United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Pays a Visit to the Innovation Unit

Yesterday the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (#UNSG) accompanied by UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, visited UNICEF’s Innovation Unit to hear about the work our organization is doing around the globe. UNICEF is investing a lot in innovation – it was this year’s theme of the flagship State of the World’s Children Report.

Hearing the #UNSG state: “This team has changed the way I think about innovation,” pretty much sums it up. We all felt pretty good afterward.

If you’re curious, you can read on for a play-by-play of what happened during his visit. You’ll learn a bit about what we’re doing in 2015.

To start the visit, Chris Fabian, (our Innovation Team Co-lead along with Erica Kochi) explained the UNICEF Innovation ecosystem (with its node in San Francisco, Center in Nairobi, and 12 labs around the world) and described the global team that’s working to identify innovative solutions for the most marginalized children around the world.

Here’s a clear shot of the Innovation Team ecosystem.

Innovation Unit overview
Innovation Team overview

Through more than 300 ongoing projects in UNICEF Country Offices around the world, we are focusing on three main portfolios in 2015: Youth Engagement; Real-time Data; Access to Information.

We started with Youth Engagement.

Our flagship youth engagement tool is U-report, which has almost 500k youth registered and is live in 11 countries. We expect to expand to additional countries in 2015. U-report works using a basic mobile phone, and through text messaging, empowering youth to voice their opinions about what is happening in their communities in real time.

U-report collatoral

3_Chris_ureplib
Chris Fabian explaining the benefits of our flagship youth engagement tool, U-report, to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake

The #UNSG was excited to hear that most recently, we used U-report to help combat Ebola. Because the U-report system is so easy to use, we were able to build it very quickly in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Mali.We also used the existing U-report platforms in Nigeria, Zambia and Uganda to spread accurate and information about prevention and symptoms.

We started asking kids questions about what mattered to them. Local youth leaders are helping to build the questions out with us – which is why some of the language looks a little funny. (When adults write the questions they sound really boring – and no one responds.)

These young leaders then use the information from U-report to better target their activities – to figure out what neighborhoods to go to, and what issues to talk about. It also gives UNICEF, UNMEER, and others a real-time picture of what is happening.

Currently we have about 3,000 registered youth in Liberia. Here are some recent poll results (you can see them all here):4a_UR_Lib 4b_UR_Lib

That lead us to Portfolio #2: Real-time Data.

We’ve created tools and systems that enable us to gather big data and act on it in real time. The tangible output? Via basic text message we can ask teachers questions about attendance, and need for school supplies, and hear back from them instantly. We can ask frontline health workers about vaccination and medical supply needs to see what’s lacking and ensure accountability and proper use. With the information we gather, governments can assess the situation more quickly than before, and products and services these frontline workers need, can be delivered faster.

Where have we done this? A few places:

Both U-report and our frontline worker real-time information tools are made possible by an open source piece of software developed by UNICEF, called RapidPro. (Open source means it is free and available for anybody to use. Check out the code here.)

The #UNSG seemed really impressed by our ability to make sense of all this data in real time.

Explaining how we can see poll responses coming in via SMS in real-time all throughout Uganda
Dana Zucker and Asch Harwood explaining to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon how we can see poll responses coming in via SMS in real-time all throughout Uganda.
An example of visualizing Big Data in real time.
An example of visualizing Big Data in real time.

Our last portfolio is all about making sure that everyone has Access to Information.

It’s not easy reaching communities in rural areas, where roads are non-existent and electricity only reaches 3% of the population. So how do we do it? By building alongside the end-user.

6a_AccesstoInfo
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon learns about iterations of the Digital Drum — a rugged, solar-powered “school in the box” — from Zhiyao Ma and Sunita Grote.

We walked the #UNSG through some of our Digital Drum iterations showing off mainly where we failed, how we learned from our failures, and how our next iteration is going to be designed in China and tested in Uganda – a true South-South collaboration we’re proud of.

7_FailStamp
Norah Maki gives gift #1 to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “WIN” and “FAIL” stamps. We use the “FAIL” stamp about 90% of the time.

We have good manners, so we wanted to give the #UNSG a gift he would remember. We chose two stamps – “WIN” and “FAIL.” Why? 90% of the time we give ourselves the “FAIL” stamp and when we occasionally get that green “WIN” stamp of approval, it just feels so good.

The gift I think he’ll remember most though, is the limited edition Star Wars t-shirt. It was a natural fit because the #UNSG is a big Star Wars fan and a natural #ForceForChange.

Our gift to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon -- a limited edition StarWars, ForceForChange t-shirt
Gift #2 to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: a limited edition StarWars, ForceForChange t-shirt. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0009/Nesbitt

Wrapping up, we all smiled for the camera.

UNICEF NY Innovation Unit smiles for a picture during UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake's and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit the Innovation Unit  NYHQ
UNICEF NY Innovation Unit smiles for a picture during UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake’s and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to the Innovation Unit NYHQ. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0010/Nesbitt

And to go out with a bang, we sent a special messenger to tell him it was time to move on to his next appointment.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gets notified of his next appointment via a telepresence robot on load from NYU's ITP.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gets notified of his next appointment via a telepresence robot on load from NYU’s ITP.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gets notified of his next appointment via a telepresence robot on load from NYU's ITP.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gets notified of his next appointment via a telepresence robot on load from NYU’s ITP.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon enjoy the telepresence robot on loan from NYU's ITP.
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon enjoy the telepresence robot on loan from NYU’s ITP. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0006/Nesbitt
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gets notified of his next appointment via a telepresence robot on load from NYU's ITP.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon gets notified of his next appointment via a telepresence robot on load from NYU’s ITP. © UNICEF/NYHQ2015-0008/Nesbitt

We hope he’ll come back and visit us again. It was a pleasure and an honor to show him some of our work.

Dana L. Zucker

UNICEF Innovation Unit: Communications Lead

7 January, 2015
@dlzucker

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