We highlight blog posts from all UN Entities related to innovation in the UN below. If you would like to suggest a post for us to include, you can do so here.
UNHCR has always been innovating. Currently, in Quito, Diego Nardi is working on challenges around how we communicate with communities. In our Global Learning Centre, Clarisse Ntampaka is working out how to train people on protection more effectively. In Nairobi, Sandra Aluoch and Kent Awiti are scaling connected learning across Africa. Netta Rankin is grappling with Artificial Intelligence and human resources systems. The commitment and efforts to innovate exist in our organisation, in the obvious but also in the prosaic. They exist agnostic of age, and professional profile, and they exist because of a huge diversity of thought.
I’m not making the case for innovation being a panacea, I’m saying that it’s an important tool, an important part of what we do, and how we do it — including how we solve challenges big and small. At such a complicated and complex time, we must not only invest in innovation but also our ability to effectively change and adapt.
A UNESCO publication produced in collaboration with Germany and the EQUALS Skills Coalition, I’d Blush if I Could, features recommendations on actions to overcome global gender gaps in digital skills, with a special examination of the impact of gender prejudice coded into some of the most prevalent artificial intelligence (AI) applications such as digital voice assistants.
The publication locates this prejudice in the gender imbalance of technical teams leading the development of frontier technologies and identifies policy solutions to help women and girls cultivate strong digital skills.
The recommendations about the gendering of AI are urgent in light of the explosive growth of voice assistants like Amazon’s Alexa technology. Almost all of these assistants are given female names and voices and express a ‘personality’ that is engineered to be uniformly subservient. The title of the publication borrows its name from the response that Siri, the Apple voice assistant use
Pigs play a key role in Papua New Guinea, both culturally and economically. Rising global demand for pork presents new export opportunities, but only if farmers can prove the quality of their product. Together with the International Telecommunications Unit, FAO is creating a distributed ledger system (a blockchain-based system) that can track livestock and allow consumers to buy with confidence by verifying the history of their pigs. Before the system was implemented, consumers had no means of verifying this information. The implementation of the new tracking system is vital for establishing consumer trust and ensuring farmers can expand their markets and earn a fair return on their investments.
As part of UNICEF’s work to support the Government of Indonesia’s response to the earthquake and tsunami struck Palu in 2018, UNICEF piloted a new WhatsApp partnership on the digital platform U-Report.
U-Report has traditionally used text messages to crowdsource people’s opinions and participation to deliver impact on UNICEF and partner NGO programmes. UNICEF asks young people about issues that matter to them which then informs UNICEF’s daily work, but when a natural disaster happens, the platform has a dual use: First, UNICEF, the Government and NGO partners can send short, simple, useful messages to thousands of people to keep them safe. In turn, the subscribers can reply, in real time, to tell the responders what they need to survive.
For the first time, innovators from eleven United Nations entities will come together to participate in the first Interagency Innovation Bootcamp, jointly hosted by the UN Innovation Network and the World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator in Munich, with the common purpose of working through game-changing humanitarian solutions in the same space — all aiming at tackling one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
The bootcamp is a week-long high-intensity training programme to spark and catalyse new innovation projects across the UN. Innovators will refine their projects, rapidly test solutions and develop business models to tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems. Recognizing the equal importance of all 17 SDGs (especially the 17th, “Partnerships for the Goals”), the bootcamp will be an embodiment of what the UN strives to represent, including international cooperation and harmonization of actions.
In a remote town in Ethiopia, a health worker learns lifesaving midwife tips from a WiFi-enabled tablet linked to a projector. In the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, displaced Syrian engineers help run a giant solar plant so families can cook, study, and work. In Kampala, Uganda, a team of analysts uses artificial intelligence to study public radio broadcasts and learn what marginalized communities really worry about.
These stories span issues and geographies, yet they share a common thread: They are stories of how the United Nations is innovating to improve lives on the ground.
Farmers in Namibia now have new crop varieties of cowpea and sorghum that are more tolerant to drought and pests planted this year, thanks to nuclear technology provided with the support of the IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organization. Traditional seed varieties no longer meet the needs of close to 700,000 agricultural households in northern Namibia, where drought and poor soil inhibit crop productivity
In response, the IAEA and the FAO have supported Namibia through the transfer of technology and helped to build capabilities in plant breeding and soil and water management. The new varieties are expected to benefit over 8,000 farmers in the first season, and more farmers will be able to get involved as the seed production increases, Andowa said.
PAHO’s Health Emergencies Department and UNICEF’s Office of Innovation joined forces to explore the potential of machine learning to predict areas of yellow fever incidence in the Americas and assess the importance of geographic and environmental factors, employing PAHO’s seminal work and unique datasets. Increasing availability of digital data and development of Machine Learning techniques, and Artificial Intelligence in general, has proven extremely useful in understanding patterns of disease and health dynamics in populations. This trend of popular field of research called digital epidemiology uses digital data collected and generated inside and outside the public health system.
Ideas are the lifeblood of innovation. To accelerate rural transformation while tackling rural poverty, food insecurity, nutrition, job creation and climate change, innovative ideas are needed. That is why IFAD in partnership with the Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance (the Lab), launched a contest in 2018 to crowdsource ideas and unlock investments into sustainable agriculture in West and Central Africa. Investors and development partners have evaluated the candidates, and this month two winners emerged: Bringing climate risk insurance to smallholder farmers and Promoting climate smart agriculture.
Padma Chaudhary, a mother of two, leaves early in the morning from her home to her e-rickshaw stall almost 20 km away. Decked in a smart, long red coat that matches her bright red chariot on wheels, she marvels at how much her life has changed in the months since she acquired the vehicle, which has allowed her to work independently. An e-rickshaw is a battery-operated three-wheeler that is a greener alternative to rickshaws that run on fuel. “I never expected there to be initiatives willing to support rural women like us,” says Chaudhary, as she talks about the e-rickshaw she received from Pourakhi Nepal, UN Women’s implementing partner, some seven months ago.
A looming El Niño event could make 2019 the hottest year ever recorded, and this is concerning news for countries in Southeast Asia. The mega-fires caused by the severe 2015 El Niño ravaged more than 26,000 kilometers of land, causing a massive haze crisis that resulted in more than 100,000 premature deaths in the region. UN Global Pulse is now exploring some of the latest advances in artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to help authorities and citizens make timely, informed decisions in environmentally critical moments.
The scientific community has concluded that we have about a decade left to fundamentally change the way we consume natural resources and protect the environment. We believe that if we create a digital ecosystem for the environment, we will be able to use data and insights to make better natural resource governance decisions, target our investments and change consumption and production patterns.
AI has taken the world by storm, becoming a marketing buzzword and hotly commented subject. But it’s certainly not all hype. Over the last few years there have been several important milestones in AI, in particular in terms of image, pattern and speech recognition, language comprehension and autonomous vehicles. Advancements such as these have prompted the healthcare, automotive, financial, communications and many more industries to adopt AI in pursuit of its transformative potential. But what about the law enforcement community? How can AI benefit law enforcement and why might this be dangerous?
Does international peacekeeping protect civilians caught up in civil wars? Do the 16,000 United Nations peacekeepers deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo actually save lives, and if so how many? Did the 9,000 patrols conducted by the U.N. Mission in South Sudan in the past three months protect civilians there? The answer is a dissatisfying “maybe.”
But peacekeeping can—and must—make a case for its own utility, using data already at its fingertips.
Getting nutrition data from the Republic of Congo’s remote health centers is a notorious headache. Health workers fill out log books by hand on a day-to-day basis. Once a month, they compile a report that is sent to a district officer, by whatever means of transportation is available. The district officer compiles the data for a district before passing on a summary to a departmental head at the Ministry in the capital, Brazzaville. The lag time typically amounts to five weeks — or more. By the time the information is analyzed and shared, it is stale.
A team of enterprising people from WFP and CAI are now working to change this.
When droughts occur, herders can cover several hundred to thousands of kilometres before finding an adequate water spot with enough water and vegetation to meet the needs of the many herds gathering there. To decide where to go, pastoralists typically pay an emissary to check out the area they have in mind as their next destination, and report back. It takes at best a few days to get the information by motorbike, weeks if the journey is undertaken by camel. It is costly, slow and risky. But with satellite imagery, information on water and vegetation cover is available in real time, with enormous benefits for the herders, saving them time, money and, potentially, their livestock.
We are proud to report that, to date, mVAM has been activated in over 40 countries and activities are planned in six further locations. But our focus was not only on rolling out remote food security monitoring to new locations. As we’ve shown over the course of 2018, our work is just as much about making mVAM faster by automating the process from data collection through to visualisation in near real-time dashboards, as well as scaling up nutrition data collection; making mVAM fly higher through expanding our range of use cases and rolling out effective two-way communication tools; and making mVAM results stronger by working on eliminating bias and improving the reliability of mVAM results.
We are re-imagining development for the 21st century by building the world’s largest and fastest learning network. The Accelerator Lab network will comprise 60 labs based in nearly one-third of the world’s countries. We are trying to dramatically speed up our ability to learn which development ideas work and how to apply them more widely. As a way to discover new solutions in the public sector, labs are not new. A global network is.
Imagine losing your legal identification and other official documents in a natural disaster. Without land title, rebuilding your home or business becomes impossible: Why invest in rebuilding at all when someone else can come along and claim your property?
Blockchain has tremendous potential to tackle this and other challenges, accelerating development progress that truly leave no one behind. But before we take a closer look at the potential benefits of blockchain, let’s unpack a technology often perceived negatively or as “too complex” in light of the crypto-currencies it powers, such as Bitcoin
At the beginning of this year, we wanted to take a critical look at our engagement with the Uganda operation. The Uganda operation was one we invested in heavily as a team, having supported through four missions and on-going remote support from 2016 – 2018. By undertaking this critical review, we wanted to get a better understanding of what went well in and the opportunities to improve our support for innovation in field operations. We wanted to use lessons learned from a more sustained engagement and investment to guide our work moving forward. Evidence-informed iterations are central to all of our work.
Who can imagine Valentine’s Day without bon-bons, or Easter without chocolate eggs? Yet generations-old cocoa farming businesses are on the verge of collapse in the Amazon because cocoa farmers don’t receive fair pay for their work. Using blockchain technology, the United Nations Development Programme in Ecuador, AltFinLab and Amsterdam’s FairChain Foundation are developing the world’s first blockchain shared-value chocolate.
So far, developments in AI have been predominately driven by private sector technology actors, but growing interest by African governments has seen the start of conversations around “AI strategies” for growth and governance across the continent. AI is not typically applied to a defined problem in a neutral way. Navigating the complexities of AI application calls for a typology of positive AI and negative AI in the governance context. Positive AI is the use of such systems for broad social benefit. Conversely, negative AI is used for social division, suppression, or even violence.
Each year, humanitarian aid organizations save and protect tens of millions of people caught up in crises across the world. Their interventions are more timely, relevant and effective than ever. But humanitarian action is not always as fast as it should be, and needs are unevenly met. Even as record sums are raised, growing levels of vulnerability worldwide have resulted in a stubborn and harmful gap between need and response. Historically, donors have financed a little more than half of what the United Nations asks for each year. So, what do we need to do better?
To boost the percentage of coverage, humanitarian agencies need to break out of traditional funding models that are no longer sufficient for the complex and protracted crises we face. Humanitarian organizations – and their backers – will need to embrace one of the most important drivers of success: the ability to adapt and innovate their way out of problems.
Bolivia is one of South America’s most natural disaster-prone nations and there is eagerness to bring in drones to complement climate change adaption initiatives already happening on the ground. This gives local authorities a data boost when predicting rainfall monitoring crops: “We use satellite images with Sentinel but these have time intervals, so the information varies. Drone technology will allow us to monitor at any time the phenological shifts of the crop. Prosuco has already purchased a drone. So we can corroborate the information from observing a fox’s behaviour with local observers.”
In communities across the world that are prone to natural disasters, having an effective disaster response strategy in place is vital to save lives and support affected communities. To successfully coordinate what are often complex disaster relief efforts, governments, disaster response authorities and humanitarian agencies need useful, up-to-date information that can be easily accessed.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is converging with an extraordinary array of other technologies, from biotech and genomics, to neuro technology, robotics, cyber technology and manufacturing systems. Increasingly, these technologies are decentralized, beyond State control, and available to a wide range of actors around the world. While these trends may unlock enormous potential for humankind, the convergence of AI and new technologies also poses unprecedented risks to global security. In particular, they create challenges for the multilateral system and the United Nations, which operate at the inter-State level.
Advances in information and communication technologies are driving global changes in our society—from the way we communicate with each other to the forces that shape our economy and behaviour. Insights generated from big data are already transforming many domains. Mobility data from mobile phone networks can reveal the extent of displacement after a disaster and help predict the spread of infectious diseases, while mobile airtime purchases can help track food consumption. Roofing materials visible from space serve as a proxy for poverty, changes in debit card usage indicate the impact of a crisis, and postal records have been used to estimate trade flows. At the same time, the rapidly evolving capabilities of artificial intelligence offer new opportunities to unlock the value of big data for more evidence-based decision-making that can accelerate progress towards the SDGs.
Rarely a day passes without a story on an exciting, or perhaps terrifying, advancement in technology as developers discover new ways to leverage quantum computers, robotics, 3D printing, and AI to solve new and age-old problems alike.
One exciting new development that tech watchers may have missed this year: efforts the United Nations has taken to modernize its work and better prepare itself as a platform for global discussions on the promises and perils of new technologies. Much of this work has been led by Secretary-General António Guterres, an engineer by training who took the helm at the UN determined to modernize and reform the organization to better prepare it to face the challenges of the 21st century, including achieving the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
An inherent problem with mobile surveys is that respondents who are able to own a phone tend to be from households that are better-off and literate.
This leads to a selection bias in our results: respondents who are able to participate in the mVAM surveys are systematically different from those who are not. How do we ensure that our survey results are representative of the real population?
Accurate estimates of population demographics are vital in order to understand social and economic inequalities, and are essential to UNICEF’s work, as knowing where the most vulnerable children and families live is important for resource allocation. Traditional methods of collecting such estimates, however, are both time-consuming and expensive. Here, we explore a complementary approach.