This post was co-published on the UNICEF Innovation Fund blog.

2020 saw the launch of a formalized Open Source Mentorship programme for the UNICEF Innovation Fund, built up on two years of work from RIT LibreCorps expertise and consulting.

The Open Source Mentorship programme includes five modules about Open Source intellectual property and communities delivered across twelve months. UNICEF grantees are matched with an experienced Open Source Mentor to guide them through the modules. The mentorship takes an interactive, guided approach to understanding the unique context that each team and product exist within. The assigned Open Source Mentor provides specialized advice and training:

  • Tailored feedback based on business models
  • Existing local user communities
  • Best practices for collaborating together with others on similar challenges.

The geographic diversity in the UNICEF Open Source Mentorship programme is unusual for technology incubators or accelerator programs. All funded projects come from UNICEF programme countries. The UNICEF Innovation Fund provides equity-free funding for Open Source solutions from local innovators and entrepreneurs solving local problems. To date, the Innovation Fund has invested in teams from over 57 countries. Argentina, India, Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, and Rwanda represent the most recent incoming cohort in July 2021.

But why does this kind of work matter to UNICEF or the United Nations?

UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation

In June 2020, the United Nations Secretary-General released the UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, a call for action and a vision with several key considerations:

  • An Inclusive Digital Economy and Society
  • Human and Institutional Capacity
  • Human Rights and Human Agency
  • Trust, Security and Stability
  • Global Digital Cooperation

The report explores the impact technology has in each key area:

“Digital technology does not exist in a vacuum – it has enormous potential for positive change, but can also reinforce and magnify existing fault lines and worsen economic and other inequalities. In 2019, close to 87 per cent of individuals in developed countries used the Internet, compared with only 19 per cent in the least developed countries.”

UN Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, June 2020

Open Source Mentorship enables digital cooperation.

Therefore, the conception and development of Open Source Mentorship is inspired by the Roadmap, in four key aspects:

  1. Digital Public Goods: To encourage knowledge transfer and collaboration on practical, everyday advice on building technology projects in line with the Digital Public Good Standard.
  2. Digital Capacity-Building: Empowering others with the skills and information they need to be bringers of Open Source change and innovation in a disruptive and competitive Venture Capital ecosystem.
  3. Digital Trust and Security: Providing a holistic view of Open Source intellectual property that is influenced by, but not bound by, quarterly earnings reports and share prices. Understanding the commitments of Open Source licenses and technology, and how trust is earned and lost in Open Source products and communities.
  4. Global Digital Cooperation: Designing and structuring communities to be healthy and collaborative in nature, united in resolving common challenges and problems.