UN Invests $9m in 'Open Source' Tech to Aave Children's Lives

Matt Burgess | WIRED | February 1, 2016

The United Nations will fund 60 startups to create open source technologies to improve the lives of children in developing countries. Unicef, the children's charity run by the UN, will channel more than $9 million into startups based on venture capital-style investing. But it isn't concerned if the companies fail. The money from Unicef's Innovation Fund will go to around 50 to 60 startups using open-source technology, and which have working prototypes. Each will get approximately $50,000 to help them grow. Companies have to be at an early stage and will be picked based on the strength of their teams, the work's relevance to children, and their future potential.

"We're totally OK with some of them flopping. That's fine, as that's what happens when you have a portfolio of investments, so you can have 80 percent of them die out as long as the 20 percent that succeed have a real impact," Chris Fabian, from Unicef, told WIRED. "It's like the twisted child of the world of development and the world of venture capital," he said, before adding "The idea of the UN having a venture fund which takes equity in the form of open source intellectual property has tons of problems." Unknowns include how much technical assistance Unicef will have to provide and what data will be received from some of the projects.

Fabian said: "Companies could be working on applications with the blockchain for identity or remittances, or it could be for companies that are looking at open source hardware for UAVs that we might be able to use in a few years to deliver vaccines or to get imagery after emergencies." Unicef is looking to fund companies in three areas:

  • Products for those under 25-years-old to help learning and participation
  • Real-time information for decision making
  • Infrastructure to increase connectivity, power, finance and transport...