UNICEF Just Invested in its First Blockchain Startup

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has invested in a South African blockchain startup as part of a broader technology innovation push.

AccessTimeIconNov 15, 2016 at 12:01 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 12:36 p.m. UTC

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has invested in a South African blockchain startup as part of a broader technology innovation push.

UNICEF indicated in February that it was looking to fund projects focused on the tech through an innovation fund launched last year. At the time, UNICEF said it was looking at the areas of digital identity and remittances as possible areas of investment, and UNICEF later moved to hire a point person on blockchain.

Now, the organization is starting to cut checks to companies working in areas that enhance its mission to promote child and family welfare. UNICEF has invested in five startups, including South Africa-based 9Needs, which is using blockchain to develop identity tools for early childhood education.

9Needs is receiving roughly $100,000 in investment, which will be used to further scale the platform it has already developed.

Chris Fabian, who leads UNICEF’s Office of Innovation Ventures, said the organization opted to fund 9Needs as it not only promotes social progress, but has what it considers a viable path to profit.

Fabian told CoinDesk:

“The sense of the company we got of the company, in talks with them, they seem like a really cohesive group of people using a sophisticated technology to solve a pressing set of problems.”

Next steps

The work happening at UNICEF isn’t taking place in a vacuum, as the UN has been doing its own trials as well.

The UN’s Alternative Financing Lab has spent the last year testing the tech for uses in microfinance and connected devices, and last month, the UN diplomatic missions from Bangladesh and El Salvador organized a meeting to discuss, in part, how blockchain could help the organization meet some of its global sustainability goals.

But UNICEF’s work isn’t done with this batch of startups, however.

According to Fabian, the initial batch of startups represents just the first step in a broader push to find and fund companies. UNICEF will begin accepting applications for its next round beginning to tomorrow, and Fabian said that UNICEF could invest in as many as five to ten blockchain startups in future rounds.

Perhaps most notably, Fabian suggested that UNICEF’s work with blockchain startups could one day lead to the organization itself integrating aspects of the tech to change how it operates.

“I believe that there is a very near future where we will be using blockchain, the bitcoin blockchain maybe, other distributed ledgers, to do central operational tasks,” he told CoinDesk, adding:

“I don’t know what the sum total of those would be, but for us, investing in a company lets us start to see some of that future.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the startup 9Needs. This has been corrected.

Image via Shutterstock


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