Innovation at UNICEF — from Start-up to Scale-up


On 7 May, 2015, UNICEF launched a Global Innovation Centre and Innovation Fund to bring to scale creative and cost-reducing approaches to better the lives of children worldwide. This brochure of Innovation at UNICEF — from Start-up to Scale-up — highlights new technology and processes that are changing the way UNICEF works in the field and highlights products being scaled by UNICEF’s country offices and Innovation Labs. A pipeline of high-potential future investments that will provide solutions for the near future are also included.  

Innovation in the UN — A session of the Joint Meeting of the
Executive Boards of UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS, UNICEF, UN-Women and WFP


In adapting to the growing complexity of the 21st century, the United Nations system needs dynamic solutions to ensure it remains relevant and responsive. As governments are elaborating on the Sustainable Development Goals and targets for the new development agenda, innovation and the role of partnerships across sectors are increasingly important to accelerate progress on the most pressing issues.

On February 2, 2015, the executive boards of the United Nations’ six agencies, funds and programmes leading humanitarian and development initiatives globally joined forces to discuss the challenges faced in developing and scaling up innovative ideas, processes and products.

Reshaping Emergency Response Through Open Innovation

Reshaping Emergency Response Through Open InnovationOver the past two years, real-time information systems (including community feedback and engagement platforms) for improved effectiveness have been a major area of focus for humanitarian innovation. In an effort to streamline the deployment of real-time and two-way communication solutions in humanitarian contexts, UNICEF developed RapidPro and U-Report as two flexible, scalable, open-source solutions for the global humanitarian and development communities. This booklet outlines the use of these two

This booklet outlines the use of these two products in emergency settings and provides an outlook for the future of how these solutions will continue to evolve in support of more effective and adaptive humanitarian action.

Innovation for International Development: Navigating the Paths and Pitfalls. April 2016

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Experiences, insights and practical advice from more than 20 leading practitioners in innovation for international development, brought together in one collection to look at: 1) How to fund innovation; 2) How to organise for innovation; 3) How to harness new partnerships and collaborations; 4) How to scale innovations and change systems.

Drawing on the personal experiences of leaders within multilateral organisations, bilateral donors, NGOs, companies and foundations, this collection offers a helpful introduction for those new to innovation in development, as well as insights and advice for experienced practitioners.

UNICEF’s Christopher Fabian, co-lead of the UNICEF Innovation Unit, co-wrote an essay within the report alongside Dr. Mariana Amatullo on “The Balancing Act of an Innovation Unit.” This specific article begins on page 105.

UNICEF Innovation Fund Knowledge Products: Renewable Energy Market Research


Lack of access to safe, clean and affordable energy is a main barrier to providing health, education, protection and other critical services to children, especially in rural and marginalized communities. Extending energy access to bottom-of-pyramid (usually rural) markets requires an integrated strategy on electrification and community engagement from the household to policy levels. Presently, there is limited evidence for proven business models that extend off-grid electrification sustainably and at scale. This market research provides insight on renewable energy in emerging markets, and contributes to UNICEF Innovation’s strategy and work in extending equitable access to information and infrastructure for the most vulnerable children and their families.

UNICEF Innovation Fund Knowledge Products:  Satellite Technology and Innovation
Satellite_Market_Study_UNICEFProviding sustainable infrastructure in hard-to-reach environments remains one of the biggest challenges in UNICEF´s Access to Information portfolio. Satellite connectivity could help overcome coverage issues in remote areas but high bandwidth costs present significant challenges to date. This market research provides insight on the use of satellite services in emerging markets, and contribute to UNICEF Innovation’s strategy and work in extending equitable access to information and infrastructure for the most vulnerable children and their families.

Leveraging Mobile Money: The Potential for Mobile Financial Services to Support and Enhance UNICEF Programming.

Leveraging Mobile Money

Approximately half the global population does not have access to basic financial services; when looking at Africa, the figure rises to 80 percent. Without savings, insurance, payment services, and basic credit, the poor are more vulnerable to economic shocks and more liable to exploitation in unregulated financial markets. Financial exclusion contributes to the marginalization of populations already most vulnerable and exacerbates the cycle of poverty. The rapidly growing mobile financial services (MFS) sector offers great potential to combat financial exclusion, with important implications for international development. By connecting those traditionally marginalized — whether due to geography, economy, or otherwise — into digital financial networks via the mobile phone, MFS opens new possibilities for service delivery and development programming.

Mobile Technology in Emergencies: Principles and Practice featured on Developing Telecoms, Connected Citizens: Managing Crisis. August 2015 issue.

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Chris Fabian, UNICEF Innovation co-lead and co-founder featured on Developing Telecoms’ “Connected Citizens: Managing Crisis” August 2015 issue. Chris provides insights on how mobile technology provides a set of tools for preparing for, responding to, and building back after emergencies that can help save lives. In order for these tools to be truly effective, they should follow a set of pragmatic principles, such as design with the end-user, build with local tools and people, build for sustainability and use open data, open standards and open source.




Download our Annual Reports

2013-2014 Annual Report:
Designed by Zoe Padgett

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2014 Innovation Unit in Supply Division External Annual Report: Improving Lives with Product Innovations

SD Annual ReportUNICEF works continuously to make ideas about product innovation into a reality that improves the lives of children. The 2014 UNICEF Supply Division External Annual Report highlights some of the successes of the year, and provides insight on innovative products and solutions targeting the bottlenecks that continue to prevent every child from having a healthy life and hopeful future.

 UNICEF Supply Division, located in Copenhagen, managed 22 product innovation projects in various stages of development. Seven of these projects were field trialed across the year to assess their suitability of which two of those projects: Weight Measurement Tape and Primary School Furniture Design and Procurement Guidelines- are discussed in further detail in this Report.

2012-2013 Annual Report:
Designed by Divya Gaitonde


2011-2012 Annual Report:
Designed by John Ryan

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2010-2011 Annual Report:
Designed by Dee Kim

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Research Papers/ Case Studies 

Innovation by Design at UNICEF: An Ethnographic Case Study

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Mariana V. Amatullo, PhD, focused her case study on two broad and interrelated research questions. First, how does design attitude and its dimensions manifest within projects undertaken by the unit and the organization at large? Secondly, how can we relate the manifestation of salient design attitude dimensions and practices to the processes of innovation underway at the organizational level? By answering these questions, the aim is to develop actionable theory that reveals the relationships of design to collective human agency and innovation at the organizational level. Read the complete case study here.


Innovation spaces: transforming humanitarian practice in the United Nations

Louise Bloom and Romy Faulkner conducted their research to understand the way in which innovation labs across several UN agencies are being used to foster new ways of operating within the UN’s bureaucratic structures. To read the complete thesis, click here.

Building innovation capability in an intergovernmental aid organization: A case study of UNICEF’s Innovation Unit
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As part of his master thesis, Harald Dean from the University of Oslo focused on examining what innovation practices UNICEF’s HQ Innovation Unit uses in their aid work. Additionally, since the unit supports the organization at large to mainstream innovation practices, this study also investigates the possible ripple effects of that unit’s work throughout UNICEF. Read the complete paper here.



Transformative leadership for innovation in the 4.0 era:  What makes the difference in the leadership in fostering innovations? A comparative study.


Building on the past studies and reports in UNICEF, and by comparing UNICEF to other organizations, this project dissects how UNICEF leaders could do differently in bringing a real organizational transformation in innovation. Read Rinko Kinoshita’s study here.





From Principle to Practice: Implementing the Principles for Digital Development

Untitled-4Development is changing. One major reason why: technology is changing not just how we do business, but the model for development itself. This report serves as a new tool for the development executive seeking to navigate this period of transition, and for others seeking to increase the success of digital development. Read the report here.