South-South Cooperation, coupled with embracing new and innovative approaches, presents an opportunity to respond to the current health emergency and far-reaching socio-economic headwinds. The Global South COVID-19 Digital Innovation Challenge, launched by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in June 2021, to identify Southern innovative, digital solutions that could be scaled up to enable countries, societies, communities, institutions and individuals from the Global South to deal with the cascading effects of the pandemic.
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 winning projects ranged from an initiative in Kenya to help pregnant mothers to access transportation to get them to the closest hospital; to a solution to develop a video observation toolkit for TB patients in India to report adherence; to promoting digital literacy in Ecuador’s Amazon to enable better access to information about health, education and sustainable development; and a mobile e-learning application in Jordan that can provide personalized, tailor-made education for children.
While all projects respond to the pandemic and its impact, some are specifically built to respond to COVID-19. The StopCOVID – Scan QR Code digital innovation from Cambodia gathers data to produce a social network report of activity of COVID-19 patients; a technology solution is strengthening India’s COVID-19 response through nutrition by setting up a platform for community health workers to track and analyze nutrition information; a project in Uganda is leveraging telemedicine and last mile service delivery to help adolescent girls and young women access quality sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services during COVID.
The impact of all winning projects will be scaled up through South-South cooperation. An e-commerce chatbot in Uganda that connects food vendors with unsold food with low-income earners with nutritious food at reduced prices will be replicated in the Tanzanian context; a hands-on STEM teacher training in Ghana to deploy hands-on activities with locally available materials will be piloted in the Solomon Islands; A Colombia-Nigeria project to empower vulnerable populations, will train and empower women leaders and at-risk youth through vocational and entrepreneurship courses to create their own sustainable solutions through shared skills, tools and knowledge.
Funding will support expansion of networks. A project based in Nigeria to help unemployed professionals in the global South transition into entrepreneurship will further develop its networks, platform and offer allowances to members from low-income communities; a digital marketplace project from Tunisia that connects curated African freelances with local and international high-value clients will further develop its educational programs and expand internationally.
The event was a part of the 2021 edition of the Global Innovation Forum, held by ITU from 25 to 29 October, focused on “building partnerships to mainstream entrepreneurship.” The Forum brought together change-makers from the global community interested in digital entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Entrepreneurship is the engine of every thriving economy. Entrepreneurs seize opportunities, take risks, and creatively scope-out resources. They create start-ups that become SMEs and high-growth firms, that in turn create jobs and economic growth. They are the lifeblood of innovation,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau.
“In addition to the potential for developing countries to replicate other countries’ experiences, South-South cooperation also allows for the sharing of many policy lessons which can help in rapid digital transformation and assist developing countries to recover from the pandemic with more sustainable and inclusive growth,” said Xiaojun Grace Wang, Deputy Director, UNOSSC noting that digital transformation has remained central to the work of the organization.
Meet the winners
Winning proposals will be provided with seed funding up to USD20,000 (additional term and conditions apply) 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.