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UNICEF HEADQUARTERS, 2013. On 10 April 2013, (left-right) UNICEF Innovation Advisors Erica Kochi and Christopher Fabian work together on mapping the future of innovation at UNICEF House. In front of them (left) is a prototype of the ‘Digital Drum’ and (centre) a three-dimensionally printed gear, given to Mr. Fabian as a present by Singularity University on a recent trip to UNICEF’s Innovation Labs in Burundi and Uganda. © UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0180/SUSAN MARKISZ

One single SMS can make the difference between life and death for a new-born in Nigeria. UNICEF’s innovation guru Christopher Fabian constantly finds new solutions to protect the world’s children using the latest technology.

His answer to the question “which problem is the most important to solve” when talking about child poverty is unexpected. One could have guessed education, food or water, maybe vaccinations or contributions to mothers, but Christopher Fabian says: ”We must change faster. It can take 3 to 5 years to figure out how we can best educate, or get health strategy into practice. Then we lose a whole generation of children. We must work faster.”

Christopher Fabian and Erica Kochi co-lead UNICEF’s Innovation Unit in New York. Together with partners from academia and the private sector, they seek technical innovations that can make poverty reduction more efficient and improve the lives of the world’s children.

The Innovation Unit is located in UNICEF Headquarters in New York and has around 10 employees but the “real work” is not done in New York. Not even by the around 40 innovation team members who are working in the UNICEF Country Offices. The real work is done in the field – by midwifes and fieldworkers. “Our work is to provide them with research and technology that they can use in their reality. We are scouting for new solutions but we are also looking back. Some of our projects fail but still you must do them. You have to take the risk of failure, otherwise you cannot make a big difference.”

A tech geek and entrepreneur in a giant organization such as UNICEF. Why is he there? What drives him? “I have always been attracted by difficult challenges. UNICEF has the most compelling challenges in the world. And I like to fight for “the underdog”. UNICEF is not trying to solve the challenges from the top but from the locations where the problems appear. It’s cool.“

Read the full article in Swedish on Veckans Affärer Hållbarhet (pages 4-7) here

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