Christopher Fabian

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Christopher Fabian
Born1980 (age 38–39)
OccupationTechnology designer, lecturer
Known forRapidSMS, UNICEF Innovation Fund, Global Innovation Centre, U-Report, RapidPro, EduTrac, Technology in Emergencies

Christopher Fabian (born April 18, 1980) is a technologist who co-founded UNICEF's Innovation Unit with Erica Kochi in 2006. He currently runs UNICEF Ventures - and makes investments into open source technologies that can provide solutions to societal problems, particularly those facing children. Between 2007 and 2015 he held the role of Senior Advisor on Innovation to the Executive Director at UNICEF. Fabian spent a year (2010) as Senior Advisor on Innovation to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General. In 2015 he led the launch of UNICEF’s Innovation Fund,[1] a pooled funding vehicle built to quickly assess, fund and scale companies, teams, and ideas that have been developed in new and emerging markets.[2][3]

Fabian is known for his work on tools for children and communities in low-infrastructure environments, including the Digital Drum, U-Report, and RapidSMS, which has evolved to RapidPro — a free, open source framework for rapidly building mobile services for scale.

In 2013, he and Kochi were on the Time 100 list of global influencers.[4]

Personal life and early work[edit]

Fabian studied philosophy at the American University in Cairo and at Trinity College in Dublin. He also holds a degree in Media Studies from the New School in New York, NY.

Before joining UNICEF, Fabian founded companies in Africa and the Middle East.

Work at UNICEF[edit]

Since 2007, Fabian has been Senior Advisor on Innovation to the Executive Director at UNICEF. He co-founded UNICEF's Office of Innovation, which focuses on connecting those with good ideas to those with the means to take them to scale.[5] Since 2015, UNICEF convenes these networks of changemakers primarily through the Unit’s Innovation Fund and its Global Innovation Centre, which Fabian helped launch in 2015.[2] The Global Innovation Centre, based in Nairobi, helps take successful ideas to scale and cultivates South-South innovation.[6]

The Office of Innovation has developed open source tools for improving basic health and communication in low-infrastructure regions. It has helped build the largest mobile health system in the world in Nigeria, which has reported on more than 17M births by SMS. Other tools include U-Report, which enables over 3 million young people in 34 developing and developed countries to be connected to decision makers via SMS, and globally via Twitter.[7] The Office of Innovation has also used real-time SMS to help stop the spread of Ebola,[8] smartphones to register children after a disaster, and tablet-based games to teach kids in Sudan.[9][10]

Fabian has advocated for technologists in the development space to incorporate UNICEF’s Innovation principles. These Principles, such as be open source, build with local technologists, and build for sustainability, are used widely in the international development community.[11]

In 2011, Fabian advised on the creation of a framework of innovations labs linking WHO, UNDP, UNICEF as well as public and private-sector partners around in-country innovation. In 2013, Fabian helped launch the Child Friendly Technology Framework (CFT), 52 worksheets used for brainstorming and project planning when an idea for a project with a technology component is focused on children and adolescents. In 2015, Fabian designed the first Global Innovation Summit for Children, co-organised by UNICEF and the Ministry Foreign Affairs of Finland.

Fabian was also a producer of the virtual-reality film Clouds Over Sidra,[12] created by The film follows Sidra, a 12-year-old girl that has fled her home in Syria due to the ongoing crisis and found herself in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp.

UNICEF Innovation Fund and Ventures[edit]

As of 2017, the Innovation Fund holds USD $11 million and has made over 30 investments in 26 countries, primarily in open source technology companies. In 2016, it added a UNICEF Ventures fund for small, early-stage investments.[3] in 2016, Fabian has worked to build platforms that can allow for rapid development, testing, and deployment of new technologies and approaches to solving problems. Ventures work has included investment in “frontier technology” such as Drones, UAVs, data science and machine learning. Examples include the UNICEF Drone Corridor in Malawi, in 2016,[13][14] and the "Magic Box" platform for working with large realtime datasets. The Magic Box platform allows companies like IBM, Google, and Telefonica to pool data so it can be used to make realtime decisions in emergencies.[15][16][17]

Lectures and philosophy[edit]

Fabian believes that technology is not the end-product of innovation, but a driver of new ways of thinking about development problems. He talks about the importance of open-source projects, learning from failure, and having solutions designed and built by local talent.[18]

He lectures about South-to-North and South-to-South innovation, and developed a "Design for UNICEF" course which he taught at New York University (co-taught with Clay Shirky) and Columbia University. He has also taught or lectured at the Art Center, Aalto University, Harvard University, IIT Delhi, Singularity University, and Tsinghua University.


  • Novus Summit award, for work toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[19] (2016)
  • Fast Company's "Most Innovative Companies in the World in Local": recognizing UNICEF for RapidSMS.[20] (2014)
  • Time 100 Most Influential People (2013, with Erica Kochi)
  • Disruptor Foundation Fellow[21] (2013)
  • Industrial Designers Society of America: Gold & Silver Awards for improving the lives of the underserved, & integrating real-time data.[22] (2012)
  • "RedHat prize", for being one of four top open source projects.[23] (2012)
  • Gov 2.0 Summit Award, for RapidSMS (2009)


  • "Innovation for International Development: Navigating the Paths and Pitfalls", on "The Balancing Act of an Innovation Unit."[24] (2016)
  • "How The Tech Sector Can Help Stop Ebola" (2014)[25]
  • “The Ethics of Innovation” (2014)[26]
  • “Adolescent Girls and Technology, Supporting Participatory Engagement.” Chapter 7 in Adolescent Girls, Cornerstone of Society (2012)[27]
  • “Using Mobile Technology to Unite (for) Children.” Chapter in Mobile Technology for Children: Designing for Interaction and Learning. (2009)[28]


  1. ^ "UNICEF Innovation Fund". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  2. ^ a b "UNICEF Innovation adopts new models of investment to give poorest children better opportunities". UNICEF. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  3. ^ a b "UNICEF Ventures". UNICEF. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  4. ^ Dorsey, Jack. "The 2013 TIME 100". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  5. ^ "Why 500 change-makers from around the world are coming to Helsinki to innovate for children, and why you should join – Stories of UNICEF Innovation". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  6. ^ "Global Innovation Centre (GIC) – Stories of UNICEF Innovation". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  7. ^ "Voice Matters". U-Report. Twitter account: @UReportGlobal. Retrieved 2017-03-23.CS1 maint: others (link)
  8. ^ "Ebola Fighters Enlist Texts in Bid to Curb Outbreak". 2014-10-23. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  9. ^ "RapidFTR serves as a force for change in some of the world's most complex emergencies – Stories of UNICEF Innovation". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  10. ^ "Education (or lack thereof) in El Moshamir – Stories of UNICEF Innovation". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  11. ^ "Principles – Stories of UNICEF Innovation". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  12. ^ Clouds Over Sidra: A Virtual Reality (VR) film | (360 video), retrieved 2017-03-23
  13. ^ "Malawi tests first unmanned aerial vehicle flights for HIV early infant diagnosis – Stories of UNICEF Innovation". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  14. ^ "The Government of Malawi and UNICEF announce first humanitarian drone testing corridor in Africa – Stories of UNICEF Innovation". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  15. ^ "Telefónica joins UNICEF's "Magic Box" initiative to drive the use of Big Data for Social Good". Telefónica. February 28, 2017.
  16. ^ Stone, Judy (July 27, 2016). "Your Phone Could Help Cure Zika -- And TB, Ebola And Other Devastating Infections". Forbes.
  17. ^ "Google says its engineers working with UNICEF to map Zika". Reuters. March 3, 2016.
  18. ^ Gould, Elizabeth (November 19, 2015). "Teachings from Helsinki's Slush 2015: the cosmic egg of global startups". Venture Burn. Retrieved January 11, 2016.
  19. ^ "Christopher Fabian (Unicef Innovation Fund) – NOVUS Award Ceremony, NOVUS Summit 2016". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  20. ^ "The World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies In Local | Fast Company". Fast Company. 2014-02-13. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  21. ^ "Disruptor Foundation".
  22. ^ "UNICEF Project Mwana: Using Mobile Technologies to Improve the Lives of Underserved". Industrial Designers Society of America - IDSA. 2012-06-14. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  23. ^ "A Billion Thanks to the Open Source Community from Red Hat". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  24. ^ "Innovation for International Development | Nesta". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  25. ^ Contributor. "How The Tech Sector Can Help Stop Ebola". TechCrunch. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  26. ^ "The Ethics of Innovation". Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  27. ^ By New School University and UNICEF
  28. ^ Mobile Technology for Children, Alison Druin, 2009. ISBN 978-0123749000

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