Finding “Blue Unicorns”: Ventures that Impact 100 Million Children


Award Mission

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown children’s learning into a sharp crisis, but it has also created a systemic opportunity for reimagining how children learn. Unlike any previous point in the history of humankind, we are equipped with the most powerful technologies and tools to become architects of the future of learning.

A vast playground of opportunities is calling for innovative approaches that make learning a fascinating adventure for all children. All the way from math adaptive learning programs and gamified language learning apps; to lessons enhanced by Augmented Reality or robotics kits powered by tinyML that invite children to tinker with technology.

But we must challenge the prevailing norm that equity goals are pursued as a “leveling up” to the pace of the digital revolution. They must set the pace of the revolution. This is key not only for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for this generation of children, but for generations of children to come.

Through UNICEF EdTech Award, we are seeking to identify and showcase bold entrepreneurs who show greatest potential to become Blue Unicorns, ventures that impact 100 million children and bring innovative approaches to the following challenges:

  • Supporting parents and caregivers to prepare children for school
  • Innovating for basic literacy and numeracy skills
  • Preparing learners for the future of work
  • Ensuring ALL learners can access quality online learning
  • Enabling children with disabilities to access education

Finalists and award winners will receive global visibility, networking opportunities and potential connections to the funding they need to scale their ventures by joining the community of the UNICEF Learning Innovation Hub in Helsinki, a global home for the architects of the future of learning.

Award Challenge Areas:

The UNICEF Special Award will be looking at EdTech ventures that can have the potential to become Blue Unicorns that impact 100 million children by developing innovative solutions in the following challenge areas:

  • Supporting parents and caregivers to prepare children for school

In low-income countries, 78% of children miss out on Early Childhood Education opportunities and are already behind their peers before they start school, aged 5. The children least likely to benefit from ECE are poorer children, whose mothers have not completed primary education and who live in rural areas. There is an opportunity to innovate how to support parents and caregivers of children (aged 3-5), providing them with trusted advice (from UNICEF and others) that will support early learning opportunities in the home and (where available) encourage enrolment of children in Early Childhood Education.

  • Innovating for basic literacy and numeracy skills

At current rates, by 2030, of the 1.4 billion school-age children in low- and middle-income countries, 420 million will not be on track to learn the most basic skills in childhood, and 825 million will not be on track to acquire the basic secondary-level skills they need to succeed in life, school and work. Some 387 million primary school-age children and 230 million lower-secondary school-age adolescents are not achieving minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. There is an opportunity to use innovative tools, platforms and methodologies to ensure that children reach minimum proficiency in literacy and numeracy by the end of primary school.

  • Preparing learners for the future of work

There is a large gap between what students are learning and what the job market is looking for. Globally, 74 per cent of the poorest quintile adolescent girls, and 68 percent of boys, have never set foot in a secondary school. In sub- Saharan Africa, it is 93 percent of girls and 90 percent of boys. We need to innovate within and outside of formal education systems to ensure that learners (including those from disadvantaged groups) receive transferable and digital skills training. We need creative approaches that shape children and young people as innovators today, and the leaders of the innovation ecosystem of the future. We need to find innovative approaches and partnerships that will enable learning that is relevant to future (locally relevant) work opportunities and to ensure learners have access to the support services to transition to work (i.e. entrepreneurship, virtual apprenticeships, job matching, career guidance, recognition of prior learning).

  • Ensuring ALL learners can access quality online learning

Learners from disadvantaged groups are unable to access relevant online learning material, across the three key transitions (5, 10, 18 year olds). More than half of the world’s children and young people are on the wrong side of the digital divide, limiting access to the same opportunities as their connected peers. We need innovative approaches and financing models to ensure that ALL children have access to devices and affordable connectivity. We need digital learning tools and learning content and approaches that are optimised for offline/low connectivity and/or mobile access. We need ALL children to have the digital skills to access online learning.

  • Enabling children with disabilities to access education

50% of children with disabilities in developing countries are not in school, across the three key transitions (5, 10, 18 year olds). We need innovative (and cost-effective) accessible learning materials and assistive technology, based on the principles of Universal Design, that can support children with disabilities to access their right to education.

Additional Details on TECH-FOR-GOOD Scoring for UNICEF Award

The degree and reach of impact on children and young people

  • How do you measure the startup’s impact on children’s lives?
  • Will this startup improve the lives of a large number of children?
  • And/or will this startup make a deep and meaningful impact on children?


  • Will this startup have a wide-reaching impact on children and young people?
  • Will this innovative product or service scale commercially to make a material impact on the world to improve the learning experience and environment of children and young people?

UNICEF Child Protection Criteria

Compliance is mandatory to be considered.

  • Data collection: User consent explicitly requested for collecting data.
  • Data sharing: Solution does not share personally identifiable information to third parties without explicit user consent.
  • Data privacy and protection terms: Data privacy and protection terms and conditions are available online.
  • Data marketing: Children’s data collected by the solution is not used for marketing by first, second or third parties.
  • Guest login: Guest login available to reach beyond a paywall or premium restricted access.