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"While the challenges of poverty, conflict and violence might be outside our control, our responses to them are within our control…. As we consider the many challenges ahead, we know that we cannot keep up without a relentless focus on finding new and better ways to design, deliver and finance our programs and services with our partners. In other words, not without a commitment to innovation."
— UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta H. Fore
Innovating for children
Within the UNICEF Office of Innovation is a creative, agile, interdisciplinary team tasked with identifying and advancing technologies and practices that strengthen UNICEF’s work in helping provide lifesaving information and services to children and families. Uniquely positioned where major global issues intersect with startup thinking, UNICEF Innovation fosters collaboration across sectors and across borders, building partnerships around “frontier technologies” to drive toward scalable solutions. These solutions include:
UNICEF uses new or existing digital technologies and adapts them into solutions to accelerate results for children, including virtual and augmented reality lessons, data and digital health tools that reduce stock-outs of essential commodities, accessible digital textbooks and mobile youth platforms that empower millions of young people.
UNICEF builds non-traditional mechanisms of raising resources to meet children’s needs such as bridge funds, blended finance, crowdsourcing, catastrophe bonds and cryptocurrency donations.
Physical Product Innovations
UNICEF creates new or improves existing physical goods to meet the needs of children and young people, including portable incubators, accessible latrine slabs for children with disabilities, compressed air for pneumonia, new diagnostic tools and extreme weather-resistant tents to use as emergency shelter or health clinics.
UNICEF deploys different approaches, processes and ways of working improve efficiency and effectiveness. These innovations include ‘smart’ contracts, human-centered program design, behavior science-driven communication for development, and the use of creative tools to engage adolescents in preparing for emergencies.
Empowering children through innovation
A huge part of the Innovation agenda is to connect the world’s most marginalized populations and to empower young people with access to information, opportunities and choices. UNICEF uses technology and new approaches to engage young people around the world, connect them to their governments and provide opportunities to ensure that they are future ready.
An innovative approach
UNICEF's approach to innovation is rooted in the following principles for digital development:
- Involve end users in planning, development and implementation
- Understand the ecosystem being designing for
- Design for scale; be replicable and customizable in other countries and contexts
- Plan for sustainability from the start
- Be data-driven
- Use open-source technology and open data, and invest in software as a public good
- Modify and extend existing tools, platforms and frameworks when possible
- Consider privacy needs and assess and mitigate risks to the security of users and their data
- Be collaborative; engage diverse expertise and work across sector silos
UNICEF’s Global Innovation Center (GIC), part of the Office of Innovation, analyzes efforts and scales the successes. The GIC leverages and provides support to a global network of UNICEF offices, specialists and UN organizations in nearly 150 countries. To date, the GIC has supported 85 countries to identify, adopt and adapt innovative solutions — affecting the lives of over 100 million people.