About the Challenge

​The Digital Innovation Challenge in Response to COVID-19, supported by  United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation ​(UNOSSC) and ITU, was launched in June 2021. It aims to help identify innovative digital solutions which can offer countries, societies, communities and institutions from the Global South to deal with the cascading effects of the pandemic – across governance, economy, social sectors and well-being – and contribute to the organization’s respective focus on South-South Cooperation and digital technologies. The project leverages ITU’s other innovation challenges, the global innovation forum and sustainable ecosystem development and training and UNOSSC’s Global South-South Development Centre (GSSDC) Network institutions, expertise and capacity development opportunities, to deliver on the desired outcome.​​

Innovation Categories/ Topics

The Digital Innovation Challenge is designed to easily share and rapidly develop innovative digital solutions to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The overall scope of the Challenge will correspond to the three focus areas identified by the UN Secretary-General i.e. i) tackling the health emergency by supporting health systems and non-health agencies;, ii) supporting countries in social impact and the economic response and recovery; and iii) helping countries to recover better by strengthening preparedness measures.

Challenge Outcomes

The Global South COVID-19 Digital Innovation Challenge intended outcome is to build a network of champions in developing-country ecosystems to i) accelerate the response to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic; ii) grasp the current innovation impetus and bring innovative digital solutions into international development, and reach out to entities which are usually in innovation’s frontlines activities; iii) leverage South-South cooperation networks, platforms, and funding mechanisms to achieve impact at scale through sharing and replicating selected innovations; and iv) provide open access to resources from the international expert community and build entrepreneurship capabilities for innovators in governments, intergovernmental organizations, private sector and start-up companies, research institutions and academia, and CSOs.


Response to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic

Grasp the current innovation impetus

Bring innovative digital solutions into international development, and reach out to entities that are usually in innovation’s frontlines activities

Leverage South-South cooperation networks, platforms, and funding mechanisms

Achieve impact at scale through sharing and replicating selected innovations

Provide Open Access

resources from the international expert community and build entrepreneurship capabilities for innovators in governments, intergovernmental organizations, private sector and start-up companies, research institutions and academia, and CSOs.

Selection of Winning Proposals

Over 250 submissions from over 50 countries were reviewed by an expert selection committee of over 40 members based on the evaluation criteria to determine the 25 best innovative solutions that can be replicated through South-South cooperation. Shortlisted projects presented their innovations to a selection committee during the Global Innovation Forum at a Pitch Live virtual events on 27 and 28 October 2021.  The selection committee awarded 12 winners from 10 countries from the Global South, during the “Bringing it all together” Awards ceremony. The event was a part of the 2021 edition of the Global Innovation Forum, held by ITU, which focused on “building partnerships to mainstream entrepreneurship.”

Winning proposals were provided with seed funding up to USD 25,000 to implement/improve/scale up their proposed solution(s), with mentorship and training support, in a new market (developing country) by the end of April 2022. The list of selected winners is provided below:

List of Selected Projects

Wheels for Life by Rescue.co
Capsule Limited
Blended Hands-on Science Teacher Training
Practical Education Network
Patient-centric Active Adherence, Care and Treatment Solution (PACTS)
ZMQ Development
StopCOVID - Scan QR CODE for the Safety of the Country
Ministry of Post and Telecommunications (MPTC)
Integrating digital technology in last-mile delivery of Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services within peri-urban suburbs during the coronavirus pandemic in Uganda
The Medical Concierge Group Limited
Affordable food for Everyone
Solerchil Technologies
Digital Literacy in Ecuador’s Amazon
Equitable Origin, Inc
O-lab: Learning without Borders Colombia-Nigeria
Fundación El Origen
Freelancy Dévelopment
Building Digital Tools to Strengthen India’s COVID-19 Response through Nutrition Application
Dimagi Software Innovations Private Limited
Ketabi App
Integrated Generation
Publisher E-publishing and Digital Music Distribution Limited

The Mentorship Scheme

As the next step, the selected 12 organizations will be able to avail the mentorship scheme to increase the potential/ capabilities of the selected proposals/ teams to scale up innovations across developing countries.

ITU and UNOSSC,  through an open Call for Mentors, brought on board 24 experts comprising leading policy-makers, financiers, start-up accelerator/incubator programme managers and recognized ICT experts to train the winners to scale and enter new markets while improving lives and enhancing the capabilities of innovators. The mentorship scheme aims to increase the capabilities of the challenge winners and support them to scale up their innovations. The award winners will be matched with mentoring opportunities which will advise them on their innovations throughout the implementation and scaling up process. UNOSSC will seek out development partners that have expertise in ICTs and digital innovations to mentor the winners to scale and enter new markets while improving lives and enhancing the capabilities of innovators.

The kick-off session for the mentorship programme was held on 14 April and each organization was assigned a mentor.

Meet Our Mentors

Ugo Ikpeazu

Professor/ Development Consultant, EU Business School

Ugo is interested in technology for social development & is a business development advisor to organizations like Gavi. He is a Professor at EU Business School & is coordinator of their Young Entrepreneurs Program. Ugo is President of Africa21 in Geneva & Co-proprietor of PenPlay School in Nigeria.

Namatirai Zinyohwera

Chief Revenue Officer, Modern Centric Holdings (Pty)

Mr. Zinyohwera is an experienced revenue growth leader specializing in fintech business development and result-orientated business development executive, building, measuring, and learning from multi-sectoral sales management experience. He has a proven track record of high-impact technology sales and disruptive go-to-market strategies, achieving growth through strategic partnerships in Africa.

Alex Masika

Business Development Lead - Africa, Atlas AI

Alex Masika has over 15 years’ experience in energy, IT and innovation sectors. He has previously worked for Chevron Energy, Digital Divide Data, Google, BRCK is currently the Business Development Lead – Africa for Atlas AI. Alex was the recipient of the prestigious ITU global SME award in 2016.

Ahmed Khalaf Fahmy

Lecturer (Innovation and Entreprenurship) , TIEC (Technology Innovation an Entrepreneurship Center) Ministry of Information Technology Egypt

Ahmed Fahmy is a Lecturer and Mentor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the last 10 years in several institutions such as Qatar Science and Technology Park, the American University in Cairo and the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (Ministry of Information Technology Egypt), before working with full capacity as a lecture and Mentor, Ahmed Was working as a consultant for technology companies such as Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei in different parts in the world. Ahmed completed his Academic records between Helwan University in Cairo, Hamburg Port institute in Germany and Bologna University in Italy.

Sara Hammoud

Business Development Consultant, Engineering Group Contractors

Ms. Sara Hammoud hold an Engineering degree with a minor in Economics from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. She has been been in the entrepreneurial ecosystem for four years during which she wore diverse hats from founder, intern with global startups, to mentor & consultant for startups in Africa, Europe, Lebanon, & Armenia.

Erwin Middleton

Founder, J29 Business Simplified

Erwin is the Founder at J29 Business Simplified, a business supporting business owners learn, grow and get online. Offering over 15 years of professional experience in the financial services sector which includes corporate & business banking in South, entrepreneurship, marketing and working with small and medium business owners. I am a Professional Business Advisor with extensive experience in business funding, mentoring and support services. As an entrepreneur myself with a background in banking, finance, marketing and business, I understand and have experienced the challenges business owners face.

Daniel Nieto

Vice President, Mastercard

Daniel Nieto is responsible for relations with the Government for Spain and Portugal at Mastercard. Previously he served as Expert in Digital Inclusion and Policies Issues at the United Nations.
He is the author of international flagship publications published by the United Nations.

Mwende Njiraini

Associate, DiploFoundation

Mwende Njiraini Telecommunication Engineer by profession and an Associate with DiploFoundation. I worked at the Communication Authority of Kenya, most recently as the Manager, Innovation Research and Development and was until October 2021 Chair of ITU-T Study Group 17 (security), Regional Group for Africa.

Fouad Bajwa

Co-Founder and CEO, Agriculture Republic and Digital Dera

Fouad Riaz Bajwa is the Co-founder and CEO of Agriculture Republic. Fouad is a public policy entrepreneur and has been engaged with start-ups and policy initiatives that are helping shape the future of innovation, industrialization and future economic growth.

Carlos Pons

Senior Digital Strategy & Innovation Lead, NTT Data

Carlos Pons is a self-taught tech professional working on improving people’s lives through human-centered technology. He works on digital transformation, strategy and innovation for European Union institutions and United Nations Agencies.

Stella Bvuma

Head of Department, University of Johannesburg

A Mentor and Coach, has a driven robust passion in the area of ICT4development & digital technology , smart cities, Cybersecurity, and digital economy.research focuses on ICT adoption or technologies by SMMEs towards growth and development including digitization in the fourth industrial revolution.

Sreekanth Mukku

Independent Digital Policy Researcher and Consultant, Konnektiv

Sreekanth Mukku is a digital policy researcher and consultant with 15 years of experience in conducting research and delivering expert advice on adopting inclusive, responsible and sustainable digital innovation practices.

Preetam Singh Heeramun

R&D Technical Lead, National Air Traffic Services (NATS)

Originally from Mauritius, Mr. Heeramun pursued his university degree in the UK. In his 17-year career, so far has involved R&D and innovation roles in organizations across different industry sectors to launch products globally.

Kalin Nicolov

Chair Human Experience Working Group, Trust over IP, Linux Foundation

Mr. Nicolov is co-founder of Sovrin Foundation (Hyperledger Indy, Ursa and Aries), co-founder of Trust over IP (digital trust) and advisor at InnoSuisse. He has experience in global infrastructure innovation, ranging from travel: airports, airlines and airports to nation-state systems like retail Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC), digital identity, machine readable governance, etc

Ahmed Riad

Board Member, UNDRR Private Sector Alliance for Resilient Societies

A well-known Thought Leader on Business Resilience, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Business Continuity on a Regional and global basis. He is currently Managing Director of Estmrarya Consulting a multi-awards winning Consulting firm specializing in providing Consulting, Training, and Innovation in Business Continuity Management, Disaster Risk Reduction, Information Resilience, and Business Resilience to clients in the GCC and beyond.

Koketso Seripe

Chief Executive Officer, Anora Technologies (Pty) Ltd

Mr. Koketso Seripe is an engineer with design, operations, project management & executive leadership experience. He worked for various multinationals and local companies as Director & then Chief Executive. In addition to engineering qualifications, he hold an MBA and is an accredited coach with ProctorGallager institute.

Saahil Kapoor

Technology and Innovation Specialist, United Nations Population Fund, India Office

Sahil works for UNFPA India CO. With an engineering background, MBA from IIT Delhi and IGNITE fellowship from Univ. of Cambridge, he brings 12 years of expertise in designing and scaling up solutions to problem statements for social impact. Experience working in Asian and African countries.

Samuel K. Kruiner

Export Development Consultant, Ministry of Economic Development

Mr. Samuel Kruiner is has over 26 year’s professional experience at middle and senior management levels in public and private sector entities in developing countries (CARIFORUM) and Caribbean Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs).

Jeroen Van der Lugt

Sales Coach, Van der Lugt Sales coaching and Holland Startup

Over 30 years of sales experience. Had his own Startup for a couple of years. As a certified coach, he support Startups in sales.


Director, Cayman Islands Centre for Business Development

Director-Cayman Islands Centre for Business Development; Manager-Business Advisory Services, JBDC; Adjunct lecturer-Entrepreneurship, Human Resource Management, Business Principles and Management and Organizational Behaviour in 4 Jamaican Universities; SME Expert with GOPA Consulting-Germany.

Sana Larif

PhD Researcher, Catholic University of Louvain

Sana is currently a Ph.D. researcher in entrepreneurship and management sciences at UCL, Belgium. She worked as a mentor and facilitator for Tunisian startups, and also animated trainings and workshops in innovative entrepreneurship for NGOs and entrepreneurial meta-organizations in Tunisia.

Eduardo Gonzalez

Entrepreneur | Strategy & Business Development | Accelerate Growth of Scale-up's, KOPIT

Mr. Gonzalez has done his professional career in multinational companies in several continents working in the IT an d energy industries. Three years ago he decided to jump into the start-up world. Franco-colombian citizenship.

Hanisha Vaswani

Founder, Majority

Computer engineer with 14 years of experience running tech startups in India. Currently launching a fund for early-stage tech + impact startups, called Majority. Also previously worked with the World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator, and mentored startups across Asia and Africa.

Nahel Muhammad Amirah

Innovation Support Manager, Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center

Eng. Nahel Muhammad Amirah, the Innovation Support Manager at Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (TIEC). He is the manager of EgyptInnovtae.com Platform. He is an active member of IEEE TEMS and Egyptian national committee for Innovation Management ISO.

Meet Our Winners

Stay tuned for more updates on our winners.