UNICEF Innovation Fund invests in South Africa’s blockchain startup 9Needs


UNICEF Innovation Fund has invested an undiclosed sum of funding to South Africa’s  blockchain startup 9Needs  which developed a self-sovereign identity and contracting system that will digitally enable South African early childhood development  programmes. Using blockchain infrastructure and smart contracts, the system will help strengthen the current registration, contracting, information and management systems.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund applies a venture capital approach to source solutions for issues like transportation, identity, wearable technology, finance, and personal data. In addition to announcing first investments UNICEF has also opened the next round of applications from technology start-ups.

“The UNICEF Innovation Fund is a new way of doing business at the UN; combining the approach of Silicon Valley venture funds with the needs of UNICEF programme countries,” said Cynthia McCaffrey, Director of the UNICEF Office of Innovation.

“Using UNICEF’s 190 offices and 12,000 staff, the Fund will help us source and support companies that might be overlooked by traditional investment vehicles,” McCaffrey added. “The Fund allows us to prototype technology solutions, as well as expand our networks of open source collaborators to improve children’s lives.”

The first portfolio of investments includes the following five start-ups, with an eye to investing in 20-40 additional companies in 2017:

• Saycel (Nicaragua): provides affordable mobile connectivity to communities that are not on the traditional information grid in rural areas.

• mPower (Bangladesh): create a digital registry platform to improve data collection and delivery of maternal and child health care.

• Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (Pakistan): creates stories and information that can be played over a simple mobile phone to help fathers (who may be semi-literate) support their families for better maternal and newborn health.

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• Chatterbox (Cambodia): provides a fundamental technology layer to be integrated into UNICEF’s RapidPro platform to extend its reach to communities that are low literacy, particularly in Cambodia, but eventually globally.

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is inviting technology start-ups to apply for investment and become part of this growing portfolio of open source solutions. The next round of applications for investment from the Fund is now open. The deadline to apply is 1 January 2017.