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UNICEF taps mobile-enabled crowdsourcing to tackle global problems

UNICEF is tapping the wisdom of the crowd via mobile phone to help bring food security, renewable energy and other resources to impoverished children in 190 nations, pointing to mobile?s ability to drive valuable input in global public service.

The ?Succeed Where There?s a Need? initiative, which also involves the Chief Marketing Officer council, aims to gather input from from a swath of the public that includes professionals, technologists, product developers and researchers to tackle global problems. The endeavor, built on the Ideascale-powered CauseTech.Net crowdsourcing site, shows how mobile can accelerate the delivery of innovation to some of the world?s most vulnerable and excluded young people.

?Mobile engagement is incredibly important because it allows CauseTech to expand its reach to all corners of the globe, no matter what the language or whom the individual,? said Sharad Sapra, director of the UNICEF Global Innovation Center based in Nairobi, Kenya.

?By connecting the entire community of relevant actors, we can ensure that social impact technologies can be scaled and properly leveraged to impact the lives of billions of underserved people around the world.? 

Advancing ideas
Although the crowdsourcing project aims to gather input from experts, there are no limitations on who can join the campaign, or use mobile devices to promote, share or vote on ideas.  

The project, which also involves the C-Suite Network, Business Performance Innovation Network and the Global Renewable Energy and Environmental Network, will include timed contests curated by UNICEF Innovation teams.

Tapping crowd wisdom via mobile.

The first contest, beginning June 1, will focus on alternative energy solutions for Burundi, a country where just three percent of the population is connected to the electricity grid. 

Idea submission will be open through July 15. Following an award ceremony Aug. 25, the winner's idea will be tested in the field through UNICEF's Innovation Lab in Burundi.

To participate, the user first goes to the mobile-optimized campaign Web site at to learn about the campaign and the specific challenges it looks to address and to register.

Once registered, he or she will have access to the ideation platform at, also mobile-compatible. The participant can view or post ideas, comment, vote, connect with partners to form groups, or communicate with experts in relevant fields. 

Mentors and judges will select the top ideas. 

UNICEF is no stranger to leveraging mobile to connect with audiences. It has used mobile in the past to empower young people to be citizens for change by connecting them to governments.

Its U-Report is a multi-channel, mobile phone-based service that uses the mobile phone as a tool for social mobilization, monitoring, response and transparency and accountability. Almost a quarter of a million young people in 15 countries use U-Report.

UNICEF also has used mobile to move health information faster to save lives and money. Its use of mTrac has helped reduce stock-outs of key malarial drugs from 25 percent to 14 percent in Uganda, a country where the disease is a leading child killer. 

Connecting experts
?The value of mobile is to truly connect the entire globe, and the ability to translate the platform into multiple languages allows people to participate no matter what the language,? said Tanya Accone, a CauseTech.Net program leader at the UNICEF Global Innovation Center, based in Bangkok, Thailand.

Striving to achieve change through smartphones.

?Additionally, the value in connecting these actors is to bring potential partners together, allow mentors and experts to provide advice to entrepreneurs, and allow VCs and impact investors to seek out and fund social impact technologies. 

?The market has tools and capacity to make a difference in the lives of billions of people,? she said. ?But to really achieve this change, we need to work together.? 

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York