UNICEF investing in start-ups

How do you get tech companies to invest in technology to support children in developing countries? Invest in them!

Marty Drill

By Marty Drill, 19 October 20233 minute read

UNICEF has a $30+ million dollar open innovation venture fund that invests in emerging technologies that will drastically impact the lives of children around the world. 

Impact investing panel with SXSW speakers

UNICEF is investing in start-ups! Yes, you read that right! 

When we think of investment by charities, we generally think of providing food, shelter, schooling and medical supplies/services. The concept of investing in a start-up may seem outside of their remit, but with a focus on children, UNICEF is looking beyond traditional essentials to include technology as a new essential.

Digital technology and the internet have transformed society and our lives. The technology divide can be hard to cross for children living in developing countries. Investing in technology for developing countries where cash returns are low often only attracts companies with a purpose beyond traditional ROI. While these organisations can get a proof of concept up and running, it can fall short of both user expectations and commercial readiness. There is an opportunity for investors who are looking for social and environmental changes to partner with purpose-driven technology developers. 





Impact investment

Charities are moving beyond survival provisions to impact investing.  

UNICEF has established the Innovation Fund, a groundbreaking initiative that supports start-ups in developing software solutions designed to help children in developing countries access the vital resources and services they need. UNICEF's Innovation Fund provides financial support, mentorship, expertise and access to existing software applications that can support development. 

At SXSW, UNICEF shared the stage with three tech companies that have been part-funded by the UNICEF Innovation Fund. Here is how they are using technology to improve the lives of children in developing countries.


Nepal needs a lot of humanitarian assistance as it continues to be impacted by earthquakes and climate shocks. One of the challenges people face in a crisis is getting access to funds to support them with essential needs. This is made more difficult by the fact that very few people have bank accounts. So Rumee Singh created Rahat, an open-source, blockchain-powered financial access platform. The potential impact and possibilities are endless.


Tilli supports social-emotional development through the powers of machine learning, data and the joys of play. The team chases an ambitious dream of ensuring that every child has access to high-quality social-emotional learning before their 10th birthday.

To celebrate, Luminary is going to fund 20 schools in Indonesia to have access to Bookbot. Each child at the school will have access to Bookbot in Bahasa Indonesia. 


Bookbot helps children learn to read. Using a speech recognition system, Bookbot listens to the child read and provides the correct pronunciation when they make a mistake or do not know a word. Bookbot is available in English and Bahasa Indonesia and is an emotive, real-time speech synthesis system that allows children to learn to read so they can read to learn. 

To celebrate, Luminary is going to fund 20 schools in Indonesia to have access to Bookbot. Each child at the school will have access to Bookbot in Bahasa Indonesia. 

UNICEF is not a technology company and so are investing in companies that can solve real-world problems for children in developing countries, with technology. 

It’s brilliant! 

You can find out more about the UNICEF Innovation Fund here.

UNICEF client party

UNICEF Innovation Fund was showcased at Luminary's SXSW party at Zephyr, where guests could identify the value of one minute of their time and donate that minute. Check out how much a minute of your time is worth.

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