UNICEF Innovation Fund

By October 21, 2020 Financing Mechanisms

About

UNICEF’s Innovation Fund invests in early stage, open-source, emerging technology digital public goods with the potential to impact children on a global scale. It also provides product and technology assistance, support with business growth, access to a network of experts and partners to allow for scale and growth. The Fund’s ambition is to build successful digital solutions into Global Digital Public Goods, to ensure fair, equitable, and open access to these unique and new tools for human development on a global scale.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is the first financial vehicle of its kind in the United Nations and enables UNICEF to learn from and to shape markets of emerging technology that exist at the intersection of $100 billion business markets and 1 billion persons’ needs.

Founded in 2016, the core motivation of the Innovation Fund is to identify “clusters” or portfolios of initiatives around emerging technology – so that UNICEF can both shape markets and also learn about and guide these technologies to benefit children. The fund invests in digital public goods that can impact the lives of vulnerable populations.

The fund finds these solutions clustered around $100 billion industries in frontier technology spaces, such as: blockchain, drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, extended reality and others.

Philosophy

  • OPEN SOURCE: The Innovation Fund invests exclusively in open source solutions. The Fund generates value by building open source IP and scalable digital public goods, strengthening communities of problem solvers, and growing solutions that bring results for children and the world.
  • EQUITY FREE: The Innovation Fund provides value that can be measured and counted in real-time. The Fund recognizes it’s much less important to see direct (and individual) cash flow – and much more important to see communities of problem solvers creating global digital public goods that can be repurposed, adapted, and scaled across a wide range of partners’ needs. The Fund achieves this by gaining access to open-source intellectual property, and the communities it is creating around the products it invests in.
  • SMART INVESTING: The Fund launched the Smart Investing initiative to invest in a diverse portfolio of startups from 2019 onwards. Through Smart Investing, the Fund commits to improving diversity, so that half of the new portfolio of startups companies it brings in every year have a female lead. In the longer term, the goal is to grow the share of female-led companies in the Fund’s overall portfolio from 30% to 50%.
  • IMPACT: The Fund monitors the progress of each investment in real-time. It measures progress on two different levels. First, aggregated metrics for all portfolio companies tracking sustainability of the business and the technology developed. Second, the social impact which is specific to the context and the type of solution that the startup is building.

Support Areas

All companies of the portfolio receive tailored support for product development, building a business model, and user testing based on their own needs assessment. Startups also gain access to the UNICEF Ventures team’s tech expertise, networks and platforms to help them reach the stage where they can prove that their solutions work and tap into larger funding sources.

  • BUSINESS GROWTH: A network of mentors help startup teams develop their business model and strategy around an open source technology, to grow their company and ultimately profit.
  • PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT: In addition to financial investment, startups and UNICEF Country Offices receive technical assistance from the UNICEF Ventures team and dedicated expert mentors to help validate and improve their solutions. Connections with partners provide valuable expertise on product development.
  • UNICEF NETWORK: Startups can leverage UNICEF Ventures’ dedicated Data Science team which hosts and shares data platforms including RapidPro and Magic Box, access unique testing environments such as drone corridors and country office programmes, and utilize corporate partners for potential follow-on funding.

Funding

The Fund provides up to $100K equity-free funding to open source frontier tech solutions showing promising results. The funding is intended for prototype testing and validation, and to get the solution  to a stage where the company has proof that the solution and the business model work. This includes being able to generate data to show impact, usability and strategy.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is currently looking to invest in companies that are using machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain or extended reality (virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR)) technologies to build software solutions that bridge learning or connectivity gaps towards employability for young people. Applications accepted through 31 March 2021.