Photo: ADB

Partnerships with IFIs for Sustained Financial Growth

International Financial Institutions Contribute to a Shifting Business Model while Amplifying UNICC’s Digital Transformation Capabilities

UNICC, as a trusted shared service provider for the UN family and its related organizations, has a growing impact on the mission to address humanitarian crises on a global scale. With an increase in influential partnerships – at over 70 Clients and Partner Organizations –  and a 50-year record of effective digital business solutions delivery, UNICC is redefining how it delivers its services in a changing digital international development landscape.

Notably, opportunities lie ahead in UNICC’s growing number of partnerships with a particular group of institutions named International Financial Institutions (IFIs). IFIs are multilateral, regional and national development banks that fund UN-centric operations on an unparalleled scale around the globe. 

The UNICC Business Relationship Management is pleased and proud to see agreements with almost a dozen IFIs: ADBAfDBCEBIDBIFADIMFOECDOPECFUND and World Bank.

Critical to the mission to propel international cooperation and resources towards achieving the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals, IFIs are a key component in the funding, implementation and delivery of UN family development projects and programs. From the IFI’s 2013 open letter to then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ approach towards multilateralism to the 2030 SDG Agenda, IFIs and UN entities are expanding their partnerships day by day.

Credit: IMF/Moore
Funding Relationships from the Source

It’s a welcome shift in UNICC’s business model to work with IFIs, who enter the funding process at early stages of humanitarian programme delivery.

UN Agencies (and through them, UNICC) typically enter the project cycles later, closer to and supporting ‘last-mile’ partnerships with NGOs and civil society organizations. In working with IFIs, UNICC can identify and develop opportunities beyond its traditional partnerships with the IT or business units of UN Agencies.

IFIs are involved in funding projects from the beginning, with a wide and deep perspective on programming, with substantial funds and advanced technology at their fingertips, to make the world a better place. 

Prado Nieto, Chief, Business Relationship Management, UNICC
Asian Development Bank

UNICC’s involvement with IFIs began in 2016 with a partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), a global organization dedicated towards providing funding for development projects, $21.5 billion in 2019, to 49 countries in Asia and the Pacific. ADB initially approached UNICC looking for a provider of Disaster Recovery (DR) services, with UNICC providing a resilient backup infrastructure and environmental and security management in UNICC’s Geneva Data Centre. 

Since the original Service Delivery Agreement (SDA) in 2016, UNICC has worked with ADB to provide a number of critical services, granting the bank the title of UNICC’s first IFI ‘Privileged User’ for its influence as one of our top ten Clients.

Expanding the IFI Horizon

Following UNICC’s agreements with ADB, UNICC grew in visibility as I participated in 2019 meeting for IFI CIOs (Chief Information Officer) in Cape Town, South Africa. In the meeting, where more than 12 IFIs were represented by CIOs, we advocated for the potential for collaboration between IFIs and UN Agencies through UNICC’s support. 

We had a very good time, commiserating a little but learning and inspiring each other. I am sure you will all agree that we ought to continue strengthening our collaboration. We all share a similar mission and genuine partnership is what the world needs more. 

Denis Robitaille, the Vice President and Chief Information Officer of the World Bank’s Information and Technology Solution, IFI CIOs Club, Cape Town, September 2019

Even in the two years since the meeting in Cape Town, the progress is palpable. Services that are provided to IFIs include but are not limited to:

  • Disaster Recovery/Resilience
  • AWS Cloud Hosting
  • Data Lake
  • ERP
  • Robotic Process Automation
  • Business Intelligence.

The impact of UNICC’s services for IFIs go beyond the signing of contracts. Since IFIs not only require but also can afford the latest innovative technologies, these partnerships reveal several key areas of growth for the organization. 

Firstly, IFIs have the financial capabilities to outsource solutions from providers in the private sector, leaving UNICC to constantly sharpen and grow in all aspects of service delivery to keep up with competitors. Areas such as cyber security, Big Data, artificial intelligence are several of many solutions required by IFIs that will keep UNICC up to date with cutting-edge technologies. 

Additionally, in providing services and maintaining relationships with IFIs, UNICC will see a vitalization in the internal health of the organization. 

IFIs can help UNICC envision a future of growth and change, whether it’s volume discounts for shared services or an increase in onboarding skilled experts to support new challenges and projects. The partnership with IFIs carries the potential to improve UNICC’s financial health and enhance its digital transformation capabilities to support the missions of its Clients and Partner Organizations.

Heel of the Boot: University of Salento Team Wins Global Challenge on Predicting Refugee Forced Displacement

In February, two professors at the University of Salento received notice of UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good. As professors at a university proudly supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, Antonella Longo, Professor of Data Management & Big Data Management for Decision Making, and Gianluca Elia, Professor of Digital Business, came together to encourage a group of students spanning hundreds of miles, from Italy to Austria, to participate as a data hackathon team.

The students – Enrico Coluccia, Francesco Russo, Riccardo Caro, Giulia Caso, Gianmarco Girardo, Marco Greco and Chiara Rucco – may not have known each other, but they demonstrated a common interest in data science in the context of international humanitarian crises. The students registered as ‘Heel of the Boot,’ referring to the location of Salento University in Italy, and, within several days, successfully constructed the winning solution to the Hackathon challenge on Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement.

The team we created is characterised by an interdisciplinary profile with vertical and complementary skills such as machine learning, data modelling, data visualisation and innovation management. Beyond this, remarkable empathy flew among us: a creative working group was born.

Team Heel of the Boot

UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good took place on Tuesday, 16 February 2021, with a global audience of UNICC and other UN organizations’ staff members, university representatives and over 140 students. 

Following the introductory remarks from UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan and Chief of Digital Business Solutions Ninna Roco, Anusha Dandapani, Chief of Data Analytics, introduced the three challenges of the hackathon: COVID-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement and the UN75 Visualisation Challenge.

Heel of the Boot chose the Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement challenge and wasted no time in launching their data pipeline. The team began to build their solution by discussing which questions would bear answers that were most pertinent to the challenge. 

Amidst the obstacles of virtual engagement and time restrictions, team members sought the meaning of potential models’ features in regard to the related correlations and trends. It was during this data pre-processing phase, “the most complicated and time consuming in order to avoid the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ effect,” that the team developed a synergy to carry through their time together. 

The different and complementary skills of each team member were precious, and each team members’ comments allowed us to adequately investigate the diverse aspects and issues related to the challenge.

Team Heel of the Boot

Following the selection of the features of their model, Heel of the Boot could integrate data sources into a final data set. With the use of one hot-encoding technique among other efforts to ensure the quality of their data, the team’s final data set consisted of about 300 data entries, each representing a specific year, an origin country and a destination country.

They next analysed their data by adopting various machine learning models for multiple regression, using 80% of the data for training the model and 20% for testing. Through this process, the team chose Random Forest Regressor to illustrate and prioritise a level of interpretability in their findings. In addition, the team came up with supplemental predictive data models and other data analyses to contextualise potential causal outcomes. 

Credit: UNICC

Team Heel of the Boot’s final presentation, which married their models’ findings and background analyses, produced impressive results. Out of various concluding predictions, one most notable findings were predictions of Sudan, Sweden, Afghanistan and Ukraine as the primary countries of origin for refugees by 2024. Their presentation brought questions from the judges on the inclusion of Sweden as an outlier result. To these inquiries, team member Francesco Russo explained that “this seemingly reliable model we built is pointing towards some other influence, apart from the main factor of political instability that is shown in the other examples, that has the power to change the course of future predictions.” 

“If a model only reflects what we already know from the past, then it is not a model.”

Francesco Russo, Team Heel of the Boot

Team Heel of the Boot described their Hackathon experience as a surprising experience for not only the cohesiveness and coherence of a disparate team that yielded impressive results, but also the underlying philosophy in using skills in data for the betterment of lives on an international scale.

The students hope to expand upon their research by incorporating more data to build more sophisticated predictive models in future Hackathons and other educational endeavors.


This article is part of a series of stories from the first UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good that took place in February 2021. The hackathon drew registrations from a total of 140 students from 54 universities located in 13 countries around the globe, all of whom came together to tackle three major UN related challenges: Covid-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualisation Challenge. To learn more about this successful event and its wonderful finalists, please refer to this article here.