UNICEF Announces Investment In Six (6) Blockchain Startups

UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund will through its Innovation Fund, invest in six (6) blockchain projects in developing and emerging economies.

The six projects selected and announced on the www.unicef.org web-page, had over 100 applications from across 50 countries. Chosen projects include – Atix Labs (Argentina), Onesmart and Prescrypto (Mexico), Statwig (India), Utopixar (Tunisia) and W3 Engineers (Bangladesh).

Each of the projects propose solutions to varying global challenges using blockchain technology; like improving access to funding for locals and social impact projects, transparency in health-care delivery, expanding access to electronic prescriptions (Prescrypto), affordable access to mobile phone connectivity for refuges and migrant communities (W3 Engineers), among other needs. Each project will receive up to $100,000 to develop an open source blueprint of the blockchain applications within 12-months.

Speaking on the initiative and criteria for selection, Innovation Fund Manager, Sunita Grote explained:

The fund looked for projects based in the 190 countries listed, that were willing to make their technology open source and had at least a ready prototype that could be evaluated. It is also especially important for applicant teams to reflect gender and other kinds of diversity as we know that this makes teams more effective.

Prior to this time, the venture fund has invested in 33 startups across 23 countries and is valued at $17.9 million. The fund forms part of the UNICEF Office of Innovation which focuses on potential technologies such as data science, machine learning, drones and now, blockchain technology.

Atix Labs, a beneficiary of the fund through a team member, expressed gratitude at selection. Atix team member, Audrey Tan said the fund will support positive impact for benefiting communities. She further highlights that the Atix project aims to make cross-border financing more accessible, democratic and transparent; while it will also use the investment to continue rolling out pilot products to local communities in Southeast Asia.

Other beneficiaries such as Onesmart (offers a blockchain product that will address misappropriation of funds and ensure delivery of social services to children and young people in emerging markets), Statwig – will use blockchain to ensure efficient delivery of vaccines through an enhanced supply chain system, Utopixar – will deliver tools for communities to aid participation in decision making and value transfer.

Increased Utility and Adoption of Blockchain Technology

Quite surprisingly, blockchain technology is not new to UNICEF. The organization has had an internal team dedicated to study and explore the technology. Notably its first blockchain investment was back in 2016 in a South African startup at its early stages of development.

Speaking on the approved projects, Principal advisor, Chris Fabian says; “The fund functions just like a VC fund. Except that we’re investing in companies in emerging markets exclusively, companies that have some human good baked into them, and companies that are open source and that can be combined with each other during the investment period.”

Sighting a probable use case, he made reference to UNICEF’s purchase of billions of vaccines yearly. From his projections, the blockchain could improve the procurement and distribution process. In his words,

We see these provocations as the beginning of a learning journey, and as things that we can eventually integrate parts of into our larger work as we use this technology to create a better world, help the technology grow and mature in the most fair and equitable way possible.

Even as the technology is still in its infancy, Fabian opines that the UNICEF goal is to explore the blockchain potential in new businesses, emerging markets and also in the UNICEF’s own internal operations.

Beside the seed investment, the six start-ups will have premium access to the UNICEF’s network of experts, partners and industry mentors; as well as receive assistance for a second round of investments to further their respective projects in over 190 countries where UNICEF operates. UNICEF will also offer partnership with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to ensure ease of acceptance and publicity of these projects in the global market.

What are your thoughts on this? Is blockchain tech here to stay?

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