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【30 November】UNICEF principal advisor on innovation Chris Fabian pitched collaboration to Japan companies

TOKYO, 30 November 2018 – To many people, business partnership and venture fund may not be the first things that come to their mind when they think of UNICEF. Normally, the UN organization enjoys wide recognition of running humanitarian and development programmes for children and youths around the world.

But Christopher Fabian, an IT entrepreneur-turned-UNICEF officer, is trying to bridge that perception gap through his work as principle advisor at the UNICEF Office of Innovation.

On November 30, Fabian was in Tokyo to speak to dozens of representatives from member companies of Keidanren (the Japan Business Federation) at its main office building. “I’d like to be provocative today. We need to talk about profit but also about value and those two things can really be the same thing,” he said.

In 2006, Fabian co-founded the UNICEF Innovation Unit. He is the man behind UNICEF’s Venture Fund launched in 2015, the first initiative of its kind in the United Nations to make investments in “frontier technologies” such as drones, data science, machine learning, 3D printing, among other high-tech areas.

His team is tasked to look at how UNICEF can change and grow joint ventures with private companies. He cited an example of such collaboration with Google. The U.S. search engine giant contributed more than 1 million U.S. dollars and dispatched its engineers and project managers to help contain the spread of Zika fever. In return, Google has gained good publicity, an opportunity for research publications, and a boost in the employee’s morale.

In his Tokyo presentation, Fabian also made a strong case about global significance of the Venture Fund. Through which, UNICEF invests in early-stage companies that seek to solve problems for the world. He said, “We are able to incubate them at the beginning of their life.”

For Masaya Futamiya, the Chair of Keidanren’s Committee on Corporate Behaviour and Social Responsibility, the UNICEF’s Venture Fund came as a total surprise when he first met with Fabian in February 2018. “This is quite different from the image we have of UNICEF. It is highly close to business activity rather than social contribution,” he said.

As Keidanren has laid out its future vision “Society 5.0”, a human-centered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems, Futamiya said the federation decided to invite Fabian to give a talk as the first step toward achieving Society 5.0 for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Fabian’s impassioned presentation prompted a number of questions from Keidanren member companies in the audience. Many of them were surprised to learn that UNICEF has formed partnerships with businesses to address social and health problems in a win-win manner for all the parties concerned. “It has dawned on me that the use of data is effective even in poverty-stricken areas, which can also lead to a new business opportunity,” said one participant in a feedback note. “Looking ahead, we would like to consider a possibility of collaboration when launching a business operation in emerging countries,” said another participant.

For his part, Fabian thinks there is quite a lot of overlap between the SDGs and the Society 5.0. He believes therein lies a possibility for collaboration between UNICEF and Japanese companies. “This is an open invitation to all of your companies to work with us... It’s a collaboration that works with the core strengths of the company and works with the needs that we have as well,” he said. “It has to be worth it for both of us.”

 

 

 
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