Design for UNICEF at Parsons

Note: This story is part of a series of posts about the Innovation Unit’s most recent round of Design for UNICEF programs, which engage students from diverse backgrounds around priority issues in UNICEF’s work.

The Design for UNICEF Course is a semester-long university course open to students from a variety of disciplines. It teaches them how to apply creativity and design methods towards pressing development and humanitarian problems. Each year, the curriculum is built around a different theme developed in close collaboration with a Country Office, providing an in-depth research and design experience for students, with an emphasis on expert consultation and user testing.

Typically, students have had backgrounds ranging from product design to interaction design to software development.When these skill are paired with knowledge of programme area experts, collaborations can lead to multidimensional thinking and bring valuable insights to UNICEF’s work.

The Design for UNICEF Course has been taught for five semesters at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), and used in varying forms at Aalto University in Finland, Art Center College of Design in California, IIT Delhi, and Stanford. It has resulted in products like RapidFTR and the Power Clip, which have gone on to win awards and are used in UNICEF programming today.

A collaboration with the Tanzania Country Office, this fall semester course was taught as part of the graduate program in Design and Technology at Parsons. Following initial conversations with Hawi Bedasa in Tanzania, teams defined initial problem statements related to Nutrition, Education, and WASH, respectively.

At various points, the students were connected to UNICEF colleagues through classroom visits and Skype sessions for guidance and insight into real-world contexts and needs, and have developed initial proposals that are ready for user-testing.

We asked the three teams to reflect on their experience and briefly describe their projects:


Team: TeachPort

Experience: It was such a humbling journey to reach to where we are with TeachPort. We started from zero to learning current state of education system in Tanzania, and to feel the daily struggles and challenges of education workers and students. This project taught our team valuable lessons about social design, which required open ears, eyes, and minds. We are grateful for the opportunity to work with Unicef and many talented individuals.

Project Description: TeachPort is a cost-effective, easy-to-scale-up, and real-time communication tool between INSET(In-Service Education and Training) and teachers via SMS managing system that reduces travel needs and feedback delays in Tanzania. Teachers throughout the nation can easily register and subscribe to the system with few text messages, and receive weekly teaching tips and event information; they can be conversant with ever-changing teaching and learning approaches. Also, it provides real-time services for teachers to request materials and report issues directly to INSET in order to ensure the quality of education within communities. It is an ideal platform for INSET to scale up nationally.

Read their full concept note here.

The Nutrition team presents their color-coded communications system for providing nutritional information in rural markets. Photo credit: Mari Nakano
The Nutrition team presents their color-coded communications system for providing nutritional information in rural markets. Photo credit: Mari Nakano

Team: Nutrition

Experience: Designing solutions for a specific population so distant from what we are familiar with would not have been possible without the collaborative relationship we had with UNICEF. Working with UNICEF enabled us to make something that could actually have an impact on a community. We created early stage prototypes by applying the design process and prototyping skills from Parsons to location-specific research from the Tanzania Innovation Unit at UNICEF.

About our project: The objective of this project is to enhance the nutrition behaviors of women, caregivers, family and community members, and those who influence them.The project is a color ­coded nutrition system that fits into a compact toolkit and targets pregnant women specifically and the illiterate population generally. The proposed three­ pronged communication system integrates critical nutrition information into women’s daily routines. The three components that are developed are a booth for local markets, a database for radio service, and recipe cards that can be distributed and shared in different locations.

Read their full concept note here.


The toolkit uses child-friendly design to create self-led learning in basic science
The water toolkit uses child-friendly design to create self-led learning and experimentation

Team: We Save Water

Experience: We’ve gained a lot of information about people in Tanzania during the class, so as how to make a project helpful, useful and respect the local culture. All the iterations we went through are traceable in our final project and all represent our hope to really do something for them in the other side of the planet. Our biggest challenge was user testing, consequently, getting genuine feedback. It is very difficult to solve the kinds of problems Tanzania has, and even harder to do so without physically being there and talking to the people who we are solving for. Our project idea changed a few times but always remained around the idea of getting access to clean water. Women and children were our primary target audience through the whole semester.

About our Project: Since women are responsible for water harvesting in Tanzania, typically, women and children spend over two hours a day collecting water, and up to seven hours in remote areas. The objective we are trying to enforce with We Save Water is a collaborative educational community led water solutions triggered by primary school children and encourage water related problem solving skills (eg basic circuitry).

Read their full concept note here.


What’s next?

The teams will be presenting their projects at a Brown Bag at UNICEF NYHQ this Wednesday, February 11, from 12-1pm in the 6th floor conference room.

We are working with NYU and the Tanzania office to figure out what the capacity is to test one or more of these ideas in the field.

Please email Norah Maki ( for more information about the class or presentation.


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