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.
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.
Secretary-General António Guterres announced the launch of a global task force charged with recommending strategies to harness the potential of financial technology to advance the Sustainable Development Goals. “We have already seen how technology has helped expand financial inclusion—itself an important goal—by 1.2 billion people in just six years,” said Mr. Guterres. “But we have only just begun to tap the potential of digital finance and investment to meet the broader agenda set forth in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.”
A few years ago UNICEF met with a group of about 40 entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley looking for creative solutions to some of the most pressing problems facing people in the poorest parts of the world. But after a week of brain-storming ideas, it was clear that they were on the wrong track. This week of co-creation resulted in solutions like subscription-based smartphone health apps that would cost someone living in poverty an entire day’s income, or water purifying solutions that would have to be delivered on a large truck to remote villages that were only accessible by footpaths.
Family farms make up 90 percent of the world’s farms and produce over 80 percent of the world’s food. Yet, paradoxically, they are often poor and food insecure themselves. Recognizing the successful innovations that farmers have already used and helping to spread them to other farmers is vital for our future of food and agriculture.
Innovation is not just good ideas, and it is much more than technology. Innovation in agriculture cuts across all dimensions of the production cycle along the entire value chain - from crop, forestry, fishery or livestock production to the management of inputs and resources to market access.
Ahead of World AIDS Day, which takes place on 1 December, UNAIDS is releasing a series of virtual reality films focused on HIV testing. Using the latest technology, the films help to demystify HIV testing. With goggles that viewers can wear for a full VR experience, the aim is to reach young people who may want to know their HIV status but are afraid or worried about taking an HIV test.
In the films, a group of talented young people re-enact several scenarios of a young woman’s journey to find out her HIV status. Going from her home to a local health clinic, the films allow viewers to explore different settings through a 360-degree experience.
All Maldivian nationals are covered under the Government’s universal health insurance plan called “Aasandha”. Aasandha data provides personal data records and insurance data for all Maldivians. Since the usual data source for non-communicable diseases is the Demographic and Health Surveys, which is carried out every 6 years (most recently in 2015 and before that in 2009), we thought we could get more up-to-date data on diabetes if we looked directly at the health insurance data.
Our team assumed that analyzing this data would serve as proxy indicators for the SDG indicators 3.8.1: Coverage of essential health services. Our idea was to have an anonymized look at the data from the universal health insurance plan to see what else we could learn about non-communicable diseases.
Most farmers in Zambia are smallholders who lack the means to access and participate in markets. Their limited ability to access information about additional markets outside their immediate community makes them effectively invisible to other traders who may be willing to pay them a better price for their crops. In response to this need of farmers to gain improved access markets, WFP launched an ambitious start-up in May 2017: Maano, a virtual farmers’ market that aims to help rural smallholder farmers sell their produce by providing them a trustworthy platform to advertise and sell their produce.
Although the app was a hit among the farmers, who went from having limited access to markets to being able to increase their visibility and profitability, a post-pilot user interface and user experience assessment highlighted several challenges the farmers faced while using the app.
Tools such as WhatsApp, social media messaging, automated voice messaging and chatbots, for instance, could help us deliver services smarter, better and faster while offering alternative ways for people to contact the centre.
From providing automated interactions for people who can’t read or write, to reaching tech-savvy youth, using these different tools allow more people to contact us at any given time – ensuring that more people’s request for assistance are received and their needs met.
Alpha Diallo was perhaps not the most obvious employee among his colleagues in Abidjan to take on the role of Innovation Fellow. As Head of Administration and Finance at UNHCR’s operation in Côte d’Ivoire, he wasn’t in daily contact with persons of concerns. But he had a hunch that shaking up assigned roles and pushing staff to get out of their comfort zone was just what the operation needed to see fresh ideas bubble up. His work over the past few months has served to prove his point.
A few years ago, Alpha discovered the work of Ideo, a design firm known for its human-centered approach to solving social problems, and was intrigued by the organization’s methods for designing and scaling projects. These methods could likely help the agency incubate new projects to improve its assistance to persons of concerns, he thought. When the Innovation Fellowship was announced, he noticed the program would be using principles that aligned with Ideo’s. The decision to apply was a no-brainer. “It was the perfect opportunity to contribute to changing an organization that is over half a century old,” he recalls.
Public transportation services are not always gender sensitive and safety concerns related to women’s mobility in metropolitan areas are at times overlooked. The lack of a safe and inclusive public transportation system influences many decisions that women make, from where to go to work, how far from home to travel to school, to where to shop for basic household items.
Pulse Lab Jakarta has teamed up with UN Women to gather insights on women’s mobility and travel choices in urban areas in order to design practical interventions that can improve the safety of women. What does safety mean for women when using public transportation at night? What is the travel experience like from the time they leave their house, go through transit and arrive at their final destination?
Innovation and creativity do not happen in a vacuum, yet often in organizational structures they are relegated to a specific space or team (e.g. an Innovation Lab) rather than set-up as a cross-cutting initiative. It is easy then to assume that the people who work within these spaces are doing the necessary innovation and new thinking to give their organization a competitive edge. However, innovation does not always work in such a neat, orderly way, and impactful innovation continually requires collaboration and perspectives beyond specific innovation teams.
We believe that creativity should flow within and around an organization, pulling different people from all parts of the structure into the design process. Yet, we so often encounter innovation as a specific unit or section, so how can we instead push to foster engagement in innovation beyond these units to better tap into employees’ creativity?
At its first meeting in New York on 24-25 September 2018, the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation discussed opportunities offered by digital technologies for accelerating the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and for empowering individuals and communities. Equally, it examined the risks associated with these technologies and current obstacles to digital trust and cooperation. A meeting summary is available here.
The overall objective of the Panel is to make practical proposals on how to strengthen cooperation in the digital space among governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, the technical and academic communities and all other relevant stakeholders, and thereby contribute to a broader global dialogue on how interdisciplinary and cooperative approaches can help ensure a safe and inclusive digital future.
Bright-eyed 15-year-old Khayrath Mohamed Kombo is heading off to camp in another city for the first time. But far from arriving to a sea of tents, sleeping bags and wilderness, this camp has a decidedly more high-tech environment. “When I heard about this I was excited because my dream is to learn more things and expand my knowledge,” says Khayrath, who is the only girl in her computer science club at school, back in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
She was among more than 80 girls from 34 African countries who attended the first Coding Camp in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for 10 days in August 2018. The camp served to launch the African Girls Can CODE Initiative, a joint programme of the African Union Commission, UN Women Ethiopia and the International Telecommunication Union.