6 UNICEF Innovations: From strengthening health systems in real-time to empowering youth to speak up


For us, innovation at UNICEF means doing something different that adds value. This also means that we need to be agile so we can  adapt to the evolving challenges affecting all children. At UNICEF, we use innovation to create solutions that strengthen our work in child protection, health, education, and other areas, bringing essential services to the world’s most vulnerable children. Our work at UNICEF ranges from early-stage ideas to solutions with millions of users.

Here are some examples of innovations that are reaching global scale, and some that are scaling up:

1. RapidPro: “the app store for good”

#RapidPro is a free open source communication platform that allows anyone to design scalable mobile services to reach users through multiple languages and channels (SMS, voice, social media). Most importantly, using RapidPro means decision makers can collect and receive data in real-time.

RapidPro is a multilingual tool that allows you to build on the language of your preference. This allows you to use informal language as well. © UNICEF/Nijimbere
RapidPro is a multilingual tool that allows you to build on the language of your preference.
This allows you to use informal language as well. UNICEF/Nijimbere

Quick fact: We have utilized RapidPro to develop and scale mobile applications such as U-Report, EduTrac, and mTrac. You can use it too! For more information click here.

2. U-Report: Empowering youth to speak up and make their voices heard

U-Report (http://www.ureport.in) is a social messaging tool that enables communication between young people and decision makers. U-Report works over SMS on even a basic mobile phone. It is also available on social media, namely, Twitter. As of October 2015, U-Report is live in 17 countries and more that 1.7 million people are sending or receiving messages every day. Because U-Report is developed on RapidPro, it can be easily scaled country by country without reinventing the wheel. By the end of 2015, U-Report is expected to expand to approximately 20 countries.

Want to become a U-Reporter? Follow @UReportGlobal on Twitter or download the U-Report app, here (available on Android) to start talking about things that matter to you.

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It’s no secret that in Liberia, female students are harassed to have sex with teachers in exchange for grades. In a recent poll, 86% of U-Reporters in Liberia agreed that sex for grades is a problem in schools. Thanks to U-Report, young people have a channel to speak up about issues that matter to them.
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U-Report Nigeria sends out polls once a week regarding topics that affect communities. This poll on HIV testing received a 23% response rate, showcasing that people agree that HIV testing is important . As of October 2015, U-Report Nigeria has more than 1.1 million active users.

Quick fact: U-Report began as a text-based program in Uganda in 2011 as an opportunity for young people in developing countries to express their views using even a basic mobile phone.

3. mTrac and EduTrac: Collecting data in real-time to strengthen health and education systems

mTrac and EduTrac are data tools that collect real-time information and give decision makers a new way to respond to challenges in delivering essential services. These tools allow teachers, health workers, and others to send and receive vital information instantly, saving time and money compared to paper-based approaches. mTrac and EduTrac are also developed on RapidPro.

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A Nursing Officer collects and sends weekly health reports via mTrac. This service minimizes costs previously related to paper-based reporting. UNICEF/NYHQ2013-0558/Vassie

Quick facts:  mTrac reported on the whereabouts of millions of dollars of medical supplies in Uganda. EduTrac reported on the delivery of more than 6 million textbooks, in real-time, in Zimbabwe.

4. Internet of Good Things: providing facts for life

Internet of Good Things (IoGT) is packaged content designed to make information available for free, even on low-end devices. Currently this content is accessible in 27 countries via Facebook’s Free Basics, with plans to scale to 40 countries by the end of 2015. The information delivered includes – but is not limited to: educational content, health and hygiene information, children’ rights, and information on Ebola. Other types of content such as a guide to online safety and digital citizenship, youth empowerment, HIV and sexual health advice, family planning, legal advice, and positive parenting are in preparation to be distributed.

IoGT_Purple Stacked

Quick fact: UNICEF content has so far reached 700,000 monthly users. It is live in 27 countries, in 17 different languages.

5. DigiSchool: Learning via a solar-powered laptop

The DigiSchool is a multimedia tool to support education in and out of schools. It can  assist teachers, and improve access to quality education. Built into a portable suitcase, it is equipped with a solar-powered laptop, a low-power pico-projector and an audio system. School books, teaching videos, and any other digital materials can be projected in the classroom or temporary learning space. The DigiSchool creates an innovative learning environment and can be carried to various locations, without the need for Internet access.

Jessica Tribbe, a UNICEF Uganda Innovation Lab team member, projects a text book with the Mobistation, a portable technology platform which can be powered by solar, generator, or grid power. Seeta CU school, Mukono district, Uganda. 14-02-2014 PHOTO/ Michele Sibiloni.
Here a UNICEF colleague projects educational content from MobiStation to a group of students. © UNICEF/ Michele Sibiloni

Quick fact: The DigiSchool is currently being piloted in Uganda and tested in various environments, including pilot schools and health centers. Read more about it here.

6. Product Innovation: Acute Respiratory Infection Diagnostic Aid (ARIDA)

Pneumonia, which is the world’s leading preventable (and treatable) cause of death among children under five. The Acute Respiratory Infection Diagnostic Aid (ARIDA) project aims to develop an improved and automated device which can effectively aid in the diagnosis of pneumonia. UNICEF currently procures the ARI timer with feedback from users recommending the need for an improved ARIDA device. The hypothesis is that a new, innovative ARIDA device will:

  • Install a sense of empowerment to the Community Health Worker, as they are better supported with an improved pneumonia diagnostic device.
  • Increase care-seeking behavior from mothers as they know there is an improved device available.
  • Help in the prescribing the appropriate treatment, as malaria and pneumonia can often be mistaken.
  • Prescribe amoxicillin for those children who need it, thereby avoiding over prescribing amoxicillin to those who do not need it.
  • Help avoid antibiotic resistance, by only using amoxicillin on those who need it.
UNICEF/NYHQ2006-2556/Giacomo Pirozzi
UNICEF/NYHQ2006-2556/Giacomo Pirozzi

Quick fact: A Target Product Profile was launched on World Pneumonia Day in 2014, defining the needs for an automated device by its intended use, context of use, user needs and stakeholder needs which support the assessment of fast breathing as an aid to pneumonia diagnosis. A Request for Expression of Interest (REOI) was launched October 2015 to potential suppliers of ARIDA medical devices, with a competitive tender towards to follow at the end of 2015. Throughout 2016 UNICEF is planning to conduct implementation pilots of the different ARIDA devices in low resource settings including Ethiopia, North Korea, China, Philippines, Bolivia and Mozambique. The purpose of these pilots is to assess the usability and acceptability for the different ARIDA devices in UNICEF’s programmes and validate that the devices create the intended impact given the costs.

Did you know? All of our innovations are based on the 9 Innovation Principles, which highlight the importance of designing with the end-user, understanding the local ecosystem, designing for scale, using open source and open data, and being collaborative?

To learn more about our innovations at UNICEF, visit www.unicefstories.org, check out our brochure which includes more information about our work, or follow us on social media!

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