive.

“This is where companies like Arm can make a real difference, we can invest in life-changing technology that is being developed on the ground and make a profit that has a real purpose. We hope this piece of research shines a spotlight on the wealth of opportunity for the tech sector to deliver enormous social impact for urban children and their families while expanding markets and financial returns for technology companies and investors.”

Arm has partnered with UNICEF for three years to pioneer new technology to help the most vulnerable people across the world.  More than 70 per cent of the world’s population use Arm technology, which powers more than 125 billion chips in devices, from sensors to smartphones to supercomputers.

The partnership also looks to convene the wider tech sector and encourage businesses to collaborate and find ways of using technology to help people who need it the most. This is part of 2030Vision which looks at how technology can drive the UN’s Global Goals with an aim to lift one billion people out of poverty through sustainable and profitable technology solutions.

Arm and UNICEF have collaborated with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and The African Academy of Sciences (funded in partnership with the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA)) to launch a Global Grand Challenge inviting innovators to create scalable technology solutions to improve access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene for the poorest children and their families living in urban cities. This is a major step in putting the Tech Bets research into action.

Tech Bets for the Urban World was conducted by Dalberg and comprised of immersive research. This includes one to one conversations and focus group discussions in homes, schools and local community institutions with over 200 women and children across all three cities, as well as 100 interviews with local technology innovators. In addition, there was a consultation with an industry advisory committee made up of leading companies with deep topical expertise like Google, Facebook and Microsoft as well as sector leaders like Merck among many others.

To learn more about The Tech Bets for the Urban World report and the six big tech bets, visit


For more information and interview opportunities please contact:

Yemi Lufadeju     UNICEF New York       + 1 917 213 4034       

Methodology overview:

UNICEF together with Arm, commissioned Dalberg, to find large business opportunities and make large scale impact. The research looked for opportunities that are important to women and children in urban markets (from UNICEF’s urbanization handbook), including: basic services, infrastructure, human mobility, violence & hazards and connectivity. The research took place over five months and focused on three urban cities in emerging markets: Jakarta, Mexico City, and Nairobi. Each of these cities is a hub for innovation and represents a large potential market for tech actors. The approach included:

  • Bringing the best of human centered design methodology to understand the aspirations of women and children in urban cities and the day-to-day challenges they face. Dalberg conducted immersive research with over 200 women and children across our three cities. This included 1:1 conversations in their homes, schools or local institutions along with focus group discussions.
  • Conducting rigorous market analysis to understand the business potential of emerging opportunities. Dalberg worked with the leading technology actors in each market (over 100 in total) to understand which use cases are most able to address these human needs. As part of this piece of work it was important to understand the business potential of these opportunities, so the methodology looked at which use cases are gaining the most funding, how their business models work and what the revenue potential could look like, especially if key barriers to uptake were removed.

Many of the use cases explored are still quite nascent. The objective was therefore to focus on highlighting the future potential of these markets as an illustration of the magnitude of the opportunities that sit before technology actors. The market sizing was global in nature and included countries with the following characteristics:

  • GDP of less than 20,000 USD per person / year
  • More than 15% internet use
  • Have more than 1M urban population
  • Are not fragile states

Validating these findings with an advisory council comprising of leading companies with deep topical expertise. These included global technology players like Google, Facebook and Microsoft as well as sector leaders like Merck among many others. The advisory council helped to define the research, identify what kind of information would be most useful to technology actors and helped validate the findings and recommendations. 

Media contacts

Yemi Lufadeju
Communication Specialist
Tel: +1 917 213 4034
Tel: +1 212 326 7029


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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