Ever Heard of the Unicef Innovation Fund?

The $11M Unicef Innovation Fund invests in cutting edge industries like fintech, UAVs, virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing, machine learning, genetic engineering and IoT.

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Unicef's Innovation (Venture) Fund is a newly established, non-thematic, pooled fund which has been specifically designed to finance early stage, open-source technology that can benefit children. The core motivation of the Innovation Fund (IF) 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. The fund invests in solutions that can impact the lives of the most vulnerable children. The Fund has further identified that such solutions come from businesses aligned with $100 billion industries in frontier technology spaces such as blockchain, UAVs, virtual and augmented reality, 3D printing, machine learning, quantum computing, genetic engineering, Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, nano-satellites and human dynamics.

The Fund has raised $11.2 million so far and focuses its investments on three portfolio areas: products for youth, infrastructure and real time information.

The Fund brings together models of financing and methodologies used by venture capital funds and the principles of Unicef's award-winning Office of Innovation. The Innovation Fund supports the generation of open source solutions that address the most.

The Unicef Innovation Fund typically seeks to invest in open-source projects that have already been started (these must be companies have been running the project for a while). To the Unicef IF it shows that the startup has potential but may be requiring further funding to take the project to a level where it can really attract additional investment and funding by generating real data. The Unicef Innovation Fund can help with investments between $50,000 and $90,000 to support the acceleration of the company’s work.

By investing in multiple concurrent teams working on similar problems and technology stacks, the Fund can accelerate both the production 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.

The Fund is open to applications on a rolling basis from startups in Unicef’s programme countries. Details of the application process are available on

Funding decisions are made within two weeks.

The Fund tracks progress of its investments through expenditures listed on its management dashboard, which shows investments' and projects’ growth (or decline) in real time. Through dashboards that provide real time information aggregated at the project, portfolio and Fund level, the partners who have pooled into form this Unicef Innovation Fund are able to continually monitor progress and growth.

The first round of the Innovation Fund was closed at $11 million with contributions from private and public investors and supporters.

Investors get three specific types of returns:

1. Growth. You get to see projects and technologies become big, in a global ecosystem, and deliver results that help humanity – and children in particular.

2. IP stack: The Fund invests exclusively in open source – but that doesn’t mean that the IP is without value. For instance, we have produced (through a venture called “U-Report”) an enterprise-level, cloud-hosted, multi-tenancy solution for youth engagement. How much that system is worth to a partner in the Fund depends on that partner – but it is not without value. The Fund reviews with their partners, at annual meetings, to assess the value of the technology created for their core business lines.

3. Communities: The Fund aims to create communities around the products invested. U-Report has more than 2.7 users in 34 countries. Having access to robust communities of developers and entrepreneurs is of value to partners of the Unicef Innovation Fund, as it will allow them to either extend work that’s been done through the Fund for their own purposes and access a global change engine that can be used to build other solutions in the future.

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