On 17 July, 2016, UNICEF received an award for using innovation, data science, and real-time information to solve global goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by world leaders in September 2015 to improve the lives of people everywhere, by aiming to end extreme poverty, fight inequality & injustice, and fix climate change.

The world’s biggest challenges need equally big solutions that enable leaders to quickly and easily receive real-time information so they can make informed decisions. This presents a great opportunity for science, technology, and innovation communities to collaborate and create scalable solutions that can be integrated into development work.

At the event, UNICEF received an award acknowledging the potential for using innovative tools to collect real-time information that strengthen evidence-based decision making.

In accepting the award for UNICEF, Christopher Fabian called upon technology partners to provide access to data that can improve children’s lives. Below are his remarks, as well as a video of his acceptance speech.


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UNICEF has always been an innovative organisation, whether it is pioneering the use of data, with the Mid-Upper Arm Circumference (MUAC) band, a product which allows even a semi-literate health worker to understand the nutritional status of a child, or Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), a nutrient-rich supplement bar that can save a child’s life.

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene
© UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

But these are analog tools.  It is very difficult to take the data that’s collected from a MUAC band and make it appear in the world, in real time.  Data from children is too often stuck on the paper on which it’s collected, or buried in boxes and never used to save lives.  But, in 2016, we have the ability to do things differently.

Nutrition is a space where what has happened to date is important, but where what will come is even more so.   We have only seen the beginning of real-time information’s ability to shed light on issues of malnutrition and inequity.

© UNICEF/UN022073/Ayene
© UNICEF/UN022073/Ayene

UNICEF has been working on using real-time information to solve pressing problems.  In Uganda, we used our U-Report system to ask 100,000 young people about a banana plague. We asked them“do you see leaves on your trees turning yellow or green?” and got the information back in real-time. We were able to collate those answers and have them appear on a dashboard showing us exactly where the banana plague was. Additionally, because U-Report is a two-way tool, we were able to write back to our U-Reporters and say “This is what you can do – you don’t have to take your bananas to market, here is a number you can call.” In addition to being able to get real-time information and use it to address an issue, we were also able to have a conversation with the people who needed it most.

Now imagine what these tools can allow us to do in the space of nutrition. We can now work with the massive amounts of data that are coming from our private sector partners and from systems like RapidPro, mTrac, and EduTrac.

(c) UNICEF/2015/James

I am honored to accept this award on behalf of UNICEF. Our capacity to gather and interpret information will fundamentally change how we will address problems facing children. We were told to come here with an “ask” of our private sector partners, so here is our ask: “for those who are generating massive amounts of data, allow us to create an open source, global, public good out of your data aggregates so that we can solve problems that affect the world’s most vulnerable children, together.”

Thank you.

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The first Annual NOVUS Summit held at the United Nations General Assembly on 17 July, 2016 served as an intergenerational platform to inspire humanity to unite in action. The Summit honored 17 “voices of positive change” in support of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

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