UNICEF launches Innovation Fund for open-source investment

February 1, 2016 // 3:22 p.m.

Tags: #developing-nations #innovation-fund #open-source #un #unicef #united-nations #venture-capital

The United Nations has announced that it will provide some 60 start-ups with more than $9 million in funding to develop open-source technologies to improve the lives of children in developing countries.

Dubbed the Innovation Fund and helmed by the children's charity UNICEF, the funding programme is to see 60 start-up companies provided with venture capital funding totalling more than $9 million. Each company has been selected to align with at least one, or preferably more, of the fund's chosen portfolio areas: targeting people below the age of 25; providing real-time information for informed decision making; or providing the infrastructure to increase access to services and information, be that network connectivity, power, finance, or transport.

Naturally, the portfolio is not free from buzzwords: UNICEF itself has indicated a desire to see 'emerging technologies that hold significant potential to bring results for children [which] include blockchain, 3D printing, data, personal/social communications networks, satellites, wearables and sensors, mobile devices, UAVs, artificial intelligence, and renewable energy.'

'The purpose of the UNICEF Innovation Fund is to invest in open source technologies for children,' explained Christopher Fabian, UNICEF Innovation co-lead. 'We’ll be identifying opportunities from countries around the world including some that may not see a lot of capital investment in technology start-ups. We are hoping to identify communities of problem-solvers and help them develop simple solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing children.'

Companies interested in applying need more than an idea, though. The fund is open only to early-stage projects which have a completed prototype or pilot programme and who require a relatively small amount of funding to develop the project for wider attention. That development can include outright new technology, expanding or improving existing technologies or platforms, piloting a new use case, or scaling existing pilot programmes.

While the fund, which includes cash from governments, the private sector, academia and individuals, will be treated like venture capital, UNICEF has warned those whose money it is spending that there will not be a traditional return on investment. 'It provides value. Value that can be measured and counted in real time ,' UNICEF's documentation on the fund explains. 'In 2016 it’s much less important (especially with a fund capped at $9 million) to see direct (and individual) cash flow – and much more important to see communities of problem solvers creating products that can be repurposed, adapted, and scaled across a wide range of partners’ needs.'

More information, plus the link to apply for consideration under the fund, is available on the official website.
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