Image of a Unicef working helping a small girl with water

How UNICEF achieved greater speed to market with

At the recent Kontent Horizons event, Luminary CTO Andy Thompson presented with UNICEF Australia’s Acquisitions Manager Nikola Sarbinowski, and Digital Platforms Strategist Alan Menzies, on how has helped to transform the organisation’s website.

Tami Iseli

By Tami Iseli, 7 May 20234 minute read

UNICEF Australia is a humanitarian organisation that responds to emergencies and saves lives around the world. As a donor-funded organisation, it relies on its website and emails to quickly reach new supporters during critical moments. 

“A core part of what we do as the United Nations children's emergency fund is responding to emergencies, so we need to be able to unlock resources and funding really quickly when a war breaks out or a natural disaster strikes,” said UNICEF Australia’s Acquisitions Manager Nikola Sarbinowski.

“Despite having United Nations in our name, we're actually donor funded so we need to be able to get our message out to market incredibly quickly when something happens. We have a brief window of opportunity before our peers are also in-market. This is when we see our best return on investment, we see our lowest cost per click before other people enter, so we need to make sure that we've got pages up and we've got our advertising live ASAP.”

The challenge was that the organisation had an outdated website, with a lot of technical debt, which hindered its capacity to rapidly respond to emerging crises and get its messages out. This was compounded by the fact that its CRM system was also outdated and was not integrated with the website, causing further delays in response times.

To find a better solution, UNICEF kicked off a full discovery and redevelopment project with Luminary. As part of this process, several CMS options were considered, including DXPs, open source, and headless platforms. 

Critical success factors for the project included:

  • minimising technical debt, 
  • enhancing the user experience, and 
  • streamlining the content creation process. 

Following a thorough due diligence exercise, was determined as the best fit for the organisation's requirements.

The new website is faster, more efficient, and fully integrated with the organisation’s CRM system, allowing it to see donations coming through within seconds and to make informed decisions about where to put its marketing spend. With the ability to update pages without delay, the marketing team is freed up to work on other tasks.

“We launched our first wide-scale emergency response last month with the Syria and Turkey earthquake,” said Sarbinowski. “We were able to get our above-the-line campaign out into market more quickly and had time to just focus on getting the rest of the campaign live and not focusing on getting our website updated. It also meant that we could email our supporters before our competitors and it meant our media team actually had somewhere that they could direct journalists to. 

“We have multiple appeal pages that we customise for different audiences but during an emergency or a natural disaster things move really quickly and we need to be able to update our pages multiple times a day so that we're providing correct factual information.”

Being on a headless platform means that UNICEF now has one central place where it can make all of these updates and spread them out across different pages. “We're no longer losing people because we have a really slow clunky website. Things load quickly and I'm not terrified that we're going to get a call from our CEO saying the website's down,” Sarbinowski adds.

Having the website on an up-to-date platform has not only delivered a better user experience for UNICEF’s website visitors, it has also dramatically reduced the time wasted on dealing with technical debt, and has provided far greater cyber security. 

“Our platform was out of date and we weren't eligible for any of the latest updates or functionality, so we were also falling behind from a functional perspective,” said Digital Platforms Strategist Alan Menzies. “Then of course there's a sort of ever-present threat of cyber security when you're trying to run an out-of-date platform and keep it patched and keep it up to date. The result was that we were amassing unsustainable amounts of technical debt. Everything we did on the website was either a hack or a workaround to try and keep moving forward and to try and overcome the limitations of the system without any real thought of the longer term implications.”

The benefit of the site’s MACH architecture is also that the risk of downtime is minimised. “By implementing MACH architecture, so by separating things out into microservices, the biggest benefit is that there's no single point of failure,” said Luminary CTO Andy Thompson. “If something as big as Netlify were to fall apart, it's architected in a way that we can spin it up within a couple of minutes on a different Cloud hosting provider.” has allowed Luminary to provide UNICEF Australia with a site that is able to handle massive traffic spikes, with state-of-the-art security, and essentially 100 percent uptime. Combined with an improved experience for both internal site administrators and end users, UNICEF’s new website provides a solid foundation for the organisation to deliver on the critical work it does and scale up as required.

Want to read about Luminary’s implementation of the UNICEF project? Check out the case study.

Watch the presentation

Check out the video below to see the presentation from Kontent Horizons and to learn more about UNICEF's experience of moving from a traditional to a headless CMS, and its future plans for the platform.

Download the video

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