Duke and UNICEF Announce First Innovation Accelerator Social Enterprises

February 13, 2020

Unique Partnership to Support Global Entrepreneurs in Advancing Menstrual Health and Hygiene Solutions

DURHAM / NEW YORK (February 13, 2020) – UNICEF and Duke University today announced the selection of the first cohort of social entrepreneurs participating in the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator. Building on UNICEFs 70-year history of innovating for children and Dukes track record of success in entrepreneurial education, the Innovation Accelerator aims to support social enterprises tackling the most pressing challenges facing children and youth around the world.

Six social enterprises will join the Innovation Accelerator to develop and scale innovations that are addressing menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) in East Africa and beyond. The innovators’ solutions – which range from digital apps, to reusable and disposable pads, to community health models – all aim to strengthen menstrual health and hygiene while tackling pervasive cultural taboos and educational barriers surrounding menstruation.

As adolescent girls enter puberty and begin to menstruate, many face challenges at school and at home that can lead to stress, shame, embarrassment, confusion, and fear. These challenges may include a lack of knowledge about the menstrual cycle, insufficient access to menstrual hygiene materials, and inadequate WASH facilities for girls to privately change and discreetly dispose of used menstrual materials. By emphasizing local solutions that put girls and women at the center, the Innovation Accelerator cohort will collectively bring much-needed MHH solutions to communities and in turn, help empower the next generation to be healthy, happy, and educated.

“Limited resources, misinformation and shame surrounding menstruation can have a profoundly negative impact on girls’ lives and well-being,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, Associate Director, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) at UNICEF. “By finding innovative solutions for menstrual health, we’re not only advancing girls’ rights to water and sanitation, but also helping young women stay healthy, pursue their education, and have the security and confidence to fulfill their potential.”

The Innovation Accelerator’s first cohort of innovators come from diverse academic, professional and geographic backgrounds. Through the two-year program, the entrepreneurs will have access to a multitude of resources, including UNICEF subject matter experts, mentorship opportunities, Duke University faculty and students, monthly capacity building webinars, and a week-long residency at Dukes Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative.

“We look forward to hosting this extraordinary group of entrepreneurs on the Duke campus for an intensive residency where we will connect them into expertise, resources and mentorship across the Duke innovation system,” said Jon Fjeld, director of Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (I&E). “Duke has a long history of educating and supporting social entrepreneurs, and we are proud to partner with UNICEF to maximize the impact of these important social enterprises.” 


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Notes to Editors

  • The inaugural cohort includes five social enterprises from East Africa, including Kenya, Tanzania and Burundi, and one project is from UNICEF’s East Asia and the Pacific Regional Office. More than half of the innovators (5 out of 7) are women with degrees at either the bachelor’s or master’s levels. Learn more about the cohort here. 
  • Each member of the cohort will receive a suite of general and customized services to help them implement, assess and refine their innovations, and to design and pursue financially viable, ecosystem-sensitive strategies to scale their impact.
  • Through a customized capacity-building plan established for each innovation, the Innovation Accelerator will engage selected teams in a disciplined approach to test and iterate their innovations, design effective business models, leverage their ecosystems and attract sufficient resources to develop and implement scaling strategies.
  • On April 2, 2020 UNICEF will host the 8th Conference on Menstrual Hygiene Management in Schools. This year’s theme, “Innovation in MHM: Putting Girl’s at the Center,” aims to highlight national examples of programs that found new way to identify and address barriers to safe and dignified MHM. The virtual conference is expected to bring together over 1,000 participants from around the world. Visit www.mhmvirtualconference.org for more information.
  • On April 3, 2020, Duke University will host a global convening at its Durham campus of social entrepreneurs, academics, philanthropists, business leaders, activists, and students. This dynamic conference will spotlight the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator entrepreneurs in conversations with other experts and practitioners on the front lines of social innovation and international development. For more information, please email Taylor Conger (taylor.conger@duke.edu).


To learn more about the Duke-UNICEF Innovation Accelerator, visit www.dukeunicef.org


About Duke University
Younger than most other prestigious U.S. research universities, Duke University consistently ranks among the very best. Its graduate and professional schools — in business, divinity, engineering, the environment, law, medicine, nursing, and public policy — are among the leaders in their fields.

Duke enrolls more than 16,000 students in its undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs, and its world-class faculty is helping to expand the frontiers of knowledge. The university has a strong commitment to applying knowledge in service to society, both near its North Carolina campus and around the world.

Situated on nearly 9,000 acres in Durham, North Carolina, Duke is one of the very few schools in the country, or the world, that combines academic and athletic accomplishment at the highest levels.


The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to put children first. UNICEF has helped save more childrens lives than any other humanitarian organization, by providing health care and immunizations, safe water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. UNICEF USA supports UNICEF's work through fundraising, advocacy and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when no children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood. For more information, visit www.unicefusa.org.


For more information, please contact
Sarah Morrison, Duke I&E Initiative, sarah.morrison@duke.edu
Gabby Arias, UNICEF USA, garias@unicefusa.org