Innovation is critical to an organization's survival. Source: http://spisolutions.com/2013/07/innovation_idol_week1/
Innovation is critical to an organization’s survival. Source: http://spisolutions.com/2013/07/innovation_idol_week1/

The UNICEF supply Division Innovation Unit in Copenhagen works towards bringing innovations that improve the lives of children from idea to field fast and with the efficient use of resources. They do so by supporting the centers and country offices with developing and moving their innovation projects forward. The unit consists of 5 people with a variety of backgrounds ranging from anthropology to engineering. Presently, I am the newest addition to the unit having started as an intern at the beginning of November. When I was asked to write a blog about the innovation unit here in Copenhagen, I decided to keep a small diary so as to really give you a taste of what an average week at the unit is like.

Monday: Getting ready for the week ahead

Today is my second Monday and 6th working day at the innovation unit at the UNICEF Supply Division (SD) in Copenhagen. My first impression based on my first week here is that there are a lot of things going on; there is lots of communication and interaction happening between people and centers to move projects forward. I thought perhaps that last week was unusually busy, but this morning I see that this appears to be the norm. After a weekend break, the wheels are starting to turn again and things are taking of at all kinds of speeds. On the agenda this week are amongst other things the unit meeting, innovation review board, sharing session, school children coming to visit, warehouse visit, and the arrival of the school furniture prototypes.

Tuesday: Preparing for IRB

Today was almost entirely about the innovation review board (IRB) meeting taking place tomorrow. It is currently a monthly meeting, where the board is either updated on the current progress of the project or approval is sought to move the project on to the next stage. On the plan for tomorrow’s meeting is for example an update on the visual vaccines system, as well as requests for approval of the pilot plan for both the new kit labels and the new school furniture designs.

New colorful kit labels being piloted in the Philippines. Photo credit: Jean-Cedric Meeus (@unijcm)
New colorful kit labels being piloted in the Philippines. Photo credit: Jean-Cedric Meeus (@unijcm)

Wednesday: IRB and Sharing Session

The innovation review board (IRB) convened today and discussed some of the current projects going on. The board, the innovation unit, and the different project leaders were present and actively discussed how to best move projects forward. Being the first IRB meeting I have attended, two things were particularly interesting. First, it was exciting to see innovation in action, so to speak, and witness how the discussions, ideas and the inputs of different people with different backgrounds really add value. Secondly, having only just started at UNICEF you are aware of the mission and purpose of the organization, but contrary to almost everyone around you, you haven’t felt it happening yet. Seeing the effort, energy and attention given to the projects to ensure they have the largest impact on children as possible brought UNICEF’s mission a little closer to home.

After the meeting a sharing session was held in the innovation lab. The session was open to all supply division staff members around the world through the supply division intranet. As experts in their field, staff members in the various centres had lots of useful input on the current projects with regards to what was being done well or what could be improved.

The innovation unit sharing session in progress. Photo taken by Jonathan Howard-Brand at the Innovation Lab in UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen.
The innovation unit sharing session in progress. Photo taken by Jonathan Howard-Brand at the Innovation Lab in UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen.

Thursday: School is on focus

The current school in a box project has the purpose of redesigning the present aluminium box to make it more cost effective. This Thursday, the various sharing sessions being organized for this project to gain input from various experts were discussed. Decisions had to be made on how many sharing sessions should take place, who should be involved, and what internal and external parties would likely contribute significantly to the process. The school in a box project also took me over to the warehouse today, because we had to see how the sides of the aluminum school box need to be designed to ensure that the labels could be appropriately attached by the machines in the packaging/labeling process. You can see the sophisticated machinery involved in the picture below.

Part of the packaging and labeling process. Photo taken by Sophia Blichfeldt at UNICEF Supply Division warehouse in Copenhagen.
Part of the packaging and labeling process. Photo taken by Sophia Blichfeldt at UNICEF Supply Division warehouse in Copenhagen.

In the afternoon, children from Bernadotte school came by for a visit. They were interested in learning about the role of technology in development; you can see them in the picture talking to Loic.

School children visiting Innovation Unit with Loic Sanchez in Innovation Lab. Photo taken by Jonathan Howard-Brand in the Innovation Lab at UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen.
School children visiting Innovation Unit with Loic Sanchez in Innovation Lab. Photo taken by Jonathan Howard-Brand in the Innovation Lab at UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen.

Friday: Prototypes arrive!

Today, the prototypes for the current school furniture project arrived. They were assembled here to assess how easy they are to build, because from a fit for purpose perspective this is a very important factor for when the furniture has to be put together at the intended schools.

School furniture prototype parts arrive. Photo taken by Bo Strange Sorensen at the UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen.
School furniture prototype parts arrive. Photo taken by Bo Strange Sorensen at the UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen.
Assembled school furniture prototype. Photo taken by Bo Strange Sorensen at the UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen.
Assembled school furniture prototype. Photo taken by Bo Strange Sorensen at the UNICEF Supply Division, Copenhagen.

I hope you enjoyed this short introduction to the SD innovation unit’s work. You can read more about the different projects, case studies, and current challenges on the UNICEF innovation website. Also, be sure to check back here soon as I will be providing updates on the ongoing projects, events, and many other of the interesting things that occur around here!

Sophia Blichfeldt
Intern, Innovation Unit, Copenhagen
sblichfeldt(at)unicef.org

Related posts:

Workshop about designing school furniture with 3D models

Print This Story