Palestinian University Students Receive Special Mention in UNICC Data Hackathon

Special Mention for Students of Islamic University of Gaza

One of the great opportunities of working within the UN family is encountering bright minds from all over the globe. Such was the case for the 2021 UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good, especially the participation of Master’s students from the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG) in Palestine.

Motaz Saad, a UNICC Data and Analytics team member, Senior Data Scientist at UNRWA and IUG Assistant Professor introduced the hackathon to IUG. Together with the Dean of the School Iyad H. Alshami and the data department, he selected the top performing students in their class to join as one team. Over the next few days, Mohammed El-Agha, Abdullah Abu Nada, Ahmed Abu Amsha and Anas Alsalool entered the international competition and submitted a final solution worthy of a special mention.

UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good launched on Tuesday, 16 February 2021 with an introduction from the organization’s executive leadership to 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.

Mohammed, Abdullah, Anas and Ahmed opted for Challenge 2: Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement on which to build their data-based solution. In the introduction of their presentation to a group of UN judges, mentors and university professors, the team laid out the scope of their work, emphasising that the solution is not simply presenting predictions but also building an implementable plan based on those data-based predictions.

Credit: UNICC

The team then presented their data sources, marking key indicators such as numbers on countries’ fatalities, terrain and geomatics as determinants of which datasets to explore, research and implement into a prediction.

Upon gathering relevant data and comparing and contrasting their findings, the team noticed a noticeable pattern in the graphs of a positive correlation between a country’s high fatality rate and its rate of displacement, especially refugees. Once this pattern was established, the team began to build their data pipeline in order to properly process their data, configure their input and output into X and Y datasets, build their model and ultimately evaluate its results.

Using Syria as a primary example for their findings, Mohammed, Abdullah, Anas and Ahmed compared the effect of the number of fatalities, caused by the nation’s social and political instability to the ultimate number of displaced populations. The time series model the team constructed from the pipeline predicted the number of refugees, internally displaced people and asylum seekers increasing in the next five years, given the continued conflict. The team also observed similar patterns in their predictions for Afghanistan and Mexico.

Following the presentation of their findings, the team evaluated them in their conclusion. One event the team specified to be related to increase in rates of refugees was the Arab Spring of 2011, a series of protests and uprisings in several countries in the Middle East. The team further explained that the fatalities that resulted from periods of political tension such as the Arab Spring are accounted for in other countries’ explanations.

Team IUG, upon presenting to the panel of judges and mentors and in an interview with UNICC, expressed interest in pursuing future opportunities in data science to tackle modern-day issues such as forced displacement.

The opportunity to present our solution with other international teams was highly competitive, but we want to be able to see this hackathon experience as not just a presentation but a means to contribute building real solutions for issues such as forced displacement and migration to make a real difference.

Team IUG, Islamic University of Gaza

Team IUG’s involvement in the UNICC Global Hackathon is indicative of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly SDG 4: Quality Education, and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

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.

WHO mYoga App
Credit: UNICC/Al Sawwaf

WHO and UNICC Deliver mYoga App, a Daily Yoga Companion

The World Health Organization, together with the Ministry of AYUSH, Government of India, recently launched the well-received and popular WHO mYoga app.​

Developed by UNICC, the mYoga app has found a global audience with a simple yoga practice platform for the general public. It includes Yoga learning and practice sessions of varying durations. The a​​pp comprises a collection of videos and audio sessions that users can enjoy in the comfort of their homes,​​ and when they wish. It also allows users to download videos in case they wish to watch them offline at their own convenience.

Need an efficient and inexpensive yoga app in a timely fashion? Call on UNICC. Its Application Delivery team helps Clients design, enhance and build mission-critical custom enterprise applications and collaborative solutions.

UNICC has been developing and supporting applications for several years, with solutions and products delivered to its Clients and Partner Organizations, including intranet, extranet and corporate website redesign, custom business application development, application integration, data migration, certificate exchange hubs, mobile apps and more.

The mYoga app is safe and secure, collecting no data from users at all, and can be used as a daily Yoga companion for people aged around 18-65 years. The app is easy-to-use and a free tool for people who are trying yoga for the first time or those who already practice yoga regularly. No special equipment is needed, and users can learn or practice yoga from 3 to 45 minutes, so even busy people can use it to get active, achieve  peace of mind and stay fit.

The app was built using React Native, which is an Open Source cross-platform framework for mobile development. UNICC leverages Amazon AWS for storing the media content (video/audio files). The WHO mYoga app is available for free download on Android devices and Apple devices.

The application currently supports two languages, namely English (default) and Hindi. I will make it available in all six UN languages.

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Credit: WHO

The Prime Minister of India expressed his hope that this app will provide help for spreading the practice of Yoga worldwide and will also contribute to the efforts of “One World, One Health.”

The project started in 2019 and the first version of the WHO mYoga App was recently launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while he was addressing 7th International Yoga Day on Monday, June 21, 2021. UNICC is currently working on the second version where all six UN languages will be available with some improvements.

The mYoga app is an effort to further popularise Yoga. It will also help realise our collective vision of “One World, One Health.

Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India

He also said that this app will be helpful in keeping people healthy during the pandemic. It may have a great role in the re-rehabilitation of the health of the people who have recovered from COVID-19.

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Photo: Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi with WHO mYoga App (see story here).

In addition, the WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus shared a Twitter post in June about the App, saying: “Happy #InternationalDayOfYoga! @WHO is very happy to launch a new mYoga App, together with the Government of #India, to help you do yoga at your convenience, especially during #COVID19. Thank you so much, for your support, Prime Minister @narendramodi! Let’s #BeActive!”

The app, recently launched, has already secured a prestigious place in the AppBrain world ranking!

We faced many challenges during the mYoga app development process, but after launching the app and seeing the positive feedback from the users and the prestigious place the app secured quickly in the World Ranking, we felt really thrilled. I believe that self-belief, teamwork and hard work will always earn you success.

Minas al Sawwaf, React Native Developer, UNICC

mYoga Features

  • Viewing and downloading of learning and practice videos
  • Users can view learning and practice videos for the various Yoga training exercises to understand how to perform the exercise. The video once viewed entirely will be marked as “Completed”. In case the user has not finished watching the entire video, it will be marked as “In progress”. User can also download the video if needed for offline viewing. A particular practice video will be enabled only once the relevant learning videos for that practice video have been “Completed”
  • Playing and downloading of audio files
  • Users can listen to the audio clips for a particular practice video for the various Yoga training exercises to understand how to perform the exercise. User can also download the audio if needed for offline listening.
  • Internationalisation: users have the option to switch the language from within the application. The application currently supports two languages namely English (default) and Hindi
  • Audio/Video streaming: users can view the training videos and listen to audio clips using the media player within the app. The application streams the video/audio from Amazon cloud. The media thus streamed is rendered on the device using Amazon Media Convert and Cloud front services. In addition, all the media files are stored centrally inside an Amazon S3 bucket.

WHO mYoga App and the SDGs

The app proposed the concept of Be Healthy, Be Mobile (BHBM) under the United Nations SDG for achieving Universal Health Coverage by the year 2030. BHBM initiative was set up by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2012 to support the scaling up of mobile health technology in the National Health Service (NHS) to combat various non-communicable diseases.

The goal of developing the WHO mYoga app is to spotlight the health benefits of yoga that can ease the stress of our modern ‘laptop’ lives. SDG 3 “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” is particularly relevant since yoga improves physical health and general well-being. Other SDGs can also be seen in different aspects. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlights not only the health benefits of the practice but also the sustainable lifestyle it promotes, leading to better harmony between people and the planet.

Getting into Gear: Team Gear Shifters of Columbia University Present as Finalists in UNICC Data for Good Hackathon

The UNICC Data for Good: Global Hackathon demonstrated a dedication to the organization’s partnerships with academic institutions, including competitive universities where bright minds of today gather to solve tomorrow’s problems. 

This was true for Columbia University students Archit Matta, Plaksha Kapoor, Saloni Gupta Ajay Kumar, Tushar Agrawal and Yosha Singh Tomar, who are studying for Master’s degrees in Data Science and Business Analytics. The six students knew one another through university courses and had participated in hackathons in the past, including ones geared towards relevant social issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Driven by the prospect of building models from actual data representing the realities of people around the globe – and to develop solutions towards the UN mandate – the students entered the UNICC Global Hackathon, with the team name Gear Shifters.

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

Following introductory remarks from UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan and Ninna Roco, Chief of Digital Business Solutions, 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.

Team Gear Shifters opted for Challenge 2: Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement to build a solution for their final presentation. They began by introducing their data sources: World Bank Group and UNHCR quantitative data on factors such as countries’ currency exchange rates, crisis- related deaths, population densities, life expectancies, GDP per capita – as well as news outlets such as the New York Times for qualitative data on the usage of words in articles written in the last 20 years pertaining to forced displacement and refugee crises. 

With their data, the team developed several visualisations to tie key factors into a model for building out challenge solution. As an example, heat maps demonstrated correlations between Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s input factors on forced displacement. As shown below, the team presented several insights, such as a positive correlation between crisis-related deaths, asylum seekers and internally displaced people (IDPs) for Afghanistan as well as a negative correlation between exchange rates with internal displacement, asylum seekers and refugees for Iraq. 

Chart, treemap chart

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Photo: UNICC

For their final model, Gear Shifters presented two different approaches: a multiple time series forecasting using an XGBOOST regressor and a time series model using exponential smoothing. From both modelling approaches, the team compared their performance based on each key factor’s R^2 value, which measures how well the dependent variable variance is accounted for, to discover that their model using exponential smoothing and random forest regressor was the most effective.

To further solidify their findings, the team evaluated their time series forecasting and stock prediction evaluation with favorable results by calculating the Mean Absolute Percentage Error (MAPE).

Photo: UNICC

Gear Shifter solutions determined, based off their sample model using data from Afghanistan and Iraq, that the key characteristics that determine a country’s prediction of forced migration are mortality rate, life expectancy, population density and battle related deaths. 

The team’s findings aligned with UNHCR’s recent report that the current upward trends in violence in Afghanistan is one of the major causes of forced refugee migration. To demonstrate the effectivity of the model, the team conducted a thorough case study of Syria: they began with a timeline of the Syrian conflict that measured the total number of Syrian refugees, asylum seekers and IDPs. 

The team then cross-examined the course of the conflict and the output of their predictive migration model which reiterated the validity and reliability of their final model solution.

Timeline

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Photo: UNICC

The extensive process of posing correct questions, researching data sets, cleaning the data, building the final model and evaluating its effectiveness came paid off when the team’s presentation was selected as one of the six finalist teams to present in front of esteemed UN judges. 

Following the Gear Shifter presentation, many of the judges were impressed at the comprehensive structure and depth of the solution and posed many questions regarding ways to take their research further, such as how to take natural disasters into consideration in the forced displacement predictions.

In an interview after the Hackathon, the team noted that though there were challenges in gathering “real” data to construct a sophisticated model within the limited time frame, the opportunity to participate in contributing a tool that deals with one of the world’s greatest social causes was invaluable. 

“We want to thank the mentors and their feedback as we corrected and refined our presentation. Participating in the Global Hackathon: Data for Good was unique and inspiring on many levels but most significantly because we, both as a team and as a data-backed community for the UN mission, rise by lifting others.”

Team Gear Shifters

Team Gear Shifter involvement in the UNICC Global Hackathon supports the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly SDG 4: Quality Education, and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

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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.

UNICC interns
Photo: UN

​UNICC Internships: a Call to Action for Young People around the Globe

Over the past several years, UNICC has seen a steady growth in internships – young professionals, recent graduates and even current university students passionate about the United Nations and UNICC’s digital business solutions contribute to meaningful projects by joining various teams. 

Young people must have a say in the decisions that affect their future.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

These teams range across the organization, from Data and Analytics to Application Development, Operations, Finance and Procurement to Communications and Human Resources. Since the beginning of the internship programme around 2015, UNICC has been proud to host nearly 50 hardworking interns, many of whom have continued to pursue careers within the field of international humanitarian aid and technology. Some have even joined UNICC!

Internships have continued throughout the pandemic, even when most of the interns haven’t been able to meet with their respective teams during their time at UNICC.

Thanks to all of our interns for their contribution and their efforts during this challenging period of uncertainty while they were able to perform their tasks and responsibilities with an excellent manner of professionalism.

Frederic Laval, Chief, Human Resources Officer, UNICC

UNICC’s internship programme is mutually beneficial for interns and the organization, because it gives the opportunity for bright young minds to contribute to day-to-day functions, allowing UNICC to put into practice two of its core values: involvement and inclusiveness, while supporting youth to enter the aging UN system. The involvement of interns on UNICC teams creates open conversations where team members and interns can share information for more innovation in accomplishing daily tasks.

The involvement of interns displays the organization’s priority to strengthen collaboration across generations and areas of work for the greater UN mandate. Most recently, five interns working out of UNICC’s Valencia duty station, were invited to attend the Secretary-General’s first visit to the UN Support Base in Valencia.

Photo: UNICC, UN, UNICC

Today in Valencia, I met with young people and encouraged them to continue speaking out for their right to peace, justice and equality. 

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The internship program also highlights UNICC’s commitment to gender, diversity and inclusiveness in the tech sector. As shown below, of the 14 current interns in UNICC, nearly half identify as women, which according to BuiltIn is 12.6% above than the US national average of female representation in the tech industry.

Additionally, UNICC interns exhibit the international nature of the organization, where they work out of all five of the UNICC duty stations and together speak a total of over 15 different languages.

Benefits to UNICC 

Identified areas of interest and growth to implement innovative services for UNICC Clients and Partner Organizations:

  • Add to the UNICC knowledge base
  • Benefit of high-level skills in specific areas
  • Improve the availability and quality of digital business services
  • Keep up with the latest technologies and their utilisation
  • Keep youth at the centre​ of the 2030 Agenda.

Meet the Interns of UNICC

Banner reflects available interns at the time this article, not of all current interns at UNICC. Credit: UNICC

Given the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and geographic borders, there have been limited chances for the interns to congregate outside of their teams and collectively reflect on their experiences at UNICC. To encourage these conversations, several interns set up a virtual call to connect for the first time to introduce themselves to one another and their specific responsibilities, share memorable experiences of UNICC and how working for the organization will shape their future trajectories.

Many UNICC interns applied during the final semester of their university studies with previous experience working for international NGOs and nonprofit organizations. Upon embarking on their internship journey with UNICC, they onboarded with their respective teams and are regarded not just as interns in the conventional sense but as true contributors to the projects and duties of their colleagues.

Laura Reis, Finance and Procurement Intern, shares that she is “glad for the chance to support a team of hard-working and highly-skilled professionals,” reiterating the collaborative team ethic of UNICC for all staff.

Furthermore, interns within the same teams find value in interacting and sharing knowledge with one another on different UNICC standards and procedures to further professional development. For instance, Human Resources interns Giannoula Gkramozi and Diego Arista Vinaixa shared that they hold weekly meetings to catch up and work closely together on all sorts of different projects.

These collaborations between the interns, as Application Development Intern Bruno Pezer says, are especially meaningful during the pandemic. “Because the team is so integrated and my colleague, Gianmarco Ruggiero, fellow Application Development intern, is especially helpful, I have no trouble getting to know everybody, understanding the work environment and various tasks.”

Photo: UNICC

Additionally, several interns briefly shared their most memorable UNICC experiences and reflections. Ha-Young Kwon, Communications Aide Intern, states that her most memorable experience was hosting a conversation with upper-level women managers about how far they’ve progressed in their decades-long careers in IT services. 

Denian Ouyang, Graphic Design Intern, shares that her favorite experience was working with staff across the organization to deliver the UNICC 50th Anniversary video. Vincent Amande, Service Desk intern, seized the opportunity to expand what he learned in the classroom on IT and Business Information Systems and apply his studies to the real world in a cross-cultural team: “It’s a matter of working with harmony towards a common goal”.

The UNICC Experience

Although the interns are involved in different teams working on projects across the spectrum of the organization, many of their answers tied to one specific aspect of UNICC: the people. “The best aspect about working at UNICC,” says Maria Tranchese, Finance and Procurement Intern, “is the working environment and the collaborative atmosphere. Every member of my team is always available if I need help – they are really interested in my growth and learning in the workplace.” Carla Herrero Cantero, also an intern in Finance and Procurement, shares that the positive work environment she has in UNICC “marks you and makes you realize where and with whom you want to work in the future.”

Reflecting upon their UNICC experiences, the interns spoke on the different lessons they will take away following the end of their contract. One lesson Pablo Izquierdo Ayala, Data Science Intern, brought into the conversation was related to his interactions with colleagues in UNRWA during the period of unrest in Palestine in the spring of 2021. He shared that “it was humbling in every sense” and encouraged him to adopt a broader, better informed and interpersonal perspective through working for such an international organization.

UNICC, a proponent of supporting educational and learning endeavors through strategic partners, academic institutions or otherwise, continues to encourage all those who are eligible and interested in applying to the Internship Programme to do so. Young professionals, recent graduates and current students will not only be regarded as valued team members but also find professional and personal growth in each opportunity they face during their experience at UNICC.

UNICC’s commitment to the internship programme is indicative of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, notably in SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 5: Gender Equality, SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth and SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

Thank you interns! View current openings for Internships and other positions on the UNICC public web site Working With Us page.

ID2020/Holmes

New User Organization: ID2020 – Digital Identity Alliance

UNICC is pleased to announce that ID2020 has been accepted as a UNICC Privileged User Organization. UNICC’s Business Relationship Manager for ID2020 is Elena Sierra. 

ID2020 is coordinating funding for identity and channeling those funds toward high-impact projects, enabling diverse stakeholders – UN Agencies, NGOs, governments and enterprises – to pursue a coordinated approach that creates a pathway for efficient and responsible implementation at scale.

Since 2016, ID2020 has advocated for ethical, privacy-protecting approaches to digital ID. In 2018, ID2020 Alliance Partners, working in partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), drafted a formal articulation of our perspective on ethical approaches to digital identity. The landmark ID2020 Alliance Manifesto lays out these shared principles and forms a starting point to guide the future of digital identity globally.

About ID2020

For the one in seven people globally who lacks a means to prove their identity, digital ID offers access to vital social services and enables them to exercise their rights as citizens and voters and participate in the modern economy. But doing digital ID right means protecting civil liberties and putting control over personal data back where it belongs in the hands of the individual.

Every day, we rely on a variety of forms of identification to go about our lives: our driver’s license, passport, work badge and building access cards, debit and credit cards, transit passes, and more.

But technology is evolving at a blinding pace and many of the transactions that require identification are today being conducted digitally. From e-passports to digital wallets, online banking to social media accounts, these new forms of digital ID allow us to travel, conduct business, access financial and health records, stay connected and much more.

While the move to digital ID has had many positive effects, it has been accompanied by countless challenges and setbacks, including large-scale data breaches affecting millions of people. Most of the current tools are archaic, insecure, lack appropriate privacy protections and commoditise our data. But that’s about to change and ID 2020 is leading the charge.

The ID2020 Alliance (UNICC has been a member since 2019) includes businesses, nonprofits, governments and individuals, working in collaboration to ensure that the future of digital identity is, indeed, #goodID. 

Photo: UNICC/Cadinu

UN Secretary-General Visits the UN Support Base in Valencia

UNICC Takes Part in the Tenth Anniversary Celebration

UNICC is proud to have been a part of the warm welcome to Secretary-General António Guterres to the UN Support Base in Valencia to take part in the celebration of its tenth birthday.

I’m extremely grateful for the work of my colleagues at the UN Support Base in Valencia, Spain. Through the deployment of innovative solutions and digital support, they play a critical role in ensuring we can deliver our work, around the clock and around the world.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The Secretary-General recognised the work of the people at the base, which has expanded beyond the UN Department of Operational Support (DOS, formerly DFS) to include more Agencies, including UNOPS, UNICC, and now UNICEF and IOM.

The UN Support Base hosts the UN Global Service Centre (UNGSC) to meet the needs of UN peace operations worldwide since 1994. Nowadays, UNGSC’s mandate is to provide critical logistics, geospatial, Information & Telecommunications technologies services and training to all Secretariat Entities, Peacekeeping and Special Political missions, Agencies, Funds and Programmes of the UN system worldwide.

UNICC Director Sameer Chauhan. Photo: UNICC/Cadinu

UNICC is the biggest Agency in the base (with nearly 300 personnel in its Centre of Excellence and Common Secure Operations Centre, or CSOC), and is also the biggest UN Agency in Spain. The Centre of Excellence covers many strategic areas of digital business solution delivery, from cyber security, data and analytics, innovative new technologies as well as ongoing operational services. UNICC acknowledges Spain’s efforts to provide the required space to accommodate the continuous growth of the organization.

I want to affirm our commitment to work on the expansion of this centre, attracting more and more the various United Nations Agencies to transform or to continue transforming this centre into the technological and communicational heart of the most important activities that we develop for the benefit of the populations most impacted by the difficult times that we are living.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

Celebration participants included among others:

  • António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
  • Arancha González Laya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain
  • Ximo Puig, President of the Generalitat Valenciana
  • Carmen Martínez Ramírez, Mayor of Quart de Poblet (the town where the base is located)
  • Atul Khare, Under-Secretary General for Operational Support, UN Department of Operational Support
  • Giovanna Ceglie, Director of the United Nations Global Service Centre (UNGSC)
  • Sameer Chauhan, Director, UNICC
  • Michel Bergeron, Head of Premises of the United Nations Information and Communications Technology Facility in Valencia (UNICTF) and Chief of Service for Geospatial, Information and Telecommunications Technologies (SGITT)

The agenda followed the Secretary-General’s itinerary. He was received in the airport by the USG and Minister of Foreign Affairs. The President of the Generalitat de Valencia, the Director of UN GSC, the Director of UNICC and the Mayor of Quart de Poblet met and greeted him.

The Secretary-General and the Minister of Foreign Affairs then unveiled a commemorative plaque for the 10th anniversary of the base. The group went to the cafeteria where the Secretary-General was briefed about the expansion of the base and inclusion of new Agencies. In the cafeteria, there was a press briefing by the UN Secretary-General, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President of the Generalitat Valenciana.

The group walked around the cafeteria visiting the booths, including UNICC’s, where the Secretary-General talked with Sameer Chauhan, Prado Nieto, Mati Gil, Esther Ferrer, Liliana Hedges, Martina Kellen and others from UNICC.

In a separate session later that afternoon, the Secretary-General met with the youth of Spain at the City of Arts and Sciences. Among the select group of twenty youth were five UNICC interns.

Young people must have a say in the decisions that affect their future.

António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

They held a roundtable discussion on topics including reinforcement of multilateralism to fight global challenges and COVID-19, the digital revolution, global inequality, rightful work for youth and action for climate change.

Photo: UNICC/Cadinu and UN

The UN Support Base celebratory event was an affirming testament to the good work that UNICC delivers to its more than 70 Clients and Partner Organizations and also provided an opportunity for UNICC to share its success stories and digital business solutions with UN leadership, the Spanish government, the UN Support Base, the town of Quart de Poblet, the city of Valencia, the country of Spain and the wider world.

See also:

Photo: UN RSCE

UN RSCE Robotic Process Automation Telephone Billing Consolidation

The Future Digital Work Force is Here

The UN Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, Uganda (UN RSCE), has among its many missions the consolidation of administrative and support functions previously located in its field missions. This streamlining of administration provides less volatile, more business-friendly regional locations, with the goal of providing efficient, client-oriented and scalable services while reducing the missions’ footprints to UN field missions across Africa. Robotic Process Automation (RPA), through the UNICC Robotic Process Automation Centre (RPA+) was there to help develop and deploy a telephone billing consolidation system.

Robotic Process Automation is the use of software that can be easily programmed to do sequenced, high volume, repetitive tasks across applications. It creates and deploys a software robot that works like a digital assistant, doing routine, complex, rule-based, time-bound tasks that would otherwise eat up employees’ time.

RPA and hyperautomation technologies – what UNICC calls ‘RPA+’ – allow us to call on a digital workforce to help us gain immediate operational efficiencies and get closer to business stakeholders and beneficiaries on the ground. Ultimately, RPA+ helps Clients and Partner Organizations build better to deliver on their mandates.

Nagesh Vepa, Head, Hyperautomation Solutions, UNICC

The Regional Project and Implementations Unit in the Field Technology Services of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (RSCE) has now successfully deployed two Robotic Process Automation (RPA) projects in the past three years, both of which have been in the Regional Telephone Billing Unit (RTBU).

In African peacekeeping missions, RPA was pioneered in RTBU through a Proof of Concept in 2018, followed by a full-fledged deployment in March 2021. RTBU was a logical place to start, given that it processes massive amounts of data: over 100,000 bills in FY2018/2019, translating into over 9,000,000 rows of data.

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Photo: UN RSCE

Before embarking on any automation, all of the complex process steps have to be identified at a granular level. Fortunately, RTBU had their internal processes well documented with sufficient detail. One aspect that was not captured in the process maps, however, was offline tasks. In particular, there is the requirement to handle, process and standardise documents received in different formats into a standard template, which used to take significant effort, time and resources on the part of the units.

With the RTBU processes clearly defined, the Regional Project and Implementations Unit partnered with UNICC for the development and deployment of an automated bot. The bot accesses the target files for processing from an input folder in SharePoint. Upon processing, successful files are moved to an output folder with exceptions, audit logs and performance reports being maintained in separate folders.

UNICC was responsible for process assessment, development, testing, Production deployment, associated license procurement, onboarding Orchestrator service for relevant bot, infrastructure hosting, administer and support for the RPA Process candidates and agile project management in the United Nations Regional Telephone Billing Unit (RTBU) of the Regional Service Centre in Entebbe (UN RSCE).

RPA has allowed for automated multiple, time-consuming offline processes by converting telephone bills received from over 16 missions in over 25 formats into a single standard format that is compatible with the Unit’s telephone billing platform. This means that there is now visibility for every single row of every single bill that has gone through RPA, which is projected to generate thousands of dollars a month in savings through enhanced recoveries.

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Photo: Zanders

The result is greater speed and accuracy in performing repetitive, high-volume tasks, freeing time for staff to focus on more productive, analytical tasks. In addition, there are additional benefits like time stamps and an audit trail for previously offline actions that are performed outside the telephone billing platform.

RPA efficiency gains:

  • Significant cost recoveries during the first year of operation
  • Formats over half a million rows of data per hour
  • Fully compatible with Microsoft 365
  • 50 staff hours a month saved on manually formatting documents
  • 100% accuracy in converting/formatting bills
  • Supports 24 document formats
  • Generates a real-time audit trail in MS SharePoint for a process that was previously undocumented
  • Improves staff morale
  • Easily scalable to handle larger volumes and formats of data
  • The concept is transferable to offices using structured data.

UNICC’s RPA and hyperautomation technologies have allowed the UN RSCE to call on a digital workforce to help deliver administrative and operational efficiencies, allowing regional staff to get closer to the business and deliver more efficiently on their work packages, thus helping the RSCE to best to deliver on its mission and mandates.

UN Innovation Network: TechLearnTalks on RPA with UNICC and ESCWA

On Wednesday, 9 June 2021, Manuel Nunes, Senior Business Analyst at UNICC, spoke about Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in a UN Innovation Network (UNIN) TechLearnTalks segment. Manuel described the functions and benefits of RPA, followed by Carla Ziade and Kamal Al-Khatib of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) who presented a case study and demonstration of RPA in their daily operations… … as supported by UNICC’s Robotic Process Automation (RPA+) Centre of Excellence.

TechLearnTalks is a series of UNIN webinars dedicated towards demystifying up-and-coming technologies “without the jargon”; this was accurately reflected in the audience when a pre-webinar Zoom poll revealed that only 25% of participants had prior knowledge about RPA. This was no barrier for Manuel, who gave a brief yet comprehensive presentation on the topic, describing RPA as a self-functioning set of rules much like a self-playing piano. He continued to set out the different types of RPA and each of their specific functions: attended, unattended and citizen development. To further clarify the difference the specific RPA types have in their processes, his presentation included a visual diagram of the extent to which human oversight is needed for attended and unattended RPA bots. 

In addition, Manuel dove into the various benefits of RPA; for example, he explained that its developmental origins in the finance sector is the reason for its accuracy in compliance and audit regulations, not to mention the consistency of its precision. Other benefits were the sheer hours the organization can spare with RPA bots delivering otherwise reiterative and repetitive tasks, so employees are available to take on more meaningful duties.

attended and unattended RPA, UN, United Nations, UNICC, RPA, Robotic Process Automation
Photo: UNICC

To conclude his presentation, Manuel touched upon the broad network of organizations for whom UNICC provides RPA services.

RPA is both cross-mandate and cross-function. Since the development of the service, UNICC has built more than 50 automations through RPA bots to over 15 organizations in the UN. This equates to thousands of hours of efficiencies – thousands of hours these organizations can re-allocate towards the greater UN mission.

Manuel Nunes, Senior Business Analyst, UNICC

Following Manuel’s presentation, colleagues from ESCWA delivered a case study of RPA in action. Carla Ziade, Administrative Officer, explained that the RPA bot which UNICC had built primarily worked to automate the process of internal employees to submit travel requests within the Umoja system. She contextualised the benefits of RPA to ESCWA’s operations, stating that it boosted efficiencies, reduced turnaround times, improved accuracy and was straightforward to launch and train users in. 

The entire process of submitting a request from start to finish, when completed by a human, takes approximately 15 minutes; this process is annually completed an estimated 1200 times. Our calculations present that this RPA bot will save approximately 300 hours per year for the ESCWA.

Carla Ziade, Administrative Officer, ESCWA

Kamal Al-Khatib, Finance Innovation Group Project Coordinator, ESCWA, then delivered the technical explanation of the RPA bot, named “Adam,” as well as the specific steps of the automation. To further establish the efficiency of the bot, Kamal prepared a visual live demo of Adam 1 (refer to 46:00 in the webinar recording).


attended and unattended RPA, UN, United Nations, UNICC, RPA, Robotic Process Automation, ESCWA, Travel Request RPA
Photo: UNICC

Anecdotally, Kamal recalled the collaboration between ESCWA and UNICC to build the bot in 2019, which was during the period of social and political unrest in Beirut, Lebanon. Employees in the surrounding ESCWA offices struggled with business continuity due to factors such as lack of Internet, electricity, etc. Though the project experienced difficulties due to these external factors, Kamal stated that colleagues at UNICC, in the process of building, implementing and deploying the bot, went “above and beyond”, successfully completing the assignment. 

Overall, the webinar was well received by the audience, with nearly 30 questions and comments from members of international organizations such as UNICEF, ICAO, UNV and PAHO. Question topics varied from timelines of RPA implementation to the price of the automation service, to which ESCWA colleagues lauded UNICC for its degree of efficiency for its affordability. 

Though the panelists and speakers were not able to address all inquiries, much of the Q&A session evolved around the potential issues that arise in the practical applications of RPA. To address this, Manuel and Carla first explained the greatest obstacle to implementing RPA was not the automation itself but the preparation to implementing the bot. Gaining accessibility to sites and applications, streamlining processes and identifying the boundaries of the administrative tasks that needed automation were all issues that needed to be aptly addressed before building the automation.

As the webinar came to a close and the speakers wrapped up their Q&A session, one participant, in response to the remaining questions on RPA and all of its capabilities, left a comment in the participant thread: “I think a good starting point is contacting UNICC.”

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Data Science Students from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya Forge Path for Future Generations

Digital transformation has grown into the international spotlight in recent years, highlighted with the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020, translating to a push towards educating future generations about the importance and relevance of systems of data – an education to sharpen analytical skills and critically solve modern-day issues. 

This holds true for Cayetana López, Chus Antoñanzas, Cristina Aguilera, Mireia Boneta and Raquel Lucena of Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, all university students in their final year of Data Science studies.

Passionate about their studies and looking for a challenge, the students signed up as a team under the name ‘Team bitsbitsbits<3’ for UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good. 

UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good launched on Tuesday, 16 February 2021 with an introduction from the organization’s executive leadership to a global audience of UNICC and other UN organizations’ staff members, university representatives and over 140 students. Following 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.

Out of the three challenges, Team bitsbitsbits<3 chose to showcase their skill sets in data with Challenge 2: Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement.

In the beginning of the Hackathon, we didn’t know what to expect. We suspected there was going to be a challenge about COVID-19, but we wanted to opt for a different challenge with a broader context. More importantly, we were excited to work with real numbers and to know that behind each statistic and data set, there were people’s stories and lives.

Team bitsbitsbits<3

Though the students had not previously worked with data sets on the UN mission regarding forced displacement of people and refugees, they collaborated and received guidance from mentors to ultimately be chosen as a finalist team.

Titled “Prediction and Interpretation of Forced Displacements,” Team bitsbitsbits<3 focused on addressing the issue of migration within an international context. In the introduction, the students explained their target variables: internally forcibly displaced people, refugees abroad and asylum requests for the year 2025 on a per-country basis. The team introduced their ‘Time Series Forecast Model,’ which included a layer of interpretability and then explained their input variables, which consisted of countries’ rates of fatalities, numbers of forcibly displaced people, information on terrain, the Human Development Index and the overall population count.

The team first optimised data in the data pipeline with a pre-processing procedure before feeding it into a machine learning model of gradient boosted trees; the numbers were then interpreted to predict target variables. All data used in building the model and determining the variables originated from data sets provided by UNICC. 

In the process of building the model, team members adhered to the advice of UNICC mentors during feedback sessions, building a simple yet comprehensive model, given the complexity of the data. In the end, the team’s model presented a correlation most notably between a country’s rate of fatalities and its number of forcibly displaced populations for both local and global interpretability.

Credit: UNICC/Team bitsbitsbits<3

The team’s final result from their data pipeline and machine-learning model was the positive correlation between a country’s rate of fatality over the time frame of six years and number of forcibly displaced populations. The participants concluded their presentation with a message that is it important to notice these trends in data and fight the unmitigated increase of forced mobility through means of policy, backed by data.

Following the Hackathon, the students reflected on their Data Hackathon experience and the value of an education in Data Science.          

We are part of the first generation of students in Barcelona to be taught Data Science in a university setting; before, Data Science was just taught to new hires on the job. So, this finalist position in the Data Hackathon is not only an accomplishment of our team but also the Data Science curriculum and generation of students graduating to enter careers in the field.

Team bitsbitsbits<3

Motivated by the Hackathon experience, the participants were keen to learn more about not just data for social good but also professional opportunities that marry their passion of data science with the UN mandate. 

Team bitsbitsbits<3’s involvement in the UNICC Global Hackathon is indicative of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, particularly SDG #4: Quality Education, and SDG #9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.

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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.

Photo: UNV/Nazaroğlu

Application Integration Services and BI Support for United Nations Volunteers

The spirit of altruism and volunteering is a core tenet of the United Nations, where individuals around the world can contribute to the UN goals of universal betterment in progressive social, environmental and economic transformation. Volunteerism in the UN is championed especially by the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, an organization that works with partners to integrate volunteers into development programming and promote the value and global recognition of volunteerism.

We count on UNICC for expertise and experience in delivering application integration services. The data dashboards now in place help to prioritise the business intelligence the business needs for us to change and grow with the times.

Frederic Le Maistre, Chief Information Officer, UNV

Based in Bonn, Germany, UNV is a UNICC Client, supported with a myriad of services ranging from infrastructure hosting to digital transformation, ICT strategy support, Robotic Process Automation and application integration support and development.

UNICC’s services supporting UNV also benefit its 9,400 volunteers, 150 staff across six regional offices and 60 field units. Additionally, UNV is under the administrative domain of UNDP and consists of an Executive Board of UNDP, UNFPA and UNOPS, all also UNICC Clients and Partner Organizations.

UNV partnered with UNICC to implement Application Integration services and Business Intelligence support from UNICC’s Data and Analytics team. Beginning in 2018, the project entailed the planning, gathering and consolidating of essential business data and analytics for UNV’s Finance department. Several of these deliverables consisted of:

  • Streamlining usage and flows of various data structures to prioritise strategic targets
  • Supporting and fine-tuning existing SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) packages to optimise performance
  • Developing a BI data model and reports using various data sources including SSAS tabular and Power BI, which also needed to be embedded in existing UNV applications
  • Design and build customised dashboard and reports for external audiences
  • Build integrated reports for existing UNV applications (using Power BI embedded)
  • Validate and ensure configurations and parameters of various data sources for various UNV applications
  • Performance improvements for reports.

Technologies include SQL Integration Services (SSIS), SQL Server, Power BI Premium and Pro with a Microsoft Azure Infrastructure.

Due to the smooth delivery of the BI project support service in 2018, UNICC signed on to continue to support UNV in October of 2020 to provide business analyses and gather critical data on major reports, including financial, contribution, status and donor reports, among many others.

For each report which the UNICC team members consolidated and published for UNV, they offered and ensured valuable insights and data on the required maintenance and improvements, with one year resiliency on the information included. The trusted partnership of UNV and UNICC not only strengthens the functions of an organization catered towards service but also exemplifies the result of meaningful coordination.

Photo: UNV

Across the successful deliverables and impactful team collaboration, UNICC’s BI support for UNV demonstrate the importance of the health of internal organizational structures. The robust data analytics and newly advanced internal reports amplify UNV’s capabilities to manage its missions in providing volunteers to hundreds if not thousands of UN initiatives around the globe.

Moreover, UNICC’s partnership with UNV paves a way for UNICC to contribute to the spirit of volunteerism for the UN mission and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, notably Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and Goal 17: Partnership for the Goals.