How a 68 year old UNICEF runs like a startup and what you could learn from it

UNICEF innovation

According to Wikipedia, UNICEF runs on a budget of about $ 4 billion per year –majorly funded through contributions. The funds are  then channeled to the subordinate departments which are responsible for implementing the budgets.

Regardless of the comfortable cash flow UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) enjoys, it  still runs like a startup. One wonders why? In fact, it’s every startup’s  dream to have a steady revenue stream, besides being in the celebrity IPO territory.

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UNICEF, just like any other startup, believes in experimenting projects on a lower scale before fully dedicating resources to them. This is what Eric Reis defines as the minimally viable product (MVP) –not Most Valuable Player–  in his must-read book The Lean Startup. Deeply explored in his book, is perhaps the most adaptable strategy for larger organizations to utilize. In a nutshell, MVPs (like a prototype) are the most basic version of a product, program, platform, etc. that enables the employee to test out their innovation with the intended customer/beneficiary and get feedback before releasing the official version.

UNICEF has leveraged the technique with great success, particularly the UNICEF Innovations team which has used participatory prototyping and rapid deployments to improve maternal health and vaccination distribution. The highlight about this is that it builds an network of social inclusion for all the employees  by giving them a chance to create their own products, as well as benefitting the communities they are stationed in.

According to Innovation stories blog, Felix Mwebe a Ugandan engineer and social innovator who has volunteered at the UNICEF-Uganda Innovation lab:

My involvement in the Hackathons and the work with Aalto-UNICEF-Finland Collaborations, are some of the best experiences and exposure life can ever give to me. The projects were particularly challenging with time, requiring members to work in multidisciplinary teams, interacting with professionals in the fields of WASH, Education, Government and Technology. At the end of each day we were always seated at around a table to develop innovative solutions.

Among some of their MVPs, the UNICEF Social and Civic Media Team with their innovative mapping tool,UNICEF Geographic Information System, continuously engage one of UNICEF’s core constituencies, young people, in testing the latest iterations and features of the tool.

Leveraging its social media network Voices of Youth and working with technical partner Innovative Support to Emergencies Diseases and Disasters (InSTEDD), the UNICEF civic mapping platform has developed in partnership with young people and empowered youth to report and take action on environmental hazards in Brazil, Haiti, Argentina, and starting next month, Kosovo.

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In conclusion, MVPs are extremely useful for socially focused organizations with limited budgets, and can help ensure accountability to target beneficiaries.

Image via UNICEF Stories


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