UNICEF has benefitted from numerous and varied academic collaborations, from classes designing prototypes to research groups exploring practices in the field, all with the intention of spurring innovation for development. We talked via skype to students and a professor from NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, a student representing the Netherlands-based research initiative IRSP, and a student from Columbia University’s SIPA program, seeking to draw out some lessons gained through their collaborations with UNICEF.

Gabriela Gutiérrez supplied for us a personal example that expressed a project breakthrough. Gabriela participated in an ITP class called “Design for UNICEF.” Her group project, entitled Infone, was a prototype where local inhabitants of a region would be text messaged a survey question intended to forecast and map possible trouble areas, like revealing where there is standing water from flooding, to help prevent a malarial outbreak for example.

John Dimatos, an Assistant Professor for ITP’s “Design for UNICEF” class, shared an instance that expressed the iterative process of prototyping. As a student in an earlier UNICEF collaboration, John was part of a group that developed a prototype called Water Canary, “a small but powerful device to test water quality at the final source of a communal drinking supply.”

Jorge Just, a recent ITP graduate, talked about the UNICEF influence, and gave an example of the affect it has in an academic partnership. Jorge is well into his development of RapidFTR, which is a system that helps aid workers collect, sort and share photographs and information about children in emergency situations so they can be registered for care services and reunited with their families. His group project for the UNICEF class collaboration evolved into a thesis, and then a working prototype developed on behalf of UNICEF.

Emma Lidewij van der Ploeg related for us an example that illustrates some necessary ingredients to maximize success. Emma was part of a joint IRSP (International Research by Students Programme) and UNICEF initiative, which involved establishing a framework for the use of solar energy in rural Uganda, in order to make a contribution to the country’s development.

Mark Weingarten participated in the 2010 UNICEF capstone project at Columbia University’s SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs) program. His contribution to this video was in answering where he thought collaborations with UNICEF might head, and the overall possibilities for the future. His group was tasked with analyzing two current real-time data collection projects, one in Iraq and one in Uganda – and then drawing out abstract lessons for extending similar systems to other UN member states.

We would like to thank the participants featured in this video for their time and wisdom, and believe that their insights can serve to inform other academic partnerships in the future. For more detailed interview information about the collaboration experience, click on the categories labeled Academic Collaboration to see more.

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