About the challenge

Cartedo and UNICEF

In early 2020, when the world was experiencing its first hard lockdowns, the United Nations identified youth as a group that was ‘most vulnerable’ to the impacts of COVID-19, while also being “critical to limiting the virus’s spread and its impact on public health, society, and the economy at large”. A need arose to transition young people from a position of passive receivers of information, to active citizens in the fight against the pandemic, and; connect learning to communities – at scale.

The main challenge UNICEF had identified was that due to the novelty of the Coronavirus, there was no precedent set on how to respond and engage with youth. Cartedo, an online learning platform, ran a series of co-design sessions with youth around the world to understand how the pandemic was affecting them directly and what challenges were emerging, from their perspective. Eight key thematic areas emerged: job loss, homebound income generation, education on COVID-19, sanitation and hygiene, loneliness and depression, mask availability and disposal and stalled learning. In discussions between UNICEF and Cartedo, it was decided that a challenge-based learning programme would uncover the real needs of youth, while at the same time, equipping them with design and creativity skills to empower place-based responses and solutions to the pandemic.

About the solution

Cartedo utilized its digital learning platform to launch the ‘COVID-19 Youth Innovation Challenge’ for 7 weeks in 5 languages (English, Swahili, French, Arabic and Portuguese), and attracted 90 000 youth from 166 countries around the world. 

Youth were guided through Cartedo’s human-centred design process, exploring a chosen thematic area, and were supported in designing a solution to a specific challenge they identified. This digital design challenge produced almost 60 000 ideas from around the world, with almost 10 000 pursued to the prototyping stage. Participants were young people who, predominantly, had never studied design or thought of it as a career, but with the right support, were able to conceptualise and produce tangible solutions to local challenges.

Some of the ideas include, in Burundi, an online platform to support continuation of learning; the creation of a rainwater filter to support handwashing; the production of radio and television shows, and a website, dedicated to raising awareness of COVID-19 and key protection messages, including the promotion of videos teaching how to make your own mask utilising easy-to-find materials. 

In Malawi, youth designed an offline mobile learning app to make e-learning work in the face of low digital literacy and poor infrastructure; another app aimed at enabling the elderly to stay at home while still accessing the basic supplies and services that they need; a hand sanitization unit to promote touch-free disinfection in public places.

In Nigeria, top ideas included an online marketplace for female sellers, a digital platform for accessing PPE and factual information about COVID-19, a solar-powered water supply to aid hand-washing, a booklet to help children continue learning who have no access to digital or remote learning means.

Cartedo partnered with impact hubs and innovation labs in several countries where the most promising ideas were identified and then taken forward, with design and business support for the young designers.