The World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in collaboration with UNICC delivered the first virtual United Nations Digital Solutions Bootcamp between 9 and 13 March 2020.
The joint venture was to take place at the WFP Innovation Accelerator in Munich, but the outbreak of COVID-19 forced a change of plans. Instead, the three Agencies embraced a digital solution – a virtual innovation bootcamp.
More than technology, it was the innovators’ mindsets that made the remote bootcamp a success. Having digital collaboration tools for visual ideation (Mural), communications (MS Teams, Zoom) and content sharing (Google Docs) provided the core capability; the teams themselves brought about the winning solutions.
Shashank Rai, Chief Technology Officer, UNICC
Five teams of innovators met virtually, three of them connecting from UNICC’s offices in Geneva and mentored by UNICC’s Chief Technology Officer Shashank Rai. Other teams and mentors called in from Bangkok, Budapest, Cox’s Bazaar, Dar es Salaam, Munich, New York, Rome, San Francisco, Tel Aviv and Vienna.
Digital solutions for UN operational challenges
The curriculum designed for the physical bootcamp in Munich had to be adapted to fit the virtual innovation approach, but the main goal remained the same: to create a suite of digital solutions to address common UN operational challenges, improve internal UN management processes and streamline core areas of work. Viable solutions were sought to take forward by the UN Digital Solutions Centre and UNICC as potential UN family innovations to optimise operational delivery.
One of the teams formed by WFP innovators – and mentored by Shashank – developed a solution for a new UN Digital ID to address data fragmentation within the UN, to enable reliable data interaction between Agencies and optimise processes such as onboarding, transfers and reference checks. The idea is to digitise all employee data and information and record it in an immutable blockchain distributed ledger, in a solution similar to the one UNICC developed for the United Nations Joint Staff Pension Fund (UNJSPF) to deliver digital identity to its beneficiaries.
Innovators from UNHCR designed a centralised skills database, a platform where users can enter their skills to enable the UN system to effectively assess and leverage the diverse talents of its complex workforces for emergency and short-term assignments.
The third team mentored by Shashank, also formed by UNHCR innovators, developed a solution to automate the UN medical clearance process. Users upload medical documents to an automated system that helps with the review, assessment and decision-making processes, mitigating delays and reducing processing time.
A fourth team, from WFP, designed a Virtual and Augmented Reality experience for Supply Chain training with the potential of reaching a large number of employees to build skills and competencies in a more efficient way.
The fifth and UN-wide team, looked at an innovation for a Humanitarian Booking Hub, an inter-Agency online booking platform for hotels, flights, clinics and more. It uses a cashless invoice automation system powered by RPA to improve efficiency and reduce mistakes and fraud risk.
Virtual events, an opportunity to innovate
At the end of the bootcamp, the teams pitched their solutions virtually to an inter-Agency panel and questions were asked through a video chat. Over 120 people from 15 different UN Agencies and other partners joined the video call, demonstrating the power of virtual events that can gather large audiences.
The conversion of a physical innovation bootcamp into a virtual event was itself an exercise of innovation. This first virtual UN Digital Solutions bootcamp served as a testing ground to pilot new approaches of digital facilitation and was a remarkable opportunity to learn a few lessons on how to run innovation bootcamps virtually.
About the UN Digital Solutions Centre
The UN Digital Solutions Centre is keen to take these innovations forward in coordination with UNICC which can develop them as digital services for the UN family. The UN DSC is a pilot project of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), operated by UNICC.
By leveraging new technologies and UN expertise, the 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 the UN DSC will be made available to the entire UN system.
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