#25 Tanya Accone: Solving world problems with innovation and tech

In this episode of Future Forecast, Isabelle Ringnes speaks to Tanya Accone, UNICEF’s senior advisor on innovation, about how innovation is used to tackle the world’s biggest problems. It is a huge undertaking and a challenge to decide which problems to tackle next, says Tanya.


Leaders at UNICEF look at where the children and their families are the most in need and where longstanding widespread issues, such as water and sanitation, must be solved. These groups of people need to be reached, where connectivity stands central, which is now a basic human right, indicates Tanya, because when people are connected they can be helped.


Humanizing initiatives

UNICEF’s Office of Innovation aims to have an impact through emerging approaches. Impact can make waves when an initiative is adopted en masse. Innovation for UNICEF is not about the world’s most complex piece of technology, says Tanya. It is about finding a creative solution to hear and communicate with those most in need. UNICEF’s initiatives are powered by technology, but they are tailored to human factors to make sure the user can handle the functions and will participate.

Tanya emphasizes that UNICEF works on targeted projects where its leaders need to be involved from conception to launch to ensure that the technology suits the human factors. This is why developers often innovate existing technology. Tanya spotlights a mobile phone that is a simple piece of equipment, used differently all over the world, which can connect in a powerful way. For example, people in remote communities can be reached out to, and asked questions via text message. Another example is how drone technology is used to drop medication in inaccessible areas, or during a flood to assess the damage and see where help is most urgent.

Large scale innovation

In a large number of countries there is a huge distance between the government and its people, where only the voices of a few are heard. UNICEF is the doer and works with governments to implement nation-wide programs. Tanya gives an example where UNICEF rolled-out the largest immunization campaign in Indonesia, but parents were worried, so through instant communication methods -calling on local community help- the barrier was overcome immediately. This is a perfect example that shows how “innovation is going to help us drive through a barrier,” says Tanya.

Combining research, communication and technology is a complete formula that acts as a catalyst to tackle challenges on a large scale.

This has led UNICEF to devise six ‘tech-bets’:

  1. Blended learning: integrates online tools in classrooms for better engagement
  2. Multi-modal skilling: mixes online education with in-person mentoring
  3. Smart recruitment: connects candidates with employers
  4. Commuter ride-sharing: ecological services to ensure employees can get to work safely
  5. Smart water metering: monitors flow and quality of water
  6. Emergency response: links people to emergency response services

Tanya emphasizes that tackling the world’s biggest problems needs a huge combined effort where charities, including UNICEF, governments, private industry and local communities work together.

Stop data bias

Through UNICEF’s use of technology a vast amount of data can be collected to act as valuable intelligence. Tanya points out that only recently a solution has been created to evaluate incoming data for biases and do something about it.

Gender-based bias remains a big issue, as the vast majority of communication comes from males. Now UNICEF has launched initiatives to get girls and young women involved to hear their voice, because it is the female population who are often more marginalized and tied down without dreams. This has led to female-specific initiatives to be set up. Some seem simple but are vital for a better future, for example, to help adolescent girls with access to supplies for their period, so they do not miss school every month. It is the simple things that can pivot change; each significant step is one more into the right direction. Tanya concludes that women all over the world should act as role models and inspiration for girls, so they can follow suit.



-Text by Rosanna Bueler Mount