About 6 months ago, UNICEF’s Next Generation adopted our 9th project: funding the development of three UNICEF innovations labs in Southeast Asia. These labs will join a network of innovation centers around the world that offer children the opportunity to devise solutions to the problems that are affecting their communities by partnering with local leaders, government and NGO representatives, educators and product developers.

Last month I had the opportunity to travel to Pristina, Kosovo with Casey Rotter, founder of UNICEF’s Next Generation, and meet 35 UNICEF innovators at the first UNICEF Innovations Summit. With representation from Afghanistan, Chile, Kenya, Kosovo, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda and more, I learned about UNICEF programs such as RapidFTR, RapidSMS, uReport, and so many creative solutions to problems affecting the most vulnerable children in the world. While participating in brainstorms, fail faires, sharing best practices and challenges, we came up with an idea… Next Gen Innovation Pen Pals!

Innovation Brainstorming. Photo credit: Danielle Abraham
Innovation Brainstorming. Photo credit: Danielle Abraham

While Next Gen is focused on fundraising for the development of three new labs, what if it was possible for us to also support the innovative work being done by UNICEF representatives in over 20 countries? What if Next Gen members based in the United States could leverage their skills, expertise and knowledge in a specific field to support lifesaving work around the world by remotely volunteering a few hours of their time every week?

We were at a big group dinner the final night of the Summit when Chris Fabian, Co-Lead of UNICEF’s Innovation Unit asked Casey and me to stand up and share this possibility with our new friends around the table. With the immediate cheers and shouts of requests from many at the table, it was clear they were excited.

Upon returning to NYC, we shared this idea with the Next Gen Steering Committees and they were just as excited! Currently, all UNICEF innovation leads have been invited to submit a request for a Next Gen Pen Pal by sending Casey a brief list of what kind of support would be most helpful, so the U.S. Fund for UNICEF can best match them with a Next Gen Steering Committee member. Each assignment will vary by country and while the majority of the work will be done remotely from the US, there may be opportunities for Next Gen members to travel to the country they are partnered with.

The goal of this program is to deepen the engagement of Next Gen members by educating Next Gen on UNICEF’s work and strengthening our knowledge and affinity for UNICEF’s programs, while completing specific tasks and consulting pro bono for a UNICEF innovation lead.

This is an incredible and unprecedented opportunity; Next Gen cannot wait to get started!

Danielle Abraham
Next Generation Founding Steering Committee Member
daniellelaurenabraham(at)gmail.com

See also a short video about the Innovations Summit in Kosovo here

Read also:

What innovation means to UNICEF

UNICEF innovation labs

UNICEF Innovation Labs: Do-It-Yourself Guide

Conversation: Ecosystems for innovation and the role of innovation labs

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