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UNICEF makes venture capital investments in emerging market tech start-ups

THE United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has announced its first portfolio of investments in open source technology solutions including tools that improve connectivity, real time data collection, identity technology and learning.

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.

Director of the UNICEF Office of Innovation, Cynthia McCaffrey, explained that “The UNICEF Innovation Fund is a new way of doing business at the United Nations; combining the approach of silicon valley venture funds with the needs of UNICEF programme countries.

“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. The fund allows us to prototype technology solutions, as well as expands our networks of open source collaborators to improve children’s lives.”

The first portfolio of investments with an eye to investing in 20-40 additional companies in 2017 includes:

“Saycel (Nicaragua) provides affordable mobile connectivity to communities that are not on the traditional information grid in rural areas. mPower (Bangladesh) creates a digital registry platform to improve data collection and delivery of maternal and child health care. 9Needs (South Africa) uses blockchain and advances in identity technology to create better management systems for early childhood development services.

“Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (Pakistan) creates stories and information that can be played over a simple mobile phone to help fathers (who may be semi-literate) support their families for better maternal and newborn health. Chatterbox (Cambodia) provides a fundamental technology layer to be integrated into UNICEF’s RapidPro platform to extend its reach to communities that are low literacy, particularly in Cambodia, but eventually globally,” McCaffrey said.