The COVID-19 crisis had an unprecedented impact on our society. Regardless of speculation about what the “new normal” will be, no one is certain about what the future holds. The crisis has exposed the fragility of the current system’s functioning across the globe but has also provided a powerful lens to examine the underlying conditions that led to this fragility, and illuminated gaps in economic and social values chains, providing provided the opportunity to improve economic resilience and related issues.

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. Digital innovation reduces information and transaction costs, improves service delivery, creates new jobs, generates new revenue streams and helps conserve resources. Since the beginning of the pandemic, innovators have been responding to the crisis with a progressive approach.

Challenge Scope

The Digital Innovation Challenge, in response to COVID-19, is co-organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the  United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC). The challenge will identify scalable innovative digital solutions that will enable countries, societies, communities, institutions and individuals from the Global South to deal with the cascading effects of the pandemic – across governance, economic and social sectors, and wellbeing – and contribute to the organizations’ respective focus on South-South cooperation and digital technologies.

The Challenge objective is to promote South-South cooperation by replicating or scaling up existing innovations with a potential partner/ country in the South. The Challenge will provide a mentorship scheme to increase the potential/ capabilities of the selected proposals/ teams to scaling up innovations across developing countries.

The challenge will be supported by the Global South-South Development Center (GSSDC) which is jointly initiated by UNOSSC and China International Center for Economic and Technical Exchanges (CICETE), with funding support from the Government of China to the UN Fund for South-South Cooperation.

GSSDC will bring together resources and expertise from various industries and sectors to support mentoring and capacity development for the selected innovators.

Innovation Catagories/ Topics

Do you have a digital solution that addresses the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Global South?

Learn more here and apply!

Only legally registered organizations/institutions from developing countries[1] are eligible to participate in this challenge. The challenge is open to governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, private sector and start-ups, research institutions, academia and civil society organizations (CSOs).

Applying organizations/institutions must have an existing project or minimum viable product (MVP)[2] that:

  1. promotes South-South cooperation by replicating or scaling up existing innovations with a potential partner/country in the South,
  2. demonstrates a new innovative project/prototype, outlining its potential for scaling up through South-South cooperation, and
  3. is a digital solution

[1] These include the least developed countries, small island developing states, landlocked developing countries, middle-income, low-income countries and countries with economies in transition

[2] An MVP is a product with enough features that can be used by early customers and receive feedback for future development.

The evaluation criteria below will be used by the selection committee for both the shortlisting of 20 to 25 best submissions, as well as and the final selection of the winning submissions. Each criterion has been assigned a percentage weight for scoring.

  • 20% for Relevance: Incorporation of South-South and triangular cooperation as a modality for replications and scaling up to other developing countries. The innovation should demonstrate how it will increase peer-to-peer learning among the Global South.
  • 15% for Adaptability: Should demonstrate its adaptability and replicability to the local context
  • 15% for Sustainability: Support sustainable and continuous response to the Covid-19 crisis and its short or long-term impact.
  • 15% for Viability: Demonstrate the viability of the solution in terms of its effectiveness and feasibility
  • 20% for Partnership: Engagement with local partners in other developing countries to assure viability in local conditions, and to promote sustainability and scalability of the solution.
  • 15% for Impact: The innovation much showcases how it has the potential to impact lives and drive socio-economic benefit, most of all among vulnerable and excluded populations.

A selection committee of experts from ITU, UNOSSC and supporting partners will be convened to shortlist the 20 to 25 best submissions, and the final selected proposals.

  • The committee will be composed of at least 5 experts, including outside experts and with at least one member from UNOSCC and one from ITU.
  • The committee will elect a chairman, who will steer the deliberation for the selecting winning proposals. ITU and UNOSCC will provide the secretariat for the committee.
  • The committee will first examine all submitted applications for initial evaluation to shortlist candidates based on the strength of their application and the evaluation criteria.
  • All shortlisted submissions will be provided a mentorship and training package to prepare them for a “pitch and win” session.
  • The selection committee will then convene to select up to 10 winning submissions based on overall performance and the evaluation criteria during a live pitching event.

The organizations/institutions whose submissions have been finally selected by the selection committee as the winning proposals[1] will, through their appointed representatives:

  1. Attend a virtual boot camp to further refine their plans and their milestones (e.g. market entry, deployment, impact traction).
  2. Will receive additional mentorship and support during the virtual Bootcamp.
  3. Will be provided with seed funding up to USD 25 000[2] to implement/improve/scale up their proposed solution(s), with mentorship and training support, in a new market (developing country) by end of April 2022 (subject to the presentation of a sound budget and work plan with clear milestones and budget allocation. The seed funding will be applied based on the progress of implementation.) Both the seed funding will be provided by ITU subject to the terms and conditions of agreements signed between ITU and each winning institution/organization.
  4. Present virtually their digital innovation solutions/prototypes at UNOSSC’s annual Global South-South Development (GSSD) Expo and ITU’s 2021 Global Innovation Forum, where they will also share knowledge and explore opportunities for potential partnerships.
  5. Be eligible for additional fundraising and resource mobilization support from UNOSSC through a crowdfunding window of the South-South Galaxy platform.

[1] The final number of selected award-winning proposals will be at the discretion of the selection committee.

[2] Seed funds may only be used for prototyping, market-entry, etc. They cannot be used for salaries, office supplies, internet connectivity, etc.

The Timeline

[1] Shortlisted candidates/ proposals must prepare to pitch their ideas in front of a selection committee for the final selection. [2] Only submitters of the selected award-winning proposals will be invited to the boot camp where they will be provided with mentorship and training to refine their digital innovation. [3] Virtual attendance at other events may be required. Further information will be available by the time of selection

Challenge Outcomes


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.

The Steps