© UNICEF/UGDA201300462/Nakibuuka

For all children to have an equal chance to make the most of their potential, innovation must not only benefit those who can afford it the most. It must also meet the needs and advance the rights of those who have the least.

We call this innovating for equity, and it is already happening: in tech studios and university laboratories; in government, business and development organizations; and in kitchens, classrooms and community centres around the world. Innovators are drawing on unconventional sources of knowledge and collaboration, disrupting established processes and structures, and using available resources creatively to produce practical solutions that deliver higher quality or greater impact at lower cost. But how is one to determine whether an innovation, and the process of innovation itself, serves to advance equal opportunity for all children, regardless of the circumstances into which they were born?

UNICEF and partners in governments, businesses, philanthropic organizations and the United Nations system have endorsed principles of innovation for equity. In our experience, this kind of innovation is:

More is at stake than the need to provide high-end consumers with the latest gadgets. Innovating for equity aims to change the lives of children in need. So innovators must strike a different, more delicate, balance – accepting the degree of risk required to break through to new solutions while safeguarding the hopes and well-being of children.

Students search a globe in a classroom in Liberia.
Innovation must be targeted to reach children not reached by traditional approaches.© UNICEF/NYHQ2011-1769/Pirozzi

So, how to put these principles into practice?

Innovation is about moving beyond boundaries and refusing to accept the status quo. And so a principled approach to innovation starts with, and is guided by, questions throughout the process – from identifying problems to developing and scaling up solutions to evaluating their impact.

Key questions for innovators and facilitators of innovation to consider include:

Assessing the context

Developing solutions

Evaluating solutions

Scaling and adapting solutions

Engaging children and young people