UNICEF Venture Fund for Startups to improve the Health, Nutrition, and Mental Health of Children

UNICEF Venture Fund for Startups to improve the Health, Nutrition, and Mental Health of Children

The UNICEF Venture Fund is looking to invest in Open Source frontier technology solutions that have the potential to create radical change in children’s health, nutrition, and mental health. We are offering up to US$100K in equity-free funding for early stage, for-profit technology start-ups that can improve the lives of children.

If your company is leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), data science (DS), drones, blockchain, or extended reality (XR), we want to hear from you! We are specifically seeking companies registered in one of UNICEF’s programme countries that have impressive working prototypes and a commitment to Open Source licensing.

The Challenge

Every child has the right to survive and thrive.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on global health, nutrition and mental health indicators for children. It has also amplified the persistent inequities in access to quality healthcare, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Factors such as where a child is born, their gender and their household’s socio-economic status greatly influence their survival and overall wellbeing. Challenges like distance, cost, trust and lack of medical supplies or trained personnel also make it difficult to access quality care.

As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s crucial to enhance the skills and capacity of frontline workers, especially in fragile contexts and vulnerable populations to strengthen health (including immunization), nutrition and mental health.

Nurse Rosemary Raikekeni speaks to children while washing her hands during a visit to bring COVID-19 vaccines and other essential health services to remote Kuvamiti village in East Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands.

UNICEF/UNI412957/Neil Nuia - WHO
Every child, regardless of their abilities, socioeconomic status, or circumstances, deserves the care and support necessary for their growth and wellbeing. However, millions of children do not have access to essential health services, particularly in regions where health systems are not adequately equipped. Shockingly, one out of every five children in low- and middle-income countries remain vulnerable to vaccine preventable diseases, with a disproportionate number coming from the poorest and most marginalized communities.

Nutrition-related non-communicable diseases account for nearly half of all deaths and disability in low- and middle-income countries. The triple burden of malnutrition also remains unsolved. For example, childhood overweight and obesity now co-exist with other forms of malnutrition and disproportionately affect those whose households have lower socio-economic statuses worldwide.

As a result, health systems are overburdened from entirely preventable diseases and families encounter further economic strain as a result of poor health.

Finally, the pandemic has highlighted the need for better access to mental health services. Today, it is estimated that 10-20% of children and adolescents worldwide experience mental health conditions, and 1 in 4 children have a parent with a mental illness.

Factors such as poverty, violence and crises further jeopardize children's well-being, and persistent stigma and discrimination exacerbate suffering. Globally, suicide is among the leading causes of death for adolescents. Urgent action to increase investment, improve access, and foster compassionate societies is needed.

What we're looking for

UNICEF’s innovation portfolio approach prioritizes addressing the most challenging problems faced by children and young people through nine thematic portfolios, including maternal, newborn, child & adolescent health, nutrition,
mental health, youth, and humanitarian response to reach the most vulnerable populations.

These portfolios prioritize solutions that strengthen systems in remote and low or no connectivity areas, improve access to data, skills and services, and empower and actively engage young people.

UNICEF’s Venture Fund is currently looking to invest in companies that are developing software solutions using frontier technologies such as blockchain, drones, data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning, or extended reality to strengthen systems for health, including mental health.

Some of our most pressing questions include, but are not limited to:

  • Area 1: How might we improve equity and access to services for health, nutrition, mental health and psychosocial support for children and their families?

  • New ways to facilitate social and behavior change that increase both demand and supply of services. Emphasis on appropriate services for persons with disabilities is encouraged.

  • Strengthening existing solutions to personalize services (i.e., using human-centered design) that address diverse needs, including for persons with disabilities.

  • Advanced analytics tools for health workers to monitor, assess and assist in decision making for needs and coverage for local service planning and delivery.

  • Tools which identify and follow-up missed and underserved children, especially those that improve the understanding of the profile or characteristics of low service utilization.

  • Area 2: How might we improve data generation and analysis for health, nutrition, mental health and psychosocial support for children and their families?

  • Models or alternative data sources to improve representation, accuracy and completeness of existing data for health, mental health and/or nutrition.

  • Secure data management platforms and tools to improve data collection, access and sharing with a focus on decreasing data bias.

  • Exploring non-traditional platforms for collecting new health and nutrition data, such as data on malnutrition (including wasting, stunting, underweight, and obesity); or preventive analysis data from social trends.

  • Digital tools to monitor the food environment and/or leverage alternative sources of data such as citizen-sourced data to understand health behavioral insights, such as food availability and consumption patterns.

  • Predictive analysis to understand changes in the world such as new patterns, risk factors, behavior insights or other contributors to pathologies and adverse outcomes, or diagnostic protocols and models.

  • Area 3: How might we strengthen workforce capacity, especially in fragile contexts and vulnerable populations for improving health, nutrition, mental health and psychosocial support?
    Upskilling frontline health workers for maternal, child and adolescent health.

  • Offering specialized training and resources for youth engagement and advocacy such as extended reality tools for skilling.

  • Augmenting workforce capacity in cultural competence, unconscious biases, and social determinants for health, nutrition and mental health.

  • Building workforce capacity to deliver disability- and age-appropriate mental health and psychosocial support services.

    How to Apply

    For more information and job application details, see; UNICEF Venture Fund for Startups to improve the Health, Nutrition, and Mental Health of Children

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