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UNICEF Innovation Fund invests in tech startups working to improve children's lives

For those of you who remember collecting pennies for UNICEF as kids, you may find the modern-day UNICEF quite interesting. It's using its 190 offices, 12,000 staff and a VC-style investment portfolio to source and support startups that more traditional investment vehicles may overlook. The goal? To prototype technology solutions and expand its network of open source collaborators. And the beneficiaries of all that? Children who could use a helping hand. – Philip Bane


"The UNICEF Innovation Fund is a new way of doing business at the UN; combining the approach of Silicon Valley venture funds with the needs of UNICEF program countries," explains Cynthia McCaffrey, Director of the UNICEF Office of Innovation.

The fund just announced its first portfolio of investments in emerging market tech startups offering open source solutions, including tools to improve maternal and child health care, early childhood development and literacy. Here’s how UNICEF describes them:

  • Saycel (Nicaragua) – provides affordable mobile connectivity to communities that are not on the traditional information grid in rural areas.
  • mPower (Bangladesh) – offers a digital registry platform to improve data collection and delivery of maternal and child health care.
  • 9Needs (South Africa) - uses blockchain and advances in identity technology to create better management systems for early childhood development services.
  • Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (Pakistan) - creates stories and information that can be played over a simple mobile phone to help fathers (who may be semi-literate) support their families for better maternal and newborn health.
  • Chatterbox (Cambodia) - provides a fundamental technology layer to be integrated into UNICEF's RapidPro platform to extend its reach to communities that are low literacy, particularly in Cambodia, but eventually globally.

What's next?
The fund anticipates adding 20 to 40 more startups to its portfolio in 2017 and the next round of applications for investment is now open. Information about who can apply and how to submit Expressions of Interest is available at the fund's website. The deadline to apply is Jan. 1, 2017.

McCaffrey said the fund allows UNICEF to prototype technology solutions, as well as expand its networks of open source collaborators to improve children’s lives.

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This is an article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our newsletter. You can also: