UNDP People looking at UNDP banner on the street AIDA
Photo: UNDP/Morales

Artificial Intelligence Powers UNDP’s Evaluation Solutions

An Innovative Solution from UNDP in Partnership with UNICC and Amazon Web Services Helps Unlock Decades of Experience for Institutional Learning

Independent evaluation offices play a major role in gleaning and sharing years of evaluation knowledge and experience for UN Agency programme delivery. This is never an easy task. Finding valuable information is time-consuming, methodical and often manual, with multiple sources and document types to process.

Luckily, there are new data and analytics solutions and approaches out there to help solve the problem of streamlining evaluation data collection, aggregation, review and planning for existing and new programmes. In partnership with UNICC and Amazon Web Services, UNDP’s latest cutting-edge solution streamlines the scanning of thousands of evaluation documents to understand keywords, context and intent using artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, returning meaningful answers to complex questions.

Making better use of data – with approaches grounded in UN values and human rights – is integral to our future and service, so that everyone, everywhere nurtures data as a strategic asset for insight, impact and integrity, to better deliver on our mandates for people and planet.

Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General, United Nations

This innovative solution, based on AI and machine learning, is publicly-available through UNDP’s portal, AIDA (Artificial Intelligence for Development Analytics).

AIDA – A collaboration between UNDP, UNICC and Amazon Web Services

The launch of AIDA marks the IEO’s latest drive to stay ahead of the digital curve and to support UNDP’s role as a trusted development partner in this time of rapid change. Using the designated search portal, AIDA enhances accessibility to evaluations information to everyone in UNDP. Making informed decisions is just a click away.

AIDA uses AI and machine learning for quick and easy access to the digital treasure trove of evaluations stored in UNDP’s Evaluation Resource Centre. Before AIDA, the process for extracting evidence from evaluation reports was manual, resource-intensive and time-consuming.

Credit: UNDP

AI-based solutions ‘learn’ from experience. They improve themselves, become smarter with each annotation, and work with feedback from human evaluation partners who apply experience and insight to tune the tool further and increase the value of the AI search returns. Built-in intelligent search modalities draw out meaningful and comprehensive results, such as keyword, semantic, contextual and cognitive searches.

The concept of the human-in-the-loop was embedded in the design. The human in the loop provides meaningful insights to machine learning outputs and adds human control, introducing explainability, a set of processes and methods that allows human users to comprehend and trust the results and output created by machine learning algorithms. This makes for an optimized feedback loop within the technology solution.

The AIDA portal is accessible to anyone who wants to learn from past evaluations to improve their programme design and delivery. The IEO emphasizes AIDA’s value in formulation and design of new programmes, offering lessons and building on successes from country programmes worldwide for the optimal delivery of new projects in the planning stages.

Credit: UNDP

What is AIDA?
AIDA is a cloud-based AI tool that makes evaluation evidence accessible through a portal that allows users to search for relevant information related to specific themes from the UNDP’s evaluation archive. AIDA brings analysis and assessment, by technology and its human users, to years’ worth of information, for meaningful impact – in minutes rather than weeks or months of methodical searches.

AI-powered searching is a powerful tool that continues to learn and gather lessons. The more people use it, the more it homes-in on relevant answers. It serves equally whether the user is summarizing programme findings for an evaluation or designing a new programme. The tool identifies lessons from documents, grouping them on a dashboard under appropriate countries, sectors, themes, modalities and timescales. It displays commonly-appearing lessons and suggests related lessons which users can explore for different contexts and programmes.

This advanced analytics solution leverages Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, with predictive modeling, simulation and forecasting that allow for optimized document analysis, to extract findings, recommendations and conclusions from evaluation reports. Customization is available for specific requirements. At this stage, the solution is applicable to English language content only.

The launch of the AIDA portal marks the latest drive for UNDP to stay ahead of the digital curve, in support of its role as a trusted development partner in this time of rapid change.

Using AIDA, it’s a cinch to extract data from evaluations and make sure that information is available to everyone, at any time, in any place, for insights and informed decision making for programme delivery across the globe.

Photo: UNICC

Bringing UNICC Digital Solutions to a Historic Climate Change Event in Glasgow, UK

Seven UNICC Teams including Virtual Meeting Provisioning, Cyber Security, Digital ID and Data Analytics Support the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference

As the climate emergency continues unabated, the need to facilitate global participation and engagement in the multilateral process on climate change remains as vital and urgent as ever. The United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) partnered with UNICC last year to optimise climate change events with digital business solutions.

When the global pandemic put a halt to our usual way of working – face-to-face, in conferences of up to 30,000 participants – we tried several platforms to keep our climate change process on track. It wasn’t until we partnered with UNICC that we were able to come up with a comprehensive solution that addresses every aspect of the user experience. Their vision and consistent, robust support gives us confidence that we can meet future needs in a virtual or hybrid world.

Laura Lopez, Director, Conference Affairs, UNFCCC

UNICC is honored to have served as a UNFCCC partner in delivering to pre-COP26 events, including the Subsidiary Body meetings in May – June 2021 as well as regional partner meetings such as those held by Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) and Least Developed Countries (LDC). In this capacity, UNICC brought forward a breadth of capabilities across Digital Business Advisory, Data and Analytics, Cyber Security, Event Management, Training, Governance and Technology Implementation to facilitate end-to-end platform identification and execution for over 1500 participants in virtual global negotiations.

UNICC digital solutions contributions to Subsidiary Bodies meetings
UNICC contributions to UNFCCC Virtual May-June Sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies

For Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021, UNICC once again performed as a cross-functional team to deliver innovative solutions across 8 key workstreams. These workstreams executed in less than 3 months toward commitments and in partnership with UNFCCC, the UK host country and multiple platform and professional service providers culminated in an historic COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, UK.

UNICC digital solutions enabling COP26
UNICC enablement of UNFCCC COP26 November 2021, Glasgow, UK

COP26 brought together global leaders and over 40,000 participants between 31 October and 12 November to maintain momentum on prior climate change agreements and further commitments for those most impacted. 

Climate action is necessary and UNICC’s partnership with UNFCCC to provide direct support leading to the Glasgow Climate Pact at COP26 is exactly the union of purposeful work and digital solutions that will drive change in our world today. The ability to enable climate action by bringing together a “one UNICC” team showcasing our breadth of capabilities is a testament to the extraordinary talent and commitment within UNICC. 

Ninna Roco, Chief, Business Digital Solutions Officer, UNICC

UNICC provided cross-functional support through eight workstreams that worked in close collaboration with UNFCCC, both remotely and on site, before, during and after the conference. 

COP26 ID Check App – Providing Secure Verification to 30,000 Participants

The COP26 ID Check app, used to manage registration for the conference, leverages a suite of AI-powered mobile applications to issue virtual badges with bar code by capturing registered attendee facial biometrics against official ID photos. This technology developed by UNICC allowed a secure and efficient verification of thousands of COP26 participants, including representatives of the Parties to the Convention and Observer States, members of the media and representatives of observer organisations such as NGOs and IGOs. The business value from a pre-approved Digital ID verification was reduced registration and badge pick-up wait times by 50% for participants on site in Glasgow.

Virtual Meeting Provisioning – Enabling Participation and Negotiations at the Core of the Conference

COP26 is the first Climate Change conference necessitating virtual access to meetings and negotiations happening on site in Glasgow. UNICC’s Virtual Meeting Provisioning team provided integration across different systems involved in the hybrid events. The integration enabled the provisioning of meetings (creating and deploying different meetings including side events) critical to aligning COP26 participants on the issues. Through these integrations across the videoconferencing service (Webex/ Webex Legislate), role-based access and room reservation software (UNFCCC Grand Reserva) and meeting broadcasting technology, UNICC enabled participation in over 2000 additional meetings. 

Photo: UNFCCC

Data and Analytics – Conference Meeting Management Monitoring and Reporting 

UNICC’s Data and Analytics team was also engaged, to monitor and control all aspects of the meeting management, while satisfying host country requests. UNICC data extraction, cleansing and visualization skills resulted in the development of COP26 dashboards, reporting and survey providing participant statistics, event feedback and overall improved real-time visibility. The value recognized was immediate and the end users quickly expanded beyond UNFCCC Senior Management to also include UN Security teams for venue population management, UK host country organizers and UK health officials for health and safety monitoring.

User Support – Helping Participants Navigate the Technology

A dedicated support team with deep knowledge of the conference technology tools including the COP26 Platform and COP26 ID Check App was established to collaborate with the technical team during testing phases, as well as to help participants with ID validation and other questions throughout the conference. Support was available 24/7, starting ten days before the conference and throughout the whole event.

Cyber Security – Running a Secure Conference

UNICC worked hand in hand with UNFCCC’s ICT and Cyber Security teams to provide cyber security services for COP26, collecting security issues and risks, reviewing existing outsourced contracts and providing cyber security consultancy services. 

Before the conference, this workstream performed a security audit of the Microsoft Azure tenant hosting the COP26 platform, where all events took place. During the conference, the team also supported UNFCCC’s Security Operations Centre with a physical presence in Glasgow. 

UNICC team on site at COP26 to deliver digital solutions to UNFCCC
Photo: UNICC

Change Management and Participant Journey Mapping – A Customer Centric Approach for a Positive User Experience

The Change Management workstream was a crucial component for the overall success of the conference, providing inputs to all other UNICC and non-UNICC workstreams, especially to the Training and Support teams. 

UNICC’s Change Management team was in charge of articulating the COP26 vision, accelerate change acceptance and adoption of new hybrid conference approach. 

This workstream also delivered conference personas depicted into active participant journey maps to support clarity of overall requirements and scope.

Training – Supporting Participants’ Use of New Tools

The training team collaborated with UNFCCC, the host country government and other stakeholders involved in COP26 to ensure participants easily learned how to use the new technologies involved in Climate Change Conferences. In particular, UNICC’s contribution included quality assurance of training materials such as user instructions to access the COP26 platform.

In addition to the workstreams above, UNICC was invited by UNFCCC to provide on site physical presence across Digital Business Solutions, Cyber Security, Data and Analytics and Governance from 23 October through 15 November. In Glasgow, UNICC was able to provide management support and visibility in preparation for press conferences, issue remediation, COVID19 exception handling, training of UNFCCC substantive bodies, as well as strengthen and foster relationships. The onsite participation deepened UNICC knowledge of hybrid events furthering our overall experiences in Digital Diplomacy.

So many teams came together to understand what our business and ICT partners needed for successful meetings and negotiations. It is through this ability to be customer-centric and bring forth the deep knowledge and expertise of our teams and partners that most excites me about UNICC’s future.

Ninna Roco, Chief, Business Digital Solutions Officer, UNICC
UN Travel Cube Plane Delivering Vaccines to Barbados
Photo: PMO Barbados

The Travel Data Cube: an Inter-Agency Project to Drive Savings in UN Travel Costs

UN Agencies Share Aggregated, Clean and Consolidated Air Travel Data to Improve Efficiencies

The United Nations has committed to delivering the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, including affordable clean energy (SDG 7), climate action (SDG 13) and improved life on land (SDG 15). In addition, UN Reform has mandated costs savings and more efficiency in operations across the UN family.

The UN Environment Programme has also called through its Greening the Blue programme for a carbon-neutral UN system measuring its environmental performance, reducing its environmental impacts and offsetting unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the 2017 Review of Air Travel Policies in the United Nations System by the UN Joint Inspection Unit, travel expenses are one of the largest budget components of the United Nations system after staff costs. The study looked at ways of enhancing efficiency and effectiveness of travel management; increasing accountability and transparency among managers who approve travel, taking into account travelers’ productivity, safety and security; promoting and increasing coordination and cooperation among organizations; and identifying good practices and lessons learned in order to promote, where possible, the harmonization of practices across the United Nations system. 

As a result, the UN family has been driving down travel costs over the years through improved systems, more stringent policies, inter-Agency collaboration to collectively renegotiate fares and provide better overall management. Although much has already been done, there are still opportunities for further improvement. 

A group of UN Agencies has recently come together on a voluntary basis through the UN Digital Solutions Centre to build the Travel Data Cube, a consolidated data cube to compare and contrast travel spending, including reviewing average travel cost rates on top routes.

The Travel Cube, built by the firm Areka Consulting with the coordination of the United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC), contains travel information of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), UN Copenhagen, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The Travel Cube, utilizing the Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) ‘cube’ technique for analyzing multidimensional data to find insights, includes consolidated data from approximately 70 travel management companies (TMCs), who often have complex and detailed information on fares, class, restrictions, etc. 

In the cube, data is aggregated, cleaned, consolidated and shown in a visual and interactive web-based dashboard that allows users to perform data-driven fares negotiation with airlines, ultimately driving savings. The dashboard includes a mapping tool through which users can see which UN Agencies are covered by which UN airline contracts and the savings they deliver. 

The project team is now analysing the Travel Cube’s output data to understand which innovative, inter-Agency technology solutions could help drive further savings and optimized travel related policies.

About the UN Digital Solutions Centre

The  United Nations Digital Solutions Centre is operated in partnership by the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and is supported by the UN International Computing Centre (UNICC). By leveraging new technologies and UN expertise, the UN Digital Solutions  Centre aims to create a suite of digital solutions that can be shared among UN agencies to transform common business operations and streamline time-consuming transactional tasks. Solutions developed by WFP and UNHCR are made available to the entire UN system.  

Photo: UNDP

UNDP Data Strategy – Microsoft and UNICC Help Accelerate Delivery

Microsoft Azure Power Hour Features UNDP‘s Data Futures Platform and NextGen Data Hub

Microsoft’s Tech for Social Impact group hosted UNDP and UNICC for its 9 September 2021 Azure Power Hour to discuss UNDP’s new, integrated data platforms that aim to forge novel data capabilities and drive results in delivering on the Agenda 2030.

With an audience of some 100 participants from a number of UN Agencies, the event was an excellent opportunity to showcase the collaboration between Microsoft, UNDP and UNICC and share a roadmap of opportunities for other organizations to embrace a unified data strategy.

UNICC works as an extension of our technology team. If you look at UNDP tech portfolios you will see that for many services UNICC provides support and advanced solutions in order to complete a project or service.

Diwen Xu, Application Delivery and Data Warehousing Lead, UNDP

The Azure Power Hour focused on UNDP’s data strategy, aligned to the UN Secretary-General’s Data Strategy, with its vision to building a UNDP ecosystem that unlocks full data potential for better decisions and stronger support to people and the planet. Presenters shared the fostering enablers of the UNDP Data Strategy, from people and culture to data governance, partnerships and technology to deliver a transformative environment for better insights and quality decision-making.

UNDP’s Gayan Peiris, Data and Technology Strategist, together with Diwen Xu, Application Delivery and Data Warehousing Lead, discussed UNDP‘s data governance model and the current UNDP data platform landscape (with multitudes of unconnected data platforms and data sources). They also presented the organization’s plan for a unified data environment, with a central data architecture, data lake, optimised data catalogue and dashboards, all hosted in Microsoft Azure.

Effective and ethical use of data rests on the three pillars of data governance, people and technology.  Data governance is the process of managing availability, usability, integrity and security of data in UNDP’s enterprise systems, based on internal data standards and policies that control data usage.

An effective data governance model ensures that data is consistent and trustworthy and doesn’t get misused. It’s increasingly critical as UNDP, like other UN Agencies, rely more on data analytics to help optimize operations and drive business decision-making across the organization. UNDP’s data governance program works to create standards and policies for governing data, as well as data implementation and enforcement procedures.

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UNDP Data Strategy governance. Credit: UNDP

Gayan Peiris detailed how UNDP is harnessing data to create a strategic asset for the organization, with two use cases in particular: the Data Futures Platform, an open access, interactive platform that aggregates multiple sources of information to assist with COVID-19 response and recovery efforts; and the NextGen Data Hub, a dedicated data and tools repository.  According to Gayan, these assets are helping streamline siloed initiatives across UNDP for a long-term, action-focused data strategy.

UNDP’s partnership with Microsoft started a year ago, with Microsoft sharing some of its AI and machine learning capabilities to support sustainble development practices. UNDP and UNICC are long standing partners working on technology projects and tools that enable swifter operations. The new Data and Analytics team at UNICC brought its expertise to bear on this new data roadmap path.

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Credit: UNDP (Data Futures Platform (https://data.undp.org/)

The UNDP Data Futures Platform

Drawing on data from across the UN System and its partners, the Data Futures Platform provides cutting-edge analyses, visualisations and simulations that focus on the most critical COVID-19 recovery challenges in an interactive way, for rapid decision making. The platform provides a global dashboard for vaccine equity, an assessment tool on the impact of COVID-19 on the SDGs, data and insights from UN75 and a Global Recovery Observatory that brings transparency to government spending during the pandemic.

Diwen Xu presented the technical aspects of the unified data hub architecture, which has a dedicated repository of data for operational and programme use, self-service capabilities, and an integration hub for UN-wide and external data sharing capabiilties.

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Credit: UNDP

He went on to discuss how UNDP is going to intake data sets, perform analytics and visualise the data.

Diwen added that UNICC has been working as an extension of UNDP”s technology team, with the added benefits of a first rate Data and Analytics team now in place. UNICC provides support and advanced services to UNDP technology portfolios, including data and analytics innovations.

NextGen Data Hub

Together with Anusha Dandapani, Chief, Data and Analytics Unit, UNICC, Gayan and Diwen talked about UNDP’s NextGen Data Hub, a unified data architecture which UNICC and UNDP are working on. UNICC is helping design and implement a new generation of improved cloud data to be included in the architecture.

Gartner (2019) provides an interesting perspective on an integrated data hub: “it’s not technology, but an approach to effectively determine where, when and for whom data needs to be mediated, shared and then linked and/or persisted. A data hub is a logical architecture which enables data sharing by connecting producers of data (applications, processes, and teams) with consumers of data (other applications, process, and teams). Endpoints interact with the data hub, provisioning data or receiving data and the hub provides a point of governance, mediation, and visibility as to how data is flowing within the enterprise.“

The NextGen Data Hub, which is based on Microsoft Azure cloud services, will be able to ingest, store, analyze, model, structure, catalogue and share all kind of data sets in a modern, privacy-protecting, and cost-effective way. It will interact and inter-operate with other cloud data providers. This new cloud data platform will allow UNDP to become a more predictive and advanced, data-driven organization. The existing data components, hosted at a UNICC data centre, will be migrated into this new data platform.

We are building a system to collect and analyse data transparently, responsibly and effectively, ensuring adequate workforce capacity and expertise, with the right investments in green technology, architecture, infrastructure and tools to make UNDP a data-centered organization.

Francisco Alcázar, UNICC data focal point for the UNDP NextGen Data Hub

The NextGen data platform will integrate some new capabilities and services, such as data governance and catalogue services implemented using Azure Purview, some advanced analytics components for AI and machine learning, cognitive services and text document analysis using Azure Synapse, a new data hub portal and an API management gateway for internal and external/public users. The platform will also support integration of third-party services for legacy applications.

UNICC improved and implemented the analysis and first steps by Microsoft to deliver the full, cloud-based data platform solution using Azure data services.

The NextGen data platform leverages the best expertise and support from Microsoft and UNICC. Future plans for the platform include integration with other cloud-based services.


UN Women - UNICC Design Thinking Event
Photo: UN Women and UNICC

UN Women – UNICC Workshop for Safer Public Spaces

Incorporating the voices of women and girls in Guadalajara for innovative urban solutions

On 25 and 26 August, over 25 women from the city of Guadalajara and its metropolitan area, in Jalisco, Mexico, engaged in a design thinking exercise to ideate and prototype solutions to make their city safer for women and girls. This event followed up on the Safe Cities for Women Thinkathon organized in November of 2020 by UN Women and UNICC, an event that aspired to amplify women’s and girl’s voices and need for access to safe and inclusive public spaces during the pandemic and beyond, within the framework of the Safe Cities Programme.

The goal of the two-day design thinking workshop was to develop and test solution prototypes, taking the best of the ideas to create a viable product created by UNICC for use in the field.

UN Women recognises the importance of incorporating the voices of all women and girls in their diversity to not leave anyone behind, as well as generating multisectoral alliances through initiatives like this one. Now, we intend to make this innovative proposal into a reality so that it is replicable and scalable in order to guarantee that women and girls from Guadalajara and its metropolitan area can exercise their right to the city free from all forms of violence.

Andrea Cházaro, Coordinadora del Programa Ciudades Seguras en México

The design thinking workshop was a collaborative problem-solving activity leveraging the results of a cycle of interviews with local key actors in innovation and public policy, as well as a survey applied to a variety of women and girls who use public spaces in Guadalajara and its metropolitan area.

Members of civil society organizations, academia, private sector, local government and technologists were invited to the event to learn more about this area of concern – safety for women and girls in public spaces by observing, engaging with women and girl protagonists and to better understand their experiences and motivations.

According to the scoping study carried out in 2018 by UN Women on the situation of sexual violence against women and girls in public spaces in Guadalajara:

  • 81% of the women surveyed admitted to having suffered some form of sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence at some time in their life while walking at downtown
  • Around 64.5% of women feel unsafe or very unsafe in the public space of Guadalajara
  • For fear of being sexually assaulted or harassed, 82.8% try to walk with someone; and 57.9% have stopped going out at night or very early and a significant percentage (7.6%) claim to have stopped working or studying due to insecurity
  • Only 7.9% of women who were victims of some form of sexual violence reported it. Which means that more than 90% did not report to a public institution. The reasons for not reporting are multiple: 22.6% did not know that they could report; 17% did not report because it was something unimportant and 16.8% responded that they do not trust the authorities.

Brainstorm, prototype, test. Repeat.

On the first day, 24 participants were assigned into four groups, representing four different personas: refugee women, persons with disabilities, indigenous women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community, many of them vulnerable in public spaces.

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Credit: UN Women and UNICC

The starting point for the groups were the creative solutions proposed at last year’s thinkathon. The groups worked with a design thinking coach who stimulated and guided the participants through the definition of the problem and ideation process, with two rounds of brainstorming and idea selection, using an innovative and collaborative technological platform known as Miro.

Experimenting fast and cheap is one of the pillars of design thinking. The prototypes resulting from this experience are a first approach to solving a real and important need in terms of safe cities for women.

Isabella Stranger Stranger, Design Thinking Coach

The only constraint was that solutions had to be either web-based or mobile apps. Stakeholders such as members of the local government, policy experts or technologists were present to clarify assumptions, and members of UNICC’s Data and Analytics team based in Valencia, Spain, offered support throughout the event.

The second day revolved around prototyping and testing. The returning participants designed low-fidelity prototyping using basic models of examples of the product. Each group was then joined by two real user test volunteers, who identified as the specific persona of each group.

After the testers provided feedback, each group moved from the breakout rooms to the main room for a final team presentation, where all participants were able to learn about each other’s solutions and engage in a fruitful conversation.

Credit: UN Women and UNICC

From a prototype to the app store

While the main goal of last year’s thinkathon and this year’s design thinking workshop was to inform investment in public safety and infrastructure with a gender perspective at the local level, UNICC has committed to developing one of the solutions for UN Women.

The UNICC Data and Analytics team will work together with the organization’s Applications Delivery team to design and deliver a mobile application that includes the most prioritised, applicable and common features that all women mentioned in their proposed prototypes such as emergency calling and alerting.

Guadalajara is home to 1.3 million people with 51.9% being women. As we hold a mirror in front of us today, we give chance to women who are not here with us and to make their voice louder as their champion. Let us open our minds so we could talk about our relationship with public spaces.
The most useful part of our thought process today will be how our design elicits empathy and compassion and will force us to look at technology solutions differently. The experiential and qualitative data along with the prototype we will envision today can change the way women perceive safety issues. Data can play a positive role in changing the way we interact with public spaces. Let us design one Guadalajara at a time
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Anusha Dandapani, Chief, Data and Analytics Unit, UNICC

Incorporating a gender perspective, along with a responsible, empowering and creative use of technology is a powerful tool to promote gender equality and address violence against women and girls.

UNICC is looking for allies to make the prototypes generated through this design thinking exercise a reality to provide digital solutions for women and girls in Guadalajara and elsewhere.

UN Women and UNICC are making a call to action to educational institutions, the private sector, governments and civil society to contribute to having safe public spaces free of sexual violence and harassment of women and girls. The power of change lies in collaboration and the community. See the UN Women Mexico version of this story in Spanish here.

un women
Photo: UN Women/Amanda Vard

Columbia University – UNICC Thinkathon

Team Agritech wins with its ozone-based disinfection system to address Disaster Preparedness and advance human welfare

Columbia University School of Professional Studies (SPS) and UNICC have collaborated to bring students and alumni together to advance human welfare, accelerate the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and confront the great challenges of our time in the first-ever Columbia University SPS – UNICC Thinkathon. Teams proposed solutions to three social challenges:

  • Gender equality: Using data and technology to address violence against women during and beyond COVID-19
  • Cyber security: Understanding risks that arise from our reliance on the Internet, focusing on regulatory, policymaking and/or technological solutions in areas of Artificial Intelligence, personal data, automatic decision making and victims of data breaches
  • Disaster preparedness: Reporting on the manner in which COVID-19 has impacted vulnerable populations, to inform solutions and strategic planning to recover and reverse deterioration trends.

A summer-long Thinkathon to advance human welfare

Seven teams have been working all summer on real-world solutions with live data, mentored by subject matter area experts from Columbia, the private sector and UN Agencies.

In June, 17 teams of 3 to 5 people submitted their proposals with a statement of interest, with answers to one of the three challenge prompts and optional supporting documents. Among the initial participants there were 45 Columbia University students or alumni from five different schools, with 38 external students or professionals. Up to ten countries on four continents were represented.

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A review committee studied the submissions and selected seven final teams that moved forward to the Thinkathon competition. These teams have been working throughout July and August together with expert university, private sector and UN mentors to refine their proposals and final presentations.

Three of the teams selected the Gender Equality challenge, two teams worked on the topic of Disaster Preparedness and the last two teams chose the Cybersecurity challenge. Mentors who provided guidance and support included:

  • Edna Chun, Lecturer, Human Capital Management Department, Columbia University
  • Shouryadipta Sarkar, Information Management Senior Specialist, UNDP
  • Shahryar Shaghaghi, Chief Technology Officer, Quantum Xchange
  • Tima Soni, Chief, Cyber Security Section, UNICC
  • Lizzette Soria, Women’s Policy Expert, Safe Cities, UN
  • Jay Kesavan, Data Science Expert and Partner, Bowery Software.

Final presentation and winners

On 24 August 2021, finalist teams had the opportunity to present their ideas in front of a global audience and a panel of preeminent judges, in a live event that featured initial remarks by Columbia University SPS Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Zelon Crawford and presentations from UNICC’s Chief of Data and Analytics Anusha Dandapani and Data Scientist Dishti Gurnani.

Then each team had five minutes for their final pitch, after an introduction by their mentors. The judges had the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. After long deliberation, UNICC’s Chief of Data Analytics Anusha Dandapani announced the winners.

Team Agritech was the first-place winner, receiving a $3,000 cash prize, with its solution of a newly-developed, sustainable, proprietary ozone-based disinfection delivery system to tackle the disaster preparedness challenge. The system addresses the matter of food loss and food safety by dramatically minimising the effect of malicious pathogens on agricultural products across the entire supply chain, while at the same time considerably increasing shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as seafood, meats and edibles greens.

Our unique ozone delivery system is designed extensively to be applied in the form of dry or wet methods determined by sensitivity, delicateness, fertility of the treated products.

Agritech Team

Logista Emergency Response was the runner-up. Their solution addressed the Disaster Preparedness challenge with a rapidly deployable and scalable field-based logistics system that gives emergency responders accurate, data-driven insights in order to make the right choices when time and resources are in demand. The cash prize for the runner-up team was $2,000.

The audience-chosen team was The Bulb, which was awarded a $1,000 cash prize for their Gender Equality solution of virtual networking against violence. The team proposed a virtual networking solution to eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against women. Their solution contains two major networking platforms, a group chat using a popular communications app and a blog site.

The teams were evaluated for their clarity and innovation, the social impact of their solutions, the capital requirements and financial forecast, the viability, both operational and technical, feasibility and sustainability of the solution, as well as the presentation delivery. The panel included the following judges:

  • Pavan Pidugu, Chief Technology Officer, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Rodrigo Hernan Prado Cordova, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Primus AI, RPA
  • Reda Sadki, President, The Geneva Learning Foundation
  • Ursula Wynhoven, United Nations Representative, International Telecommunications Union
  • Friederike Schüür, Fellow, AI Ethics and Digital Governance, United Nations.

Solutions proposed by other teams were also great:

  • The SafeTeal team proposed an inter-sectional mobile app for gender-based violence prevention and response. The app is intended to engage across the educational space, advocacy circles and the healing space.
  • The Merakhi team also had a solution to the Gender Equality challenge, proposing a smart jewelry and education program.
  • The CV2 team proposed a global, encrypted communications platform to tackle one of the biggest challenges in the cyber security space, by collecting and dispersing information in a timely and secure manner
  • The World ID team proposed a distributed ledger Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providing digital identity solutions designed to immutably protect sovereign, institutional, and citizen-level data and information, increasing scale and integrity in global information systems.

Thanks to this Thinkathon to advance human welfare, participants have been able to sharpen their critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills. The challenges have heightened their awareness of global challenges, allowing them to build capacity and share knowledge, and work in collaboration with people with different perspectives.

Photo: UNITAD

UNITAD and UNICC: Innovative Technology and Partnerships for International Criminal Investigations

The United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL (UNITAD) joined the UNICC family as a Partner Organization in August 2020. The partnership has quickly advanced to support data management for accountability in UNITAD criminal investigations, with UNICC offering Microsoft Azure hosting services, development, data and cognitive services.

UNITAD is an independent, impartial investigative team, mandated by the United Nations Security Council to support efforts to hold ISIL members accountable for their crimes. Based in Baghdad, Iraq, UNITAD was established as a unanimous response from the international community to a request for assistance from the Government of Iraq. UNITAD is headed by Special Adviser Karim A. A. Khan QC.

The collection and preservation of evidence related to ISIL crimes presents a variety of challenges, but with these challenges comes opportunity. The criminality of Da’esh, and the quantity and variety of the evidence left behind, necessitated new thinking and new investigative approaches. UNITAD needed to chart new ground, and I was determined that innovation and advanced technology must supplement more established approaches to grappling with mass data sets and vast quantities of documentary, video, photographic, electronic and testimonial evidence.

Karim A. A. Khan QC, Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team

UNITAD’s innovative and technology-focused approach to the collection and analysis of evidence of ISIL crimes was welcomed by United Nations Member States in an Arria Formula Meeting of the Security Council this month, chaired by the United Kingdom. The session highlights the value of advanced technology and partnership in providing accountability to meet UNITAD’s criminal investigations mandate (see meeting recording here).

We are proud to be working with UNITAD, UN OICT and Microsoft to harness innovation, data and analytics to assist UNITAD in fulfilling its mandate to deliver justice for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC

UNICC Contributions

UNICC Data and Analytics, Application Development and Cloud Infrastructure teams supported the collection, preservation and storing of evidence in the form of images, audio, video and digital text files that has been recovered from sources on the field.

This data helps serve as evidence in independent criminal proceedings to hold members of ISIL accountable for the crimes they may have committed.

The Data and Analytics team led the development of a data pipelines build-out using cloud AI technologies and enabled, AI enriched content to gain an understanding of content for investigators.

UNITAD Charting New Ground in Criminal Investigations

UNITAD reflects that, if harnessed properly, technology resources can bring about a paradigm shift in how the world approaches international criminal investigations: integrating innovative technology not as a stand-alone platform but as an integrated process focused on organization, screening and analysis of evidence.

UNITAD has sought to leverage advanced technology in every aspect of its work, with designing innovative solutions in-house or partnering with leading technology companies like UNICC and Microsoft Corporation. In particular, an evidence lifecycle management platform known as ELMS was developed in-house, allowing investigators to collect and record evidence directly from their computers or mobile phones. Advanced forensic tools are used to unlock and analyse cell phone data.

The solution can process more than 250,000 passwords per second; it can also perform ballistic analysis from ammunition retrieved from crime scenes. To date, the investigative team has collected more than 50 terabytes of data and tens of millions of files. The UNITAD team quickly realized that the daunting challenges presented by this enormous and complex collection of evidence could only be addressed with innovative technology.

The UNITAD Special Advisor secured much needed support to develop a digital data platform from UNICC, UN OICT and Microsoft. The solution was based on artificial intelligence and machine learning to process and enrich UNITAD’s evidence collection standards. These joint cognitive services coupled with UNITAD’s custom-trained models allow for data enrichment pipelines (see white paper here).

The organizations worked together to develop an advanced evidence-analysis solution that leverages Microsoft’s Azure cognitive services and integrates with the relativity evidence review and analysis platform. This partnership not only helps UNITAD fulfill its mandate in a more efficient and cost-effective manner, but it creates new business opportunities that its partners can take to other entities facing similar challenges. At the same time, UNITAD lever­aged existing relationships with UNICC and UN OICT for infrastructure, development data and security expertise.

UNITAD created an animation on the partnership solution featuring the UNITAD team as well as Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC and Justin Spelhaug, Vice-President of Tech for Social Impact Group, Microsoft Corporation with Karim A. A. Khan QC, Special Adviser and Head of the Investigative Team, UNITAD.

The result is not only transformative for UNITAD’s work, but may also be a model for partnerships with the private sector to enhance criminal accountability initiatives.

See related meetings sessions:

Photo: Pop Tika

University Students from Around the World Join UNICC’s First Global Hackathon: Data for Good

Good data collection and analysis can help UN Agencies  make smart decisions and determine where to direct  their  resources.  Hackathons can solve  challenges  by bringing young talent together for thinking and designing solutions.  

UNICC’s first ever Global Hackathon has brought together over 140 students from around the world to explore issues around the Covid-19 pandemic, refugee crisis and the UN’s accomplishments during its 75 years of history. Good data can  support  decision-making  for the UN’s many goals for  people and the planet.   

The competition, organized by UNICC’s growing Data and Analytics  programme, in alignment with the  UN Secretary General’s Data Strategy, took place between Tuesday 16 February and Friday 19 February. The response was overwhelming, with teams from 54 universities in 13 countries registered.

Data to Support the UN’s Decision-Making 

On the first day of the competition, after UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan welcomed the students, the three challenges were unveiled.  

There is a huge potential of open-source data that is out there in the public domain and can be harnessed to make an impact. We need strong data scientists to work with it and to solve the complex problems the world is facing.  

Sameer Chauhan, UNICC, Director 

The first challenge focused on Covid-19 and asked the students to answer various research questions related to the patterns of the pandemic. In the second challenge, the students were asked to predict forced displacements. The third challenge consisted in celebrating the UN’s 75th anniversary by visualizing some of the achievements of the organization. 

The students were invited to interact with data experts from UNHCR, the Refugee Agency, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) as well as data scientists and engineers from Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft, Google, Smarsh and other private sector companies. UNICC leadership and members of the Data and Analytics team were also present during the mentor sessions to offer guidance and advice to the students.   

Credit: UNICC

After two days of hard work, the teams submitted a video and their artifacts to be evaluated by UNICC’s Data and Analytics team members.  

Six finalists went on through to the final and presented their solutions in front of a global audience and a panel of preeminent UN judges. The finalist teams were: 

  • Trojan Army team, from PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore (India) 
  • Abraca-data team from  Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani,  Institute of Engineering & Management,  Savitribai Phule Pune University,  Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Silicon Institute of Technology, Bhubaneswar (India) 
  • bitsbitsbits<3 team from  Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya  (Spain) 
  • Gear Shifters team from  Columbia University in the City of New York (USA) 
  • H.T.B (Heel of the Boot) team from Università del Salento  (Italy) 
  • QC Data Oriented from  The City University of New York  (USA). 

The IUG Team, from the Islamic University of Gaza, Palestine, received a Special Mention. Although they weren’t able to complete the challenge with model outputs, team’s demonstration and the model factors they took into account were very relevant.  

The judges panel included: 

  • Nicole Henderson, Deputy Director, Business Relationship Management Service – Division of Information Systems and Telecommunications, UNHCR 
  • Kelly Mannix, Chief of the Information Management Services Section, International Criminal Court 
  • Dr Marguerite Nyhan, Associate Professor in Environmental Engineering & Future Sustainability, School of Engineering, University College Cork, Ireland; Formerly United Nations Global Pulse, Harvard University & MIT 
  • Ursula Wynhoven, United Nations Representative, International Telecommunications Union 
  • Milena Grecuccio, Chief of Staff and Chief of Corporate Services (OIC), UNICC 
  • Marco Liuizzi, Chief of Operations, UNICC 
  •  Anish Sethi, Chief, Clients and Projects, UNICC. 

The judges thoroughly enjoyed the presentations and were impressed and inspired by the work of all the finalists.  

Wonderful and engaging presentation and insights from all the teams, very impressive with only 28 hours! Inspiring way to end the work week. Please keep working, the tough challenges we face and the future is in data to inform policy at local, national and international levels. Data science is the future! 

Kelly Mannix, Chief of the Information Management Services Section, ICC-CPI

The winners were team Abraca-data for Challenge 1 – Covid-19 Open Challenge; team H.T.B (Heel of the Boot) for Challenge 2: Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement; and team QC Data Oriented won Challenge 3: UN75 Visualisation Challenge.

We at UNICC want to thank all participants; students, mentors and judges, for joining us and our vision to support the UN in reimagining international peace, humanitarian aid, development, security and human rights. We cannot express enough how meaningful this experience has been for us, we trust that it was also valuable to all participants.

Mentor Session with students in Challenge 2 – Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement. Photo: UNICC
Photo: UNICC

Data and Analytics Team Attends Columbia University Career Fair

UNICC Meets Applied Analytics Students with a Potential to Join the Organization

On October 1, UNICC and its Data and Analytics team attended the Fall 2020 Columbia University School of Professional Studies Applied Analytics virtual career fair. The goal of the event was to connect top-tier employers with talented students. 

UNICC, with a growing Data Analytics programme aligned with UN Secretary General’s Data Strategy, is looking to add two interns to the team to help working on Client data science projects, discovering trends and information hidden in vast amounts of data to improve decision-making and help deliver better services. 

The entire event, including a spotlight session, 1:1 meetings with students and a virtual booth with “office hours,” was conducted using a video-enabled virtual platform.

UNICC needs talented students that are looking to apply their skills to help find solutions to global challenges through data and analytics.

Anusha Dandapani, Chief, Data and Analytics, UNICC

The day started with a 30-minute spotlight session where different UNICC staff introduced the organization and explained what makes it so unique. Approximately 25 students from Columbia’s Applied Analytics Masters programme attended this webinar. 

UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan opened with a general overview of who we are, what we do and our mission. Frederic Laval, UNICC’s Chief of Human Resources, encouraged students to ask themselves what drives them and choose a career that is fulfilling. He offered details about available internship opportunities and explained that graduate student interns at UNICC get a chance to gain hands-on experience, work on actual projects and see tangible results of their work, all while getting paid and helping to optimise UNICC team outputs and results. 

Anusha Dandapani, Data and Analytics Chief at UNICC, shared with attendees the details of UNICC’s growing programme and asked students to consider applying to the internships if they wanted to make an impact through analytics. 

When you work at UNICC you contribute to the UN mandate and the 2030 Agenda. At the end of the day you feel you have achieved something, you are working for a better world.

Frederic Laval, Chief, Human Resources, UNICC

The presentation was followed by an engaged Q&A, where Sameer, Frederic and Anusha answered various questions students had regarding the organization, the Data and Analytics programme and the internship description and responsibilities.

After this session, Anusha and UNICC’s Chief of Digital Solutions Ninna Roco met with 22 students in a 1:1 format. In these 10-minute informative chats, students were able to enquire about the data science internship, share their resumes and discuss possibilities. 

During the entire day, UNICC’s virtual booth was open and students were offered the possibility to “drop-in” to converse about careers in a less formal setting.  By the end of the event, over 100 students had visited UNICC’s virtual booth and more than half had submitted their resumes for UNICC’s review. 

The Data Scientist internship positions to join UNICC in New York and Valencia is open for applications until Sunday 11 October. The event was one more successful partnership to leverage skills of graduating students and offer them a chance to put their analytics skills to good use harnessing the power of data for good across the UN family.

Photo: UNICC/Maggiore

Data Governance, Artificial Intelligence and Human Rights – A Symposium

UNICC Presents on Cloud Storage at an OHCHR and UN Global Pulse Event in Geneva

A recent symposium on data governance, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and human rights brought together probing questions and participants, as international development communities explore data-driven insights, approaches and deliverables related to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

UNICC participated and presented at the 13- 15 November event at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, co-hosted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN Global Pulse, including participants from WFP, IFC, ILO, UPU, IOM, UN Women, UNHCR, the MIT Media Lab and many others from the private sector.

Meetings focused on the development of a human rights-based approach to AI, with a particular emphasis on identifying practical solutions to address data transparency and access to information, accountability for harms caused by AI-supported decisions, equality and non-discrimination.

As digital technology’s capabilities to collect, store and analyse data evolve, so too must UN Agency approaches to data privacy and information protection, participants argue.

Cloud storage is just one aspect of this shifting conversation. Cloud storage is an efficient and convenient way to store large amounts of data and has become a part of daily operations for many organisations. Cloud storage, located across global locations with a varying levels of security are subject to different laws and not free of physical threats to data.

UNICC’s Fabio Maggiore, Lead, Cyber Security Governance and Carlos Correia, Head, AWS Services presented on the second day of the event on public cloud storage options and how to best align data protection with governance in a rapidly changing technology environment.

The sessions were introduced and facilitated by Sachiko Hasumi, Corporate Information Security and Compliance Manager, UN Women, explored key considerations for setting up cloud storage, focusing on the needs of international organisations. They addressed technical and legal safeguards that may need to be taken into account before selecting a cloud storage provider, including issues such as storage lifecycles and data erasure.

Fabio Maggiore’s presentation on cloud storage adoption for the UN. Photo: UNICC/Maggiore

Fabio and Carlos explained that the speed of adoption of the cloud across the UN family has peaked in the past few years. UN organisations today utilize some admixture of private, hybrid and public cloud solutions. While the efforts have often been Microsoft-centered (e.g. Azure, SharePoint online, OneDrive, etc.), there has also been use of ad-hoc storage solutions, like Box and Dropbox. Many Agencies have moved to Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft Azure, while others have begun to implement applications including Amazon Web Services.

Fabio discussed how cloud security threats have raised concerns across the UN. There is apprehension about traditional threats which include state actors hacking the cloud, unintended and intentional disclosure of classified information and sabotage. Newer and less conventional cloud threats include misuse of information obtained as part of service delivery and government access through legal means.

Fabio also identified important safeguard solutions against those potential threats to cloud security. He highlighted encryption and appropriate identity and access management tools as some of the methods that UN Agencies are using, which have been effective for maintaining cloud security.

Some other key observations included:

  • Contracts with Microsoft and AWS are reviewed to include clauses on UN Privileges and Immunities.
  • UN Agencies are discussing with their Cloud Solution Providers any data residency requirements in regions that have stronger privacy regulations
  • Two Agencies are currently implementing Azure Information Protection entailing data classification, rights management and data leak prevention features
  • One Agency has already moved data and workloads onto AWS and is planning to move more applications to the cloud.

Stephen McDermid, Senior Solutions Architect, Security and Compliance at Amazon Web Services (AWS) followed in presenting security and compliance measures and issues in AWS, providing examples of customer feedback on how AWS has helped improved data governance.

Amazon Web Services, an UNICC strategic partner, supports UNICC’s delivery of AWS management services. These services provide value-added options for Clients who seek to host their applications, platforms and infrastructure in the Amazon Web Services cloud.

Stephen McDermid presents on AWS cloud security and compliance. Photo: UNICC/Maggiore