BURUNDI, 2012. Tea fields in the Kayanza province, north of the country. After coffee, tea is Burundi's second biggest export earner. 80 per cent of the country's tea is traded abroad. © UNICEF/BRDA2012-00048/PAWEL KRZYSIEK
BURUNDI, 2012. Tea fields in the Kayanza province, north of the country. After coffee, tea is Burundi’s second biggest export earner. 80 per cent of the country’s tea is traded abroad. © UNICEF/BRDA2012-00048/PAWEL KRZYSIEK

When UNICEF’s NextGen’s Founder, Casey Rotter, mentioned the opportunity to consult pro bono and visit the UNICEF Innovation Lab in Burundi for the Next Gen/UNICEF Innovation Pen Pals program, I literally jumped at the chance to apply. As a content strategist at a social media start-up in Chicago, I naturally applied to play a role on the communications team. When I found out weeks later that I was accepted, I was ecstatic to know that I could be a part of the kickoff group for this unparalleled initiative.

NextGener Brittany Ford heading from LAX to Burundi! Photo credit: Brittany Ford
NextGener Brittany Ford heading from LAX to Burundi! Photo credit: Brittany Ford

From that moment on, we’ve each had calls with the team in Burundi to assess how we can best use our own expertise to support their lifesaving work in Burundi. Our team ranges in specialties from sustainable power to child development to social media. For example, Ben, our data visualization expert, is working to figure out how tell the story the data reveals to create compelling images that raise awareness for the lab and the issues affecting the people of Burundi. As a member of the communications team, we’re lucky enough to have 3 people completely dedicated to this project, so with everything from raising awareness about Burundi’s needs to international media (did you even know Burundi was a country? Do you know where it is? Be honest!), to how to make Facebook posts reach the right audience, we’ve been collaborating and brainstorming together. As the Power Finance expert, Rhys is supporting UNICEF Burundi’s venture to empower individuals to deliver sustainable and locally produced electric power to the people of Burundi (currently only 3% of the country has access to the electrical grid). So after these initial meetings and research, we’re heading out to Burundi to get a first-hand experience and better understanding, so we can return home and continue working remotely with a better understanding of the context and if/how we could be helpful. We will strive to discover ways to make our ideas a reality and do all we can to support the Burundi Innovation Lab and the global UNICEF lab network.

Just landed in Kenya! Abby, Ben and Kristen in the picture. Photo credit: Abby Herzig
Just landed in Kenya! Abby, Ben and Kristen in the picture. Photo credit: Abby Herzig

Fast-forward 2 months.. 7 of us NextGeners (Abby, Ben, Brittany, Kristen, Leila, Pat, Rhys) are about to hop on planes, trains and automobiles to travel from LA, Chicago, Toronto and New York to reach the UNICEF Innovation Lab in Burundi by Sunday! Every email we send and call we jump on is oozing with excitement and we cannot wait until we are on the ground with the Burundi team. Brittany’s excitement sums it up: “I think the most important thing the UNICEF labs do is innovate and speak to people on a local, community and global scale… so to be on the ground getting to know real people, working together to find real solutions is amazing.” Burundi here we come!

Stay up to date on our trip by following along with our posts tagged #NextGenTravels

By Kristen Piesko
UNICEF’s Next Generation Steering Committee member

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