UNICEF’s Work During COVID-19In June 2021, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released its annual report outlining the work done during the prior year. This year, the report focused on UNICEF’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic. While complete data on how COVID-19 impacted global poverty may never be available, what is available paints a dire picture. Compared to the baseline projection of global poverty prior to the pandemic, 2020 saw 144 million more people in extreme poverty. At least half of this rise “could be permanent.”

Beyond the immediate impact of families falling below the poverty line, the pandemic is also likely to impact growth. Without policy action, the pandemic may “trigger cycles of higher income inequality, lower social mobility among the vulnerable, and lower resilience to future shocks.

Despite the difficulty, UNICEF works hard to counter the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNICEF is an organization under the United Nations with the express purpose of protecting children’s rights across the globe. The organization mainly focuses on helping children in some of the toughest places in the world. It supports “child health and nutrition, safe water and sanitation, quality education and skill building, HIV prevention and treatment for mothers and babies, and the protection of children and adolescents from violence and exploitation.”

The Impact of COVID-19

The pandemic touched nearly every part of the globe in 2020. Its impact worsened global progress toward reaching the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals. Progress was already off track due to a range of humanitarian crises, climate change and inequalities across the world. This led to 142 million additional children living in “monetarily poor households” in 2020. The pandemic led to about 15% of all children spending the majority of the year under stay-at-home orders. An estimated 94% of students were affected at some point by school closures. These disruptions caused the most harm to children living in poverty. At least one-third of students didn’t have access to remote learning, and food disruptions led to 44 million children facing hunger.

While absolute mortality appeared to be less of a danger for children, the effects of the virus had a negative impact on almost every key measure of progress. Disruptions to health services impacted children across the world. An estimated 80 million children under the age of one “may miss out on life-saving vaccines.” The pandemic and its secondary effects also led to a rise in abuse as disruptions to violence prevention and response services rose.

UNICEF’s Response

Despite these disheartening consequences, UNICEF’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped. It has been working continuously to provide the necessary services to handle COVID-19. It also dedicates resources to responding to non-virus-related situations. This global crisis has highlighted UNICEF’s ability to adapt to new challenges and find new ways to help children living in poverty across the world. One way in which UNICEF’s work during COVID-19 had a large impact was its efforts toward providing necessary supplies and helping with the rollout of vaccines.

Throughout 2020, UNICEF provided “water, sanitation, hygiene services and supplies” for 106 million people. It also provided PPE to 2.6 million health care workers and training to an additional 4 million health care workers. UNICEF also worked with COVAX to make sure that vaccines were procured and distributed equitably across the world. UNICEF’s work to help children across the world extended to efforts not directly related to health care. The organization also used its leadership to reach more than 130 million children through its social protection initiatives and cash transfers.

Future Work

As the world moves forward, necessary work remains to help rebuild much of what the pandemic brought down. To this end, UNICEF’s work during COVID-19 continues. Executive Director Henrietta Fore laid out five goals for UNICEF to work on as nations rebuild and reimagine the systems children across the world rely on:

  1. Provide equal access to vaccines for all.
  2. Revolutionize learning through bridging the digital divide.
  3. Provide proper investment and attention to mental health.
  4. End discrimination.
  5. Address climate change.

The pandemic continues to have a massive impact on children across the globe. Not only did the virus directly affect millions, but it also shone a light on many already existing inequalities. UNICEF’s work during COVID-19 was vital and helped millions throughout the year. In the future, UNICEF will continue to work to improve the lives of children across the world.

– Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

Virtual Learning In Kenya
Kenya is a country in East Africa with 26 million children, many of whom do not have the devices or internet access to partake in virtual learning. Schools have been closed for six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so children need to attend online classes to stay on track. The government is introducing a new digital learning model to 24,000 public schools so that virtual learning in Kenya is accessible to all children.

Internet for All

After Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru launched a digital learning program, Kenya’s government spent 15 billion KES so that schools can teach four subjects online. By using the funds, schools are building computer labs, distributing fiber optic cables, training teachers in digital learning and connecting remote areas to the Internet. Virtual learning in Kenya is only possible if every student has an internet connection and a device at home. Mucheru’s program will distribute digital learning devices that local universities will help develop. Most schools in remote areas of Kenya do not have power access. To combat this, Mucheru will implement solar power in these locations.

Many Kenyan students lacked internet access before their schools shut down, so the program has a learning curve. Luckily, public school children will learn how to use computers and the internet. This ensures they will acquire the same digital skills as children in private school.

The Bigger Picture: Worldwide Statistics

Two-thirds of all children under 18 (1.3 billion) do not have internet access at home, yet hundreds of millions of students must learn virtually. In developing countries, one in 20 children has an internet connection at home compared to nine in 10 children from developed countries. This creates a gap in global access to knowledge.

The digital divide worsens existing inequalities. As children from poor households are struggling to catch up with their peers, they are falling behind in school. Lack of internet access isolates children from the world and halts their education and computer-literacy journeys. According to ITU data, people struggle to compete in the modern economy with poor digital skills.

The Fight to Attend Online Class

During 2020, people broke social distancing to find internet access, thus risking their health. Students in China spent hours hiking to mountaintops in freezing temperatures to find a connection and attend online classes. Many developing countries use television to administer online lectures but rural households rarely have TVs. UNICEF recommends that countries include alternative learning sources like radios, homework packages and tablets. In 2019, UNICEF started Giga which aims to connect every school and its community to the internet. The program has succeeded in 800,000 schools in 30 countries.

Persistent Challenges

Even when children have internet access at home, chores and work might take priority over their studies. Since there are not enough devices for everyone, girls receive encouragement to pursue other things such as early marriage and housework. Computer literacy in girls is rare. Until children resume in-person school, these problems will persist. However, brand new computer labs and internet access that Kenya’s government is supplying will be waiting for them upon return. For now, most children can log into online school because virtual learning in Kenya is finally a reality.

– Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

Mobile Data TrafficMany poverty-stricken individuals do not have access to the internet, creating a digital divide. The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized mobile data traffic around the globe, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile broadband supports access to education, work, healthcare, goods and services. It plays an imperative role in reducing poverty. With nearly 800 million people in the region still without access to the mobile internet, it has never been more urgent to close the digital divide.

The Need for Mobile Broadband

According to Fadi Pharaon, president of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, the increasing demand for mobile broadband provides an unprecedented chance to improve economic conditions for Africa. Currently, Africa is one of the quickest growing technology markets.

In addition to younger populations requiring technology to develop practical computer skills, during the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the internet is also crucial for remote learning and remote work to continue development and economic progression.

In response to the pandemic, sub-Saharan African countries that were able to implement telework adaptations had considerably greater access to the internet, as much as 28 % of the population, as opposed to countries that were not implementing telework, at 17 %.

Due to the increase of digitalization during the pandemic, these developments are expected to positively contribute to the region’s economic recovery post-pandemic. Research suggests that expanding internet access to cover an additional 10% of the region’s population has the ability to increase gross domestic product (GDP) growth by one to four percentage points.

The Mobile Broadband Demand

Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) delivered over 4G or 5G is a more affordable alternative to providing broadband in areas with limited access. By 2025, FWA connections are expected to reach 160 million, accounting for 25% of global mobile data traffic.

The estimated total growth of mobile data traffic is from 0.87EB per month in 2020 to 5.6EB by 2026, an increase of 6.5 times the current figures.

To keep up with the demand, service providers are predicted to continue upgrading their networks to meet their customers’ evolving needs.

Additionally, networks expect to see an increase in customers purchasing mobile data subscriptions. Long-term evolution (LTE) was predicted to amount to 15% of subscriptions at the conclusion of 2020.

Novissi Digital Cash Transfers

The Novissi cash transfer program in Togo is an example of why mobile broadband access is important in developing countries. To support struggling people in Togo during COVID-19, instant mobile cash payments were made to their mobile phones to address urgent needs. The program provided more than half a million people with financial assistance during a crisis.

Closing the Digital Divide Reduces Poverty

Experts suggest that funding infrastructure, increasing electricity access and developing approaches to support digital businesses will aid in economic recovery and continue to close the digital divide. While sub-Saharan Africa has seen an acceleration of mobile data traffic during COVID-19, more action still needs to be taken to support its citizens post-pandemic. Providing affordable access to mobile phones, mobile broadband subscriptions and internet access will help support the recovering economy and alleviate poverty in the region.

Diana Dopheide

Digital Gender GapAs the world becomes more technologically advanced and digitally connected, access to technology remains an issue, especially in developing countries. More so, the digital gap between women and men continues to expand, with 300 million fewer women than men using mobile internet, creating a 20% gap. The lack of access to digital devices for these women means being denied essential services including employment opportunities, financial resources, educational resources and medical information. There are several global initiatives trying to bridge the digital gender gap between women and men.


In Kenya, women are 39% less likely than men to have access to mobile internet despite women making up 51% of the Kenyan population. Safaricom, a mobile network in Kenya, therefore created a partnership with Google to offer an affordable smartphone, the Neon Kicka with Android GO, compromising 500 megabytes of free data for the first month. The mobile network believes that empowering a woman empowers an entire community and focuses on the following three barriers: affordability, relevance and digital skills. The company ensured that the price point was the lowest it could be and featured important content including access to health information and educational content to highlight the smartphone’s daily relevance for women. Safaricom recognizes that many women are not familiar with Gmail accounts and therefore developed a guide covering the basics of smartphone use.


Togo, a country in West Africa currently run by its first female prime minister, launched a digital cash transfer program called Novissi. Its goal is to provide aid to informal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, covering residents of three urban areas under lockdown. Many underserved women tend to be excluded from COVID-19 relief digital cash transfer programs launched by governments since they either do not have access to digital bank accounts or are uninformed. Through Novissi, women receive a monthly sum of $20, whereas men receive $17, to support the cost of food, communication services, power and water. The three additional dollars allocated to women account for the fact that women are more likely to be informal workers and take care of a family’s nutritional needs.

Wave Money

In Myanmar, Wave Money has become the number one mobile financial service, with 89% of the country benefiting from its agents. Since Wave Money deals with 85% of rural areas in the country, money enters and leaves from nearly every state and facilitates familiarity with the service. The financial service created a partnership with GSMA Connected Women to allow greater access to financial services for women. Through this partnership, women are encouraged to run Wave Money shops in Myanmar, providing them with extra income even if they live in very remote areas of the country.

Telesom Simple KYC Account

It can be challenging for women to acquire the identity documents necessary to open accounts with service providers. In Somaliland, Telesom created a simplified know-your-customer (KYC) account, allowing women that do not possess an ID to sign up for mobile money services. The service solely requires a name, date of birth, image and contact details, favoring accessibility and reducing the digital gap between women and men.

Equal Access International Partnership with Local Radio Station

In Nigeria, women and girls are denied access to technology due to the fear of moral decline that accompanies the widespread culture. Equal Access International recognizes the need to address societal norms for women and amplify women and girls’ voices. In an effort to do so, Equal Access International partnered with a local radio station in order to create a show that tackled cultural taboos and promoted women and girls using digital technologies. The episodes last 30 minutes and cover weekly themes including common misconceptions about the internet, internet safety and moral arguments regarding women and the internet.

Closing the Digital Gender Gap

Despite a digital gender gap that exists between women and men, organizations around the world are making an effort to foster a sense of inclusion and empowerment for women and girls to become familiar and encouraged to take on the digital world that is constantly emerging.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

Digital Divide
A report released by the World Bank shows that while technology has expanded, more people have remained poor. This phenomenon is often referred to as the digital divide.

The World Bank finds that more households in developing countries own a mobile phone than have access to electricity or clean water, according to “Digital Dividends,” its 2016 World Development Report.

The digital divide is created because most benefits for private enterprises arrive instantly, such as streamlined communication and information, online convenience and social connectivity throughout the global community.

The investments from these enterprises would ideally generate employment growth and services for those in the developing world — but progress there is more stagnant.

According to the World Bank report, digital dividends have not grown at the same rate as digital technologies because 60 percent of the world’s population does not have Internet access and are therefore unable to participate in the digital economy.

There are also emerging risks – such as polarized labor markets and inequality – that contribute to the digital divide. Routine jobs are replaced when technological advancements are made, which means more unskilled individuals compete for fewer low-wage jobs.

To combat these effects, solutions include infrastructure investment, providing worldwide Internet access and monitoring offline factors of technologies by region.

“While technology can be extremely helpful in many ways, it’s not going to help us circumvent the failures of development over the last couple of decades. You still have to get the basics right: education, business climate and accountability in government,” said Digital Dividends Co-Director Uwe Deichmann.

Education in the developing world can provide people with the skills needed to utilize digital technologies and become more productive in the workplace, which reduces polarity within the job market, according to the World Bank.

Accountable government agencies should implement policies and regulations that create a competitive digital market so that information costs go down and societies have the opportunity to become more inclusive.

Though growth has slowed in the developing world, organizations have found ways for the poor to benefit from the information and communication technology sector.

Question Box exists as a telecommunications network that provides populations suffering from high illiteracy rates and social or technical barriers with access to information.

According to the Guardian, Question Box has installed a series of ‘call boxes’ in areas of Uganda, that connect disconnected communities to someone with Internet access who can relay answers to questions regarding health, employment or other related issues.

Otherwise disconnected communities have the ability to create successful societies if given access to the digital information many of us take for granted.

Kelsey Lay

Sources: The Guardian, Question Box, World Bank 1, World Bank 2
Photo: Google Images