Geneva, 15 September 2020 — The United Nations General Assembly starts this week in New York, before the General Debate with heads of state, presidents, and foreign ministers takes place on the 22nd of September.

In the agenda in these next few days are a number of virtual events to discuss global Internet governance, the digital divide and lack of connectivity, and the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on education and economic development.

The UN Brief interviewed Chris Fabian, Head of Innovation at UNICEF in New York, to find out more about Giga, a partnership between UNICEF and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). The initiative aims to map and connect every single school in the developing world to the Internet to provide education and opportunity for children in all 135 countries where UNICEF operates. Giga is now operational in three regions: Central Asia (in Kazakhstan 10.200 schools have been integrated into Giga’s mapping platform) Sub-Saharan Africa, and Eastern Caribbean.

The global health crisis has sharpened the focus on the need of online tools for education, and high speed Internet connection. How do we know how much needs to be invested, how many schools are there that do not have broadband access? How are these endeavors to be financed? Thanks to mapping tools developed by ITU Giga has been rolling-out its programs. Venture capital is being brought to the mix, to help accelerate the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with Catherine Lenson, head of SoftBank Investment Advisers social impact program already supporting the partnership.

Chris spoke also about the UNICEF Innovation Fund, started in 2016, and the investments’ results, that brought the realization that infrastructure was crucial to scale the companies that went through their incubator program. (This investment fund counted and counts with the support of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited and the Walt Disney Corporation).

That realization led to the creation of Giga, which benefits from this new mixed financing approach, with private sector partners, (Ericsson has committed a substantial amount), and includes venture capital. It is hoped that this will give visibility to the impact that smart capital and new financial instruments can have on generating returns at scale, both social and economic, in education. It will incentivize a new level of ambition, that unicorns can be achieved by technology companies and founders anywhere in the planet when the right infrastructure is there. And that access to broadband from pre-school, to middle-school, to high-school can make a world of difference in the lives of children and adolescents.

Giga is also aligned with the implementation of the recommendations of the United Nations Secretary General High-Level Panel for Digital Cooperation, and its 8 Key Areas of Action.

Photo: UNICEF

“Digital technology is shaping history. But there is also the sense that it is running away with us. Where will it take us? Will our dignity and rights be enhanced or diminished? Will our societies become more equal or less equal? Will we become more, or less, secure and safe? The answers to these questions depend on our ability to work together across disciplines and actors, across nations and political divides. We have a collective responsibility to give direction to these technologies so that we maximize benefits and curtail unintended consequences and malicious use.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

To know more:

GigaConnect website  

UNICEF Innovation Fund

United Nations Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation

To know more about the beginnings of this wave of innovation led by UNICEF, Chris Fabian, and his team:

Flowing like water — innovation and human rights | TEDxArendal
Chris Fabian at Aalto University TEDx in 2012

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