“I am passionate in applying technical, scientific, and analytical skills to foster social good around the world.”

I am driven by big data and machine learning technology to do something good.”

“I create ideas using design, storytelling, and technology.”

These are just some of the many voices we heard during the networking event UNICEF’s Office of Innovation hosted with UNICEF NextGen in New York – where we gathered 70 young individuals to talk about the future.

This event also gave us an opportunity to share what we do and what areas we are focusing on. Our discussions ranged from talking about how drones, information poverty, open source systems, real-time data, strategic partnerships, venture capitalism, virtual reality, and wearable and sensor technology can help accelerate results and reduce inequities for children.

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We were impressed by the energy, curiosity, and questions attendees asked throughout the event, so we thought we’d continue these discussions online.

Here are the 5 main topics (yes, we remembered) our collective team was asked about during the event + some more information on each. Click away.

1. How doing good is also good business

UNICEF’s Office of Innovation works with big technology companies to help shape their focus on emerging markets, so they can expand their businesses while improving lives.

Our multi-year partnership with ARM – the world’s leading semiconductor IP company – aims to accelerate the development of new technologies to address the existing barriers that prevent millions of families from accessing basic health, education, and support services.

The first of many initiatives of the UNICEF/ARM partnership is the ‘Wearables for Good’ design challenge. This competition invited developers, designers, community partners and problem-solvers to create a wearable device that offers a cost-effective, efficient, and sustainable solution to pressing maternal, newborn or child health problems. The challenge received 250 design submissions from 65 countries before selecting ten finalists and announcing two winners, Khushi Baby and SoaPen. These winners are now working closely with UNICEF’S Office of Innovation and are supported by the Wearables for Good community.

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Winners SoaPen and Khushi Baby

The UNICEF/ARM partnership is also conducting research to evaluate and promote market opportunities in developing countries. The findings from the study will provide business case guidelines towards investing in solutions for mobile financial services, identity, transportation, learning and wearable/sensor technology. Our joint goal is to build momentum for globally co-created and scalable technologies that will attract commercial investment.

The UNICEF/ARM partnership is just one of many partnerships we have established to help strengthen our work for children. Read more about some of our other partnerships here.

2. How drones can enhance humanitarian and development work

Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), have various applications – most commonly known for their use in service delivery. Think Amazon Prime Air –  a future delivery system from Amazon designed to get packages to customers in 30 minutes safely.

But as UAVs can be piloted autonomously, and programmed to do work that a manned aircraft cannot do. UNICEF is exploring UAVs’ application in aid, development, emergency response or disaster preparedness situations. Their potential use in imagery, connectivity, and transport situations will be integral.

Read more about UNICEF’s UAV pilots in Malawi

©Matternet
Malawi tests first unmanned aerial vehicle flights for HIV early infant diagnosis ©Matternet

3. What is Innovation at UNICEF?

Innovation at the UNICEF Innovation is doing something new or different that adds value.

We use innovation to create solutions that strengthen our work in child protection, health, education, WASH, and other areas, bringing essential services to the world’s most vulnerable children. Innovations range from new ways to structure programmes to new products and technologies.  These solutions can also be at varying stages which we call FuturesVentures, and Scale.

Guided by our Innovation Principles, our innovations highlight the importance of designing with the end-user, understanding local ecosystems, designing for scale, and using open source technology and open data.

Read about some of our innovations at scale:

Find out about some of our early-stage innovations and investments that we are exploring:

Principles of Innovation

4. What’s your personal journey?

You probably met a mixed bag of people during the event from data scientists, drone experts, tech enthusiasts, design nerds, software engineers, and storytellers from various backgrounds, interests, and schools of thought. Each of our team members has their unique story – most of the time having diverse academic disciplines, professional specializations, and personal interests.

One thing is consistent in our team’s journey – Nothing

                                                                                       is linear.

Yes. You can be an accountant, who loves art but pursues a career in science and technology.

So don’t be afraid to keep learning and exploring new things. Don’t force yourself to fit into existing silos – rather, create your own path.

Read about the diversity of our team and our team profiles.

Just another typical day at the office.

5. How can I help? How can I work at UNICEF?

Here are some of the pathways to explore:

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  1. Volunteer – If there is a service that you can provide and want to gain experience working for UNICEF’s Office of Innovation, send us a message about it on any of our social channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram). We’ll assess if we have any projects that may be of interest to you.
  2. Internships – Internships are structured programs, and we advertise these through our social channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and blog. Read about the experiences of our 2016 Summer fellows here.
  3. Special Service Agreements (SSAs) – SSAs are consultancy roles usually hired for a specific piece of service or good. These positions are advertised on our social channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and published on our blog. View our list of job opportunities here.
  4. Temporary Assignments (TA) and Fixed Term Staff (FT) – These roles usually take a longer time to establish as they undergo a very competitive process. View listings here.

It was a pleasure to spend an evening with such intelligent and adventurous young people. Your positive ideas and innovations for how to positively transform the world were brilliant and uplifting. We hope we helped by listening to your ideas, encouraging you to dream big, and providing you with opportunities to hone your skills.


If you have any questions or want to hear more, send us a private message on any of our social channels – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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