UNICEF Innovation Laboratory Opens in Almaty

ASTANA – The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) has opened a laboratory aimed at improving the quality of life of children through the development and integration of information technology solutions.

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The Innovation Laboratory, which opened in Almaty, is the first such laboratory in the Commonwealth of the Independent Countries (CIS) and is hosted by International IT University (IITU).

“The laboratory will help ensure adequate product design and development and UNICEF will share its programme knowledge so that those products can have maximum impact. Products developed through the Innovation Lab will be brought to market. UNICEF will support marketing nationally through its network of partners and internationally through its global network of offices and its presence in 190 countries worldwide – which provides a potentially significant outlet for innovative ideas coming from Kazakhstan,” said UNICEF Deputy Representative Fiachra McAsey at the opening of the lab.

According to the organisation’s press release, the Innovation Laboratory will cooperate and involve both internal and external partners. Also it will focus on the participation of young people in solving urgent issues related to children and adolescents through IT.

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“The laboratory will serve as a platform where ideas and solutions from youth will be brought to the end products, such as mobile applications, electronic platforms and tools that are scalable within and beyond the country,” reads the statement.

The UNICEF Innovation Lab is open to students from different universities and professionals with interesting and promising innovative ideas. Successful products developed through the lab will also be eligible for start-up venture capital funding through UNICEF’s Global Innovation Fund.

“The idea of creating the centre arose more than a year ago, and UNICEF and the university have already organised two hackathons [sprint-like design events in which computer programmers and others involved in software development compete] for students from different cities. Various ideas were presented during the hackathons to solve children’s problems, such as the problem of child abandonment, child suicides, protecting children from information on the Internet, health problems, malnutrition, school violence, et cetera. In the future we plan to develop mobile applications, robotics, simulators and other gadgets in the lab,” said head of IITU Damir Shynybekov.

Similar UNICEF Innovation Labs have opened in 12 other countries since 2010, including Indonesia, Kosovo and Jordan.

“UNICEF’s global network of Innovation Labs offers a meaningful launching pad to engage with a wide range of youth and partners around innovative solution which have provided positive impacts on the lives of the most vulnerable children and their families. For example, in Uganda the Innovation Lab developed a mobile phone-based data-collection system called EduTrac, which is now available worldwide. The system enables to collect real time data including teacher and student attendance and delivery of materials. EduTrac helps districts improve their education planning and provides better and timelier supervision to schools based on system reports,” a statement by the lab explains.

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