Using a venture capital approach – investing in companies with short track records but long-term growth possibilities – the United Nations Children’s Fund announced today the first five emerging market start-ups to which it will provide seed money to source solutions for issues like transportation, wearable technology, finance, and personal data.
Along with the UNICEF Innovation Fund’s first portfolio of investments, the agency also opened the next round of applications from start-ups, calling the Fund a “new way of doing business at the UN; combining the approach of Silicon Valley venture funds with the needs of UNICEF programme countries.”
“Using UNICEF’s 190 offices and 12,000 staff, the Fund will help us source and support companies that might be overlooked by traditional investment vehicles,” Cynthia McCaffrey, the Director of the UNICEF Office of Innovation said in a news release.
According to the release, the Fund allows UNICEF to prototype technology solutions, as well as expand its networks of open source collaborators to improve children’s lives.
The start-ups included in the portfolio of investments are:
- Saycel (Nicaragua): provides affordable mobile connectivity to communities that are not on the traditional information grid in rural areas;
- mPower (Bangladesh): create a digital registry platform to improve data collection and delivery of maternal and child health care;
- 9Needs (South Africa): uses blockchain – is a distributed database that maintains a continuously-growing list of records called ‘blocks’ – 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; and
- 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.
UNICEF has an eye to investing in 20-40 additional companies in 2017, said the release.
It added that the Innovation Fund is inviting technology start-ups to apply for investment and become part of this growing portfolio of open source solutions.
Progress made by portfolio projects are monitored in real time and displayed in detail at: www.unicefinnovationfund.org.
UNICEF Innovation, which includes the agency’s Office of Innovation, Innovation Unit (UNICEF Supply Division) and a network of Innovation Labs, is an interdisciplinary team of individuals around the world tasked with identifying, prototyping, and scaling technologies and practices that strengthen UNICEF’s work.