UNICEF makes venture capital investments in emerging market tech start-ups

Cynthia McCaffrey, director of the UNICEF Office of Innovation

UNICEF announced its first portfolio of investments in open source technology solutions including tools that improve connectivity, real time data collection, identity technology and learning.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund applies a venture capital approach to source solutions for issues like transportation, identity, wearable technology, finance, and personal data. In addition to announcing first investments UNICEF has also opened the next round of applications from technology start-ups.

“The UNICEF Innovation Fund is a new way of doing business at the UN; combining the approach of Silicon Valley venture funds with the needs of UNICEF programme countries,” said Cynthia McCaffrey, director of the UNICEF Office of Innovation.

“Using UNICEF’s 190 offices and 12,000 staff, the Fund will help us source and support companies that might be overlooked by traditional investment vehicles,” McCaffrey added. “The Fund allows us to prototype technology solutions, as well as expand our networks of open source collaborators to improve children’s lives.”

The first portfolio of investments includes the following five start-ups, with an eye to investing in 20-40 additional companies in 2017:

  • Saycel (Nicaragua): provides affordable mobile connectivity to communities that are not on the traditional information grid in rural areas.
  • mPower (Bangladesh): create a digital registry platform to improve data collection and delivery of maternal and child health care.
  • 9Needs (South Africa): uses blockchain and advances in identity technology to create better management systems for early childhood development services.
  • Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (Pakistan): creates stories and information that can be played over a simple mobile phone to help fathers (who may be semi-literate) support their families for better maternal and newborn health.
  • Chatterbox (Cambodia): provides a fundamental technology layer to be integrated into UNICEF’s RapidPro platform to extend its reach to communities that are low literacy, particularly in Cambodia, but eventually globally.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is inviting technology start-ups to apply for investment and become part of this growing portfolio of open source solutions. The next round of applications for investment from the Fund is now open. Information about who can apply and how to submit Expressions of Interest is available at www.unicefinnovationfund.org. The deadline to apply is 1 January 2017.

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