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Arm & UNICEF Tackle COVID-19 with Connectivity

Amidst lockdowns, closures and disconnectedness, Arm and UNICEF are working harder than ever to connect the most vulnerable and hard-to-reach
By Chris Fabian, Co-Founder, Giga

Since 2015, Arm and UNICEF have worked together to accelerate the development of technologies to help the most vulnerable children across the world. The combination of Arm’s funding, expertise and network of partners, along with UNICEF’s convening power and global presence, has enabled us to deliver real social value for children on a broad scale.  

Our current work focuses on engaging and mobilizing the global tech community, strengthening local tech ecosystems, advocating for inclusive technology and driving employee engagement. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a climate that poses a colossal threat, now and in the future, to children and their families—a grim reality especially compounded among children already affected by poverty, disability, or social exclusion. Experts predict that, given high contagion risks and the time needed to develop and distribute a vaccine, COVID-19 is poised to be a long-term global health and welfare crisis.

The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for urgent action to support the world’s children amid the universal crisis, including through digital cooperation.

Now, more than ever, Arm and UNICEF see the need to take action and bring the benefits of technology to those who are most vulnerable and ever more hard-to-reach in the new reality of lockdowns, closures, and disconnectedness. Here’s how we’ve been deploying and tailoring our programs for COVID-19 response and action.

Providing trusted information to young people 

Arm’s investment has enabled UNICEF to improve the core infrastructure of our technologies. With Arm, UNICEF was able to integrate U-Report, a messaging tool that empowers young people around the world to engage with and speak out on issues that matter to them, across various communication channels and develop the underlying software.

Thanks to the improved technology and Arm’s networks, U-Report has now been integrated across messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and Viber—allowing UNICEF to reach and engage new audiences. With a stronger, faster platform, UNICEF was able to take the learnings from recent deployments of U-Report—such as the critical safety updates provided to young people during Hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria—to provide a rapid response to COVID-19.

U-Report’s deployment in the COVID-19 outbreak response facilitated the exchange of lifesaving information for millions of young people across 68 countries and counting. The speedy development and release of a COVID-19 chatbot not only allowed two-way communication to tackle disinformation about COVID-19, but also contributed to reaching new audiences — refugees, migrants, and other vulnerable groups — boosting the number of U-Reporters to 10 million worldwide.  

As COVID-19 has shown, challenges and crises cross borders; however, innovation and ingenuity are also not constrained by geography. Together, Arm and UNICEF join and support UNDP and’s COVID-19 Detect & Protect Challenge to: 

  • Promote the challenge to gain awareness and inspire participation among independent developers and the wider tech industry 
  • Explore supporting and moving winning ideas and solutions to scale or distribution globally
  • Co-create with these winning solutions as they become Digital Public Goods that deliver real social value for children across contexts

Supporting financial inclusion 

Along the lines of exploring innovations that reach — and deliver the benefits of technology to — the most vulnerable, Arm’s funding and support helped UNICEF launch the Fintech for Impact programme with ING. This pilot programme aims to invest in and develop financial technology solutions toward better opportunity and impact, especially to the financially excluded.

The socio-economic effects of COVID-19 were visible almost instantly; as of yet, there is no clear path to bouncing back. With millions across the world now out of work, economic futures are unstable, especially for the unbanked and financially excluded. As Arm and UNICEF prepare to announce the grantees of the Fintech for Impact program, together we will work with the startups to ensure we co-create solutions that can improve lives and futures in emerging markets.

Accelerating connectivity to reach more young people around the world

The global school shutdowns and health crises exacerbate already challenging realities for lower-income countries: with the limited or non-existent infrastructure to connect to distance learning and essential services, their current education and economic stability, as well as future opportunities and welfare, are significantly set back. This current situation proves how critical it is to now accelerate connectivity, online learning and other initiatives for children and their communities, and drive economic stimulus.  

Giga, an initiative launched by UNICEF and ITU to connect every school to the Internet and every young person to information, opportunity, and choice, is supporting the immediate response to COVID-19, as well as looking into how connectivity can create stronger infrastructures of hope and opportunity in the “time after COVID.” 2030Vision, Arm, and UNICEF will not only continue supporting the development of Digital Public Goods but also ensure we convene public and private partners and secure commitments and collaboration to shape markets, democratizing access to connectivity in schools.

Closing the digital divide requires global cooperation, leadership, and innovation in finance and technology. By our continuous collaborating and convening, Arm and UNICEF can bring the power of meaningful connectivity to fast-track young people’s access to educational resources and opportunities, and make sure every child is equipped with the technology they need — from receiving life-saving information and raising their voices on U-Report and to accessing digital public goods that both detect and protect them from health emergencies and that ensure them of financial opportunity.

Read the Arm + UNICEF Partnership Report 2020

Download the Arm+UNICEF Partnership Report and discover how Arm+UNICEF are working together to accelerate the development of new technologies and help the most vulnerable children across the world.

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Brian Fuller and Jack Melling
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