Team Insight

A generation in charge of their digital future

Dec 05 , 2023
A nine-year-old girl pulls the virtual reality (VR) glasses down over her eyes. After being forced to flee the war in Kyiv with her family, it seems little can phase her these days. But she is awe-struck to find herself aboard a train, speeding through a Mexican canyon.  “I tried VR for the first time,” she says. “It was difficult to stand on my feet, I was afraid of falling, I was shaking a little. It was great.”
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What are DPGs?

Open-source software, open data, open AI systems, and open content collections that adhere to privacy and other applicable best practices, do no harm by design, and are of high relevance for attainment of SDGs. The concept of Digital Public Goods is mandated and supported by the SG's Roadmap for Digital Cooperation.

​Any Digital Public Good  must be Open Source.​

Why does it matter?

At the end of the XIX century, Western world-dominating countries claimed ownership over dozens of nations under the premise that they had no sovereignty, skills and resources to properly manage their own affairs. At the beginning of the XXI century, we are facing a digital version of this process.​

Global South Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI: a country's technology infrastructure for the public) is often outsourced to foreign companies. Therefore:​

  • The Global South is declined ownership and power to have their own technology manage regional DPI​

  • Profit – not regional public good – is often point of departure for countries' DPI.

  • Outside technology extracts, analyzes, and owns the Global South user data for profit and market

  • Instead of South-South digital cooperation, foreign actors erect digital borders

  • Solutions are built by engineers who have no first-hand knowledge of local contexts and challenges

  • Youth, the future generation who will use and maintain these infrastructures, aren't part of the equation

We’re doing away with the past. We're building a generation in charge of their own digital future. DPGs fast forward digital development towards equity. ​

Students participate in an intensive bootcamp as part of the Digital Innovation Challenge 2022: Generasi Terampil programme held in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, on 24 September 2022. @UNICEF?UN0716533/Fauzan Ijazah

Why does it matter to young people?

By outsourcing digital architecture to foreign actors, we're excluding today's youth from taking control of their own digital destiny. We’re also depriving them from:​

  • Employment opportunities​

  • Rationale for skill development​

  • Sense of hope and purpose that they can bring meaningful change to their region​

About 67% of young people feel they have limited to no control over how technology will impact their lives in the next 10 years.

How is UNICEF involved?

UNICEF is a co-founder and Board Member of the Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA), a multi-stakeholder, UNSG-endorsed initiative that facilitates the discovery and deployment of open-source technologies, bringing together countries and organizations to create a thriving global ecosystem for Digital Public Goods and helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.​

Through its DPGA Board membership, UNICEF has a strong voice in discussions that inform the future of global DPI architecture. UNICEF ardently advocates that there can be no equitable Digital Public Infrastructure:​

  • Without Digital Public Goods​

  • Without providing skills and resources for today's young generation as DPI's future builders, maintainers and owners

UNICEF Office of Innovation partners with UNICEF Country Offices and stakeholders who recognize the need for today’s youth to become a generation of digital architects and innovators equipped to build, maintain and own DPGs and DPIs.​

What are outcomes for youth?

DPG x Youth work stream focuses on three outcomes for the young generation:​

  • Youth understand the link between digital sovereignty and how and where technology is built

  • Youth feel empowered by learning digital skills and having access to resources to intentionally shape equitable digital future

  • Youth have sense of hope and purpose they can bring meaningful change to their region through technology

How we support Country Offices?

We provide funding + expertise to Country Offices who are already engaged in or actively exploring:​

  • Adding DPG-related components to existing youth digital upskilling programming

  • Mapping national DPG landscape and opportunities

  • Working with young tech-innovators and entrepreneurs, as well as larger startup ecosystems in developing open-source solutions

  • Building a pipeline of digital solutions to be supported by UNICEF Venture Fund

  • Training and mentorship on open source

  • Developing DPG-related functions and expertise within governments

What we have already done

  • Ghana CO: Engaged local innovators at UNICEF StartupLab to develop technology solutions as DPGs to address locally-relevant issues

  • Kazakhstan CO: Strengthened multi-sector collaboration toward developing DPGs including a skills-building initiative for start-ups

  • Sierra Leone CO: Forged an Innovation alliance between UNICEF and the government to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in the country

  • UNICEF Venture Fund has supported x open-source startups from y UNICEF programme countries with $$M equity-free seed funding

Contact us

Marie-Claudine Villacorta
Programme Specialist,
Venture Fund and DPG
mvillacorta@unicef.org

Chris Szymczak
Innovation Manager​
Digital Public Goods Lead
cszymczak@unicef.org

Cheryl NG
Digital Public Goods Capacity Building Adviser​
cng@unicef.org

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