Innovation for every child: Scotland imagines the future
Dr Sharad Sapra on Unicef's recent Scottish innovation conference
Scotland is home to a vibrant digital technologies industry
Over the last five years the sector has grown substantially, with increasing start-up activity and over one thousand companies engaged in a variety of activities from software development and IT services to digital agencies, game development and telecommunications.
It is obvious that these technologies are disrupting traditional industries, creating new and innovative businesses within Scotland, but what is not so obvious is the potential that this could have for Unicef’s work for children.
Since early 2015, Unicef has had an increased presence and permanent office in Scotland, where we work with key stakeholders to promote the rights and wellbeing of children through programmes such as Rights Respecting Schools and partnerships with the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council.
Dr Sharad Sapra
At Unicef we believe that doing good is also good business
An increasing focus of Unicef’s work, however, is innovation; identifying, prototyping and scaling technologies that could improve children’s lives around the world.
Innovations using mobile technology to register births, sharing real-time data to improve education and health and giving young people a way to connect with their governments are already changing the way we work but there is much more to do.
This is where we see huge potential working with the Scottish technology sector. At Unicef, we need more innovations urgently to solve some of the challenges that children face and building relationships with key organisations, entrepreneurs and experts is crucial in our work to “innovate for impact”.
On Monday, I flew over from Unicef’s Global Innovation Centre in Nairobi to host the first Unicef Scotland Innovation event; to initiate conversations that could spark future solutions and collaborations between Unicef and the Scottish technology sector.
Alongside me on the panel were esteemed experts from the Scottish technology sector; Chris van de Kuyl, chairman of 4J Studios, as well as chairman of entrepreneurial Scotland and chair of Informatics Ventures advisory board; Lesley Eccles, co-founder of FanDuel; Calum Smeaton, founder and chief executive of TVSquared; Ewan Hunter, chief executive of the Hunter Foundation and Rob Dobson who has invested in numerous Scottish start-ups and technology businesses.
The discussion ranged from talking about how technology can enable youth entrepreneurship, to using gamification to bring about social change and delivering quality education in remote settings by using innovative means.
Yet one thing was absolutely clear - everybody has a role to play. Through innovation and through collaboration we can change children’s lives around the world.
One of the challenges we presented at the event was centred on one of Unicef innovation’s flagship projects, U-Report.
As a social messaging tool utilising a number of platforms including SMS, Twitter and more recently the U-Report App, U-Report enables communication between young people and decision makers.
It is designed to give young people a chance to voice their opinions on issues that they care about in their communities, encourage citizen led development and create positive change.
With over 1.9 million U-Reporters in 20 countries world-wide, Unicef is looking to further scale its applications.
This, however, presents challenges for us including how we effectively use the vast amount of data that we collect to advocate for children’s rights.
This is where partners come in, as through their experience of processing and analysing data, we will hopefully be able to build on their learnings and knowledge to provide a unique platform that gives more young people the chance to have their voices heard.
This, however, is just one example of how the private sector and Scottish technology industry could have an impact on our work.
At Unicef we believe that doing good is also good business and with the technology sector’s increasing focus on emerging markets, there is a tremendous opportunity to create sustainable business models while delivering essential services for disadvantaged communities.
Overall the day’s events certainly showed that there is certainly no shortage of ideas and a desire within the Scottish technology sector to work with Unicef and with continued collaboration I look forward to seeing the changes that this can bring for children in the near future.
Dr. Sharad Sapra is principal adviser and director of the Global Innovation Centre, UNICEF.