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Innovation means creating and scaling up solutions with the potential to transform the lives of women, youth and adolescents.

In a rapidly changing world, and in particular to counter the challenges of COVID-19, we need innovative solutions to meet the needs of women and girls, and achieve sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) recognize innovation as critical to accelerating progress towards global development aspirations. We must embrace innovation to deliver on our three transformative results to end preventable maternal death, end unmet need for family planning, and end violence gender-based violence and all harmful practices, including female genital mutilation and child marriage.

The importance of social innovation

Social innovation holds enormous potential for the development of communities and improvements in health outcomes. In the context of health, and more especially, sexual and reproductive health, innovation provides an opportunity to accelerate progress towards transforming the lives of women, girls and youth. UNFPA has made significant progress towards achieving its three transformative results.

We do this in two ways. Firstly, by mainstreaming innovation in our programmes and internal operations, to improve how we work and to accelerate our efforts to achieve our three transformative goals, the SDGs by 2030, and Agenda 2063, the Africa We Want. Secondly, we help develop and grow an innovation ecosystem with young people at the centre of the drive to innovate in our region. 

Innovation projects in East and Southern Africa

UNFPA has supported more than 30 innovative solutions across 23 countries in the East and Southern Africa region. We do this by providing business development support, idea or solution redesigning, connections to innovator and investor networks, feed and scale funding, platforms for innovators and accelerators to tell their innovation stories, and generation of evidence for programming, investment and business decision-making.

Jumia initiative in Uganda

UNFPA partnered with Jumia Uganda to give people access to sexual and reproductive health commodities through Jumia e-Commerce platforms. 

When e-commerce became an emerging trend in Uganda, it made sense to use this platform to improve people's access to sexual reproductive health services, especially products sold over the counter. UNFPA increased the capacity of e-commerce players, such as Jumia, to enable prompt access to quality sexual and reproductive health products.

Using drone technology for health-care delivery

Botswana became one of the first countries in Southern Africa to pilot drone technology for health-care delivery, in 2021. The Drones for Health pilot project aims to reduce preventable maternal deaths by delivering maternal health supplies and commodities – including essential obstetric care drugs, blood, blood products and laboratory specimens – to hard-to-reach communities and health facilities.

UNFPA is partnering on the initiative with Botswana’s Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology, and Botswana International University of Science and Technology. 

AI-based early warning system

Internet penetration and access to mobile technology is growing rapidly in the region. Urban populations are experiencing greater access to technology and related opportunities when compared to rural communities, and this rural-urban divide complicates the region's challenges.

As health and education systems become strained in urban areas, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become difficult to identify the challenges faced by young people to inform a rapid response.

UNFPA is developing an AI-based early warning system to track and monitor sexual and reproductive health conversations among adolescents and young people via social media, with a focus on Twitter and Facebook, to predict trends and develop recommendations for action in the region.

The early warning system aims to provide UNFPA with access to real-time information on discussions, social media behaviour, and development partners' interventions for adolescents and young people. This data will be analyzed by an AI algorithm. It aims to bridge the gap between knowledge and social media behaviours, by shifting attitudes among the target population group to adopt positive behaviour.

East and Southern Africa Digitalization Strategy

UNFPA is leading the development of the East and Southern Africa Digitalization Strategy. The strategy, when finalized, is expected to provide a blueprint for digital transformation and digitalization of UNFPA's efforts to achieve our three transformative results - ending maternal death, ending unmet need for family planning, and ending gender-based violence and harmful practices. 

FGM Innovation Forum

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a human rights violation that has affected the lives of millions of women and girls around the world, especially on the African continent. Globally, an estimated 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone some form of FGM. If present trends continue, the genitals of another 68 million women and girls will be mutilated by 2030.

Due to the critical need to end FGM in Africa, UNFPA is using innovation as an accelerator to reverse this practice. The unique approach will involve young people, especially girls, as innovators to develop game-changing solutions. Implementation of these solutions is expected to lead to jobs for the young innovators, as well as others within their communities. 

Stretch Hubs Hack

UNFPA, together with the Joint Programme on FGM, has initiated an FGM innovation project to encourage young people to come up with innovative solutions to help end FGM and harmful practices across Africa. In 2021, the project identified more than 100 innovation solutions and provided $70,000 in seed money, plus six months' business incubation support to scale these solutions into viable products across the continent. As a result, more than 1 million young people accessed information about FGM innovation.

In 2022, UNFPA and the UNICEF/UNFPA Joint Programme on on the Elimination of FGM will launch the Bodily Autonomy HackLab, with a focus on ending FGM and other harmful practices, including child marriage and early pregnancy. The hacklab will involve more than 100 innovation accelerator hubs across Africa, with the aim of reaching more than 1000 innovators working on bodily autonomy, especially innovative solutions on ending FGM. It seeks to reach more than 500,000 young people, initiate more than 200 innovative solutions, and scale up a collective response from young people in Africa.

Early and Unintended Pregnancies Hacklab

Early and unintended pregnancies have severe consequences for girls, as well as for society at large. UNFPA will be launching its Early and Unintended Pregnancies Hacklab 2022, to explore innovation as an approach to accelerating efforts towards ending unmet need for family planning, and protect and fulfill girls’ rights.

The hacklab will target young innovators with aspiring solutions for girls at risk of early pregnancy. The project will identify intermediaries - accelerators, incubators, investors and marketers - to support young innovators to thrive and become leaders of societal change. It will connect the innovators with UNFPA country offices to help them develop their innovative solutions in addressing early pregnancy.