Sunita Grote: On an Adventure in Venture at UNICEF
Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an 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 and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs.
Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Sunita Grote, Lead of the Ventures team of UNICEF and co-founder of its Venture Fund. Let’s learn what’s happening at UNICEF and how Sunita is making a positive impact in the world.
Spiffy: Hi Sunita, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge is your team at UNICEF addressing?
Sunita: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! At UNICEF, we try to support children all around the world, so that every child can go to school, be healthy and safe, have their voices heard, and have access to all the things they need to thrive. In my team, we specifically look at how some of the newest technologies could help children have better lives. We look at how artificial intelligence, blockchain, or drones could be used to help children learn or get faster access to the medicine they might need. One example of how we do that is by supporting entrepreneurs around the world to develop and test these kinds of solutions through our Venture Fund.
Spiffy: Sounds challenging and exciting, so what motivated you to do it?
Sunita: I really like trying to solve tough problems. I like bringing smart people together who don't just accept situations as they are. But instead, they come up with new ideas and ways to improve things. When I was growing up, I learned a lot about different parts of the world and how other kids lived. It always felt unfair that some people had so many things and money, while others had nothing. So, I wanted to do a job that tried to make things more equal in the world. I wanted to show that things didn't need to be so unfair, if only we chose to make change.
Spiffy: Fairness and equity go together. How would you say that your organization is working towards a more equitable world?
Sunita: While more and more people are connected to the internet, half of the world's population still is not. Also, a lot of kids don't have access to the technologies that could make it easier for them to learn, be healthy, or be safe. In our work on technology, we make sure that everything we build or support is available openly to everyone. We call it “open source.” We want solutions that everyone can use if they need them. We also try to support entrepreneurs and problem solvers who are often overlooked, such as young women for example, so that new solutions are designed to meet the needs of everybody.
Spiffy: That’s amazing—you're helping an entire world. Tell me about a recent milestone or initiative. What impact did it make?
Sunita We recently started working with a young entrepreneur called Gitanjali Rao, who came up with an idea to help keep children safe online. Kindly is a digital solution that aims to end cyberbullying by using machine learning to detect the cyberbullying intent in text messages. Our team is working on this solution to further develop it and see how it can be integrated into some of the main platforms where kids talk to each other. We are also looking for more kids to contribute to the platform itself, so that it works across different contexts. You can find out more here.
Spiffy: Wow, I cannot wait to take a look at it! Tell me about another inspiring startup whose impact your organization has helped to advance.
Sunita: That's a tough question! I find the work of all of our start-ups inspiring and exciting. One that might be fun for readers to explore is Pixframe. Pixframe is based in Mexico. They built a game called “Towi” that helps children develop their most important skills for learning through video games. The game adapts to the specific child who is playing the game. It helps them learn in the way that's best for them. It can also help identify if a child may have learning difficulties and need extra help.
Spiffy: I love a good game. That sounds so fun! Well, thanks for speaking with me today, Sunita—it’s been an honor!
Sunita Grote leads the Ventures team at UNICEF and co-founded its Venture Fund that provides funding in fiat and crypto. She steers UNICEF's co-leadership of the Digital Public Goods Alliance, a network for the discovery, development, and deployment of open source solutions. Sunita previously spent over ten years working on HIV and health. She holds an MBA from INSEAD and lives in NYC with her partner and daughter. (Nominated by Josef Scarantino of HubSpot Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on September 14, 2022)© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jason “Jackson” Block. 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.