UNICEF’s Innovation Fund invests in early stage, open-source, emerging technology digital public goods with the potential to impact children on a global scale. It also provides product and technology assistance, support with business growth, access to a network of experts and partners to allow for scale and growth. Our ambition is to build successful digital solutions into Global Digital Public Goods, to ensure fair, equitable, and open access to these unique and new tools for human development on a global scale.
The UNICEF Innovation Fund is the first financial vehicle of its kind in the United Nations and enables UNICEF to learn from and to shape markets of emerging technology that exist at the intersection of $100 billion business markets and 1 billion persons’ needs.
Founded in 2016, the core motivation of the Innovation Fund is to identify "clusters" or portfolios of initiatives around emerging technology - so that UNICEF can both shape markets and also learn about and guide these technologies to benefit children. We invest in digital public goods that can impact the lives of vulnerable populations.
We find these solutions clustered around $100 billion industries in frontier technology spaces, such as: blockchain, drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, extended reality and others.
The Innovation Fund invests exclusively in open source technology solutions. The investments can go either to UNICEF Country Offices or to private sector companies in UNICEF programme countries.
By investing in multiple concurrent teams working on similar problems and technology stacks the Fund can accelerate both the development of products, as well as the building, iteration, and exit of the teams around the technologies. The Fund also invests in early-stage "knowledge products" - operations research that is published in the public domain and supports investment strategies and decisions.
Through its investments, the Innovation Fund is generating value by strengthening communities of problem solvers, increasing the pool of global digital public goods, and growing solutions that bring results for children and the world.
Why being open source is good business?
Open source can be a beneficial business strategy for a number of reasons:
Community Building: A huge benefit of open source is the vibrant communities that can grow around the open source software. This can bring value for both the producers and the end users because developers can get help in creating the software from the community and get feedback from their users about what works and what doesn’t.
User Growth: The use cost of open source is typically lower than with proprietary equivalents, creating user growth and goodwill.
Talent Acquisition: It is often easier for open source clients to attract top talent within the industry because the community-oriented nature of open source means you likely know who the best candidates are already
Cost Effectiveness and Optimization: Using and developing open source software can save vast amounts of time and energy because you do not have to reinvent the wheel.
Still have questions about Open Source? Check out our free online course here. This course on Open Source Business Models is designed for companies receiving investment from UNICEF’s Innovation Fund, and, in the spirit of open source, it is made available to any startups that are exploring the possibility of going open source. Through this course a startups can:
Describe how open source can help startups overcome some of the challenges startups typically face
Choose between different open source licenses based on the needs of your startup
Identify potential market strategies for your open source business
Design your own open source business model canvas
UNICEF is grateful for the generous support provided by current and past Innovation Fund investors and supporters:
Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited and the Walt Disney Corporation.
Government of Estonia, Ethereum Classic Labs and Mr. Kirill Tatarinov
UNICEF welcomes investments from governments, the private sector (individuals and organizations), foundations, academia, civil society, international financing institutions and multilateral organizations. Founding investors and supporters have brought the overall financial contributions to $29 million to date.
Contributions of all sizes are welcome to the pooled fund and are managed as contributions to the overall portfolio, however larger contributions allow for more strategic engagement, for example donors above the $1.5 million level are able to engage with the Fund Management team on strategic discussions and explore new priorities by taking part in the Annual Donor Meeting. Individual contributions cannot be allocated to specific investments or regions— returns are achieved through and across a diversified portfolio.
Providing mentorship to the startups
In addition to the financial investment in the Innovation Fund, investors can support and engage with the portfolio and cohorts in their specific area of expertise, through provision of technical expertise during the selection and mentorship stages.
Providing “graduation” opportunities for the startups
There is also the opportunity to provide follow-on funding for the most promising startups graduating from the Fund. The Innovation Fund welcomes partners to support companies in growth and scaling to the next stage, whether that be through partnerships or follow-on investments into companies graduating with solid business and revenue models and evidence of social impact.
The UNICEF Innovation Fund can provide a pipeline of equity-ready portfolio companies with viable, market-tested solutions that have shown results for investors to consider. Following the initial investment by the UNICEF Innovation Fund, risks have been decreased through focused technical assistance on product development, business strategy and market entry.
Have a query regarding the UNICEF Innovation Fund or want to become a donor? Go ahead and provide us with some basic details and we will reach out to you. Note—If its regarding the application, we request you to check out the FAQs in Apply section before posting a query here.