HomeEditorial CommentInnovators’ hub: Unicef gives local innovators a lifeline

Innovators’ hub: Unicef gives local innovators a lifeline

The culture in other countries that are successful in implementing and supporting innovation and advances in technology has been a venture capital approach in which investors support ideas by heavily funding them.

innovators’ hub with John Mokwetsi

Open source, open brain... hardware developers in Unicef’s innovation laboratory in Blantyre, Malawi
Open source, open brain… hardware developers in Unicef’s innovation laboratory in Blantyre, Malawi

Local innovators have often decried the critical lack of funding of projects by investors, thereby leading to the dearth of many ideas and initiatives that have potential to grow.

All great technological advancements that have had impact in our daily lives like Google, Facebook and Uber have benefitted from venture capital.

One has to imagine what it would be like had we had telecommunication giants (probably the only companies making real profits in Zimbabwe) supporting and investing in local talent. We would have solutions to traffic police spot fine issues or e-learning tools that actually help grow the education sector.

But not all is lost, if what the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) reached out to inform me is anything to go by.

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

Part of a statement read: “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 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 January 1 2017.

“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.”

Already, our neighbours South Africa, who seem to be always a step further, have benefitted from the fund.

A South African start up called 9Needs that uses blockchain and advances in identity technology to create better management systems for early childhood development services, has already benefitted from the first round of funding
Unicef said it aims to invests in 20 to 40 additional companies in 2017 from those that have already been funded across the globe.

The Unicef innovation is a great initiative in the mould of what the Information, Communication and Technology and Courier Services minister Supa Mandiwanzira is introducing by providing $25 milllion to help grow innovation.

In a nutshell, Unicef innovation is an interdisciplinary team of individuals around the world tasked with identifying, prototyping and scaling technologies and practices that strengthen Unicef’s work.

Part of their biography reads: “We build and scale innovations that improve children’s lives around the world. Unicef promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.”

For more information about Unicef’s work in innovation, visit: www.unicef.org/innovation and www.unicefstories.org.

Do you innovators deserve a day in the sun? E-mail: jmokwetsi@alphamedia.co.zw or johnmokwetsi@yahoo.co.uk. You can follow me on Twitter @johnmokwetsi and Facebook John Mokwetsi.

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