Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director talks about the importance of championing the new UN Innovation Toolkit. She explains why innovation needs to become the UN’s new normal and shares examples of impact of how UN Women is incorporating innovation into its work.

In our latest strategic plan we deliberately placed innovation at the heart of our work. The size, the complexity and the multiple layers of gender inequality the world is still facing drove this decision. Since then, a wide range of innovation initiatives - often powered by technology-  such as Buy from Women , African Girls Can Code, blockchain, big data and digital finance, have enabled us to reach a much larger number of women and girls with critical information and services. We have reached them quicker - sometimes in real time - and at a much lower cost.

Armed with innovation, youth can take over Beijing’s vision

Moreover, our bold shift to embrace innovation is helping us connect with the youngest activists in society, the so-called ‘early adopters’. As we approach the 25th anniversary of the visionary Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action for advancing women’s rights, we are gearing up to rally even more young people. Through our intergenerational campaign, Generation Equality, we are targeting young Youtubers, app designers, girl coders and many more. Our goal is to inspire them to take over, to become the next generation of women and girls’ rights activists and to use innovation to demand that the 189 countries that signed up to the Beijing Declaration deliver on their commitments.

A break into new ground to win men and boys over

But innovation is much more than the use of new technology and often entails breaking new ground. For example, a few years ago we innovated with the HeforShe social mobilization movement. Unlike past initiatives mostly designed by and for women and girls, this time - after some internal convincing -  we decided to focus on reaching as many men and boys as possible, both influencers and ordinary ones. With the ultimate goal to shift social norms about gender, we engaged them online and offline and won them over. Mainly thanks to social media, in only six months, we surpassed our earlier reach. We enabled men and boys from across the world to become spokespersons for equality on a variety of social channels and media and provided millions of them with the space and opportunity to voice their commitment towards women’s and girls’ rights.

Pulling down the big barriers to innovation

As I often say to my UN colleagues, our world has changed forever and, unless we innovate, we may fail to deliver for women and girls at the scale and pace that is needed. In our day-to-day work with governments, we need to push and help them to create an enabling environment and to pull down the big barriers to innovation, such as the lack of access to energy, broadband, and affordable data, just to name a few. To achieve this, our commitment towards innovation needs to be more ambitious and move beyond the small interventions where the conditions are favorable and the infrastructure to support innovation exists. That’s why I am excited about the recent launch of the first-ever UN System-wide Innovation Toolkit. This new resource, which is now available online to everyone working across the System, is an important step towards helping all of us to use innovation in our everyday work - no matter where or in what role we operate. It provides the entire UN family with the means to test new ways of doing business and to accelerate gender equality. Only then will we reach the women and girls that most need innovation and that are already being left behind.

Learn more about the new UN Innovation Toolkit here or write to:  The Toolkit was launched on 21 November 2019.The opinions expressed in our blog posts are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of UNSSC, the United Nations or its members.