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Bo Percival: Investing in Disruptive Solutions to Improve the Lives of Children

Bo Percival: Investing in Disruptive Solutions to Improve the Lives of Children


Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs.

Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on leaders making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around with Bo Percival, senior advisor for innovation at the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Are you ready to be inspired?

Spiffy: Welcome, Bo. Let’s jump right in. Can you tell me what challenge UNICEF is addressing?

Bo: Thanks for having me, Spiffy. UNICEF's Office of Innovation helps discover, co-create, and scale bold solutions and technologies to deliver for children today and set a new pace of social impact for coming generations. We do this in a collective movement with innovative minds globally, across industries and generations, and with our UNICEF innovators in over 190 countries.

Spiffy: What motivates you to do it?

Bo: For me, I am motivated by the need for a more accessible and equitable future. With the rapid pace of technology moving beyond even our own imaginations, now more than ever something needs to be done to ensure that one segment of the world doesn't accelerate irreparably beyond the other. With the recent explosion of AI into the common zeitgeist, we need to use this moment to ensure that the fundamentals and the foundations are in place for a more equitable tomorrow, both in the physical and digital worlds.

Spiffy: That’s very inspiring! What would you say is the impact of your work?

Bo: The UNICEF Venture Fund invests in disruptive and early-stage open-source solutions in underserved markets to validate, test, and shape technology that can be scaled to radically improve the lives of children. In 2022-23, the fund launched two new calls to new thematic areas for the fund: digital inclusion and connectivity, and climate change. The fund has also embarked on new geographic frontiers by expanding its investments in fragile and conflict-affected states. To date, the fund investees have reached a total of 41.5 million beneficiaries in six sectors—achieving results across child online safety, learning, health, and financial inclusion—and contributed to open source intellectual property across blockchain, AI, and data science.

Spiffy: That’s cool! Tell me about a recent organizational milestone or initiative. What impact does that make?

Bo: Over the past year, the Office of Innovation has achieved so many milestones as a whole, including a particular one from my team—the ventures team. The team invests in startups in UNICEF program countries that develop frontier technologies with the potential to bring radical change for children. One of the startups that we invested in—a small blockchain startup—made its first donation back to the fund. This is a meaningful milestone—not because of the size of the donation, but because it showed us the value that the startups we fund place on our work.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Bo—it’s been an honor!

Sitting at the junction of technology and equity, Bo Percival is a self-proclaimed ‘geek for good,' dedicated to uncovering insights into psychology, innovation, and social justice. In the past ten or more years, he has worked extensively on open innovation for humanitarian response, education, HIV, LGBT rights, youth economic empowerment, water sanitation, and hygiene, igniting innovation in over 25 countries. His current role as a senior advisor for UNICEF's Office of Innovation ventures team is a perfect collision of Bo’s passions and pursuits. (First published on the Ladderworks website on October 11, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Sujit Kunte. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.