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ITU Innovation Challenges 2020

Updated on May 14, 2020 660 views
ITU Innovation Challenges 2020


The 2020 edition of the ITU Innovation Challenge will be taking place amid a global pandemic caused by Covid-19. This has resulted in stress on value chains and countries’ readiness for a digital economy, significantly affecting social conditions worldwide. Global supply, production, consumption and delivery chains are disrupted. Traditional economies are struggling, as industries have not been digitalized and infrastructure is inadequate to cope with current stress levels.

Policy-makers and innovators worldwide are under pressure. Their communities must embrace a digital economy so that a semblance of normalcy can be maintained in these uncertain conditions. Therefore, the overall theme of this year’s challenges is Rethinking the digital economy’s value chains during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The challenge is a global open competition platform for innovators and ecosystem builders to present their ideas and projects, empowering them to transform their communities into thriving digital societies. 

Three opportunities to win

  1. Digital change-maker challenge: For innovators with ideas that create digital impact in their communities. 
  2. Ecosystem best practice challenge: For ecosystem builders with good practices that nurture an enabling environment for innovators in their communities. 
  3. Women in technology challenge: For innovators with digital projects that create impact for women in their communities. 

Women in technology challenge

Eighteen billion dollars could be added to the global GDP if women were as active as men in the digital sector. Join the challenge, and let’s make it happen!

 Current statistics show that we have a long way to go to close the digital gender divide. Women are significantly behind men when it comes to accessing ICTs, digital literacy skills, careers in ICT and digital entrepreneurship. 

 This challenge builds on successful efforts undertaken by the EQUALS Global Partnership to Close the Gender Digital Divide at ITU Telecom World 2019[1], as well as work by EQUALS partners such as World Bank[2] and Ernst & Young[3]

 ITU and the EQUALS Global Partnership will support standout tech innovators who are helping and empowering women to excel in the access and use of ICTs  to increase their productive and economic capacity in sectors such as agriculturetextiles and apparel, and health, and to build prosperous communities. 

 Digital agriculture solutions: may include knowledge platforms for agricultural production and marketing, climate-smart agriculture, precision agriculture, smart fertilizer and blockchain technology.

  • Digital textile and apparel solutions: may include clothing and garment design, smart tailoring, production lines, e-commerce solutions for SMEs, mobile banking, design thinking and technology innovation, and Internet of things for entrepreneurship.
  • Digital health solutions: may include AI, e-health applications, m-health and wearable devices.

Your solutions should:

  • Ensure that women are given access to ICT platforms, internet connectivity and digital tools; equipped with digital skills through training and use of tech tools; and/or offered chances to develop leadership potential (such as entrepreneurial skills, network building, financial inclusion, etc.) by being active members of the digital society.   
  • Focus on facilitating and improving processes in one of the selected sectors (agriculture, textiles and apparel, or health) in which women are represented in significant numbers as both business owners and workers, by supporting them to access and use ICTs for development through scalable innovative solutions that will help them increase their participation in the economy. 

Additional information for this challenge:

The innovation challenge is open to all eligible startups with a minimum of one (1) year in operation, legally registered and incorporated in a developing country and at least 30% or more women owned, managed and controlled.






Digital change-maker challenge

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) give individuals the opportunity to participate in a more equalitarian society, access resources more efficiently and participate in economic. However, not everyone enjoys these opportunities: almost half of the world’s population is completely disconnected, with a disproportionate share living in developing countries. However, digital transformation can help provide access to disadvantaged individuals and communities.

If the world is to close the digital divide and ensure equality and growth opportunities for all, global change-makers must bring new ideas, projects and solutions that address specific problems and consider all stakeholders in their communities. 

With the rise of entrepreneurial ecosystems and constantly changing technologies, many innovators are still not focused on solving the right problems. To bridge this gap, this challenge is looking for innovators with remarkable ideas that can create digital transformation in their communities.

To apply to this challenge, you must have an idea with a minimum viable project in one of the following thematic areas:

  • Capacity building: bringing digital skills to society.
  • Cybersecurity: solutions that promote online safety and security.
  • Digital inclusion: empowering people with specific needs; including indigenous peoples, people in rural areas, persons with disabilities, and youth and children.
  • Climate change and e-waste: helping countries mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
  • Emergency telecommunication: enhancing disaster risk reduction and improving national emergency telecommunications and early warning and monitoring systems.
  • ICT applications: enhancing citizens’ lives, promoting smart living and improving public service availability. 
  • Regulatory and market environment: enabling collaboration for a sound policy, legal and regulatory environment for digital development.
  • Technology and network development: enabling reliable ICT infrastructure and services for all.
  • Statistics and indicators: facilitating evidence-based data collection and analysis to measure the information society and promote informed decision making.

Your solution should:

  • Address a clear problem that stakeholders in your community are facing, especially considering value chain competitiveness and global disruption due to Covid-19.
  • Cover one or more of the thematic areas above.



Ecosystem best practice challenge

Building a Silicon Valley-like environment remains elusive for many countries and communities. It requires innovators to have access to the appropriate programmes, resources and policies to navigate technological change in their communities. However, in many, the crucial factors that lead to digital transformation are missing.

Every community should be empowered and equipped with the right practices to navigate technological change and global disruption. Each has strong practices supporting innovation which must be identified and amplified. However, there are also weak practices resulting in systemic gaps in every ecosystem.

Digital transformation of society requires recognizing and sharing ecosystem best practices from around the world with other countries to accelerate digital transformation.

To achieve this, the Ecosystem Best Practice Challenge is looking for ecosystem builders from around the world. To apply to this challenge, you must have an existing practice with proven results in one of the following thematic areas:

  • Guiding innovation dynamics: nurturing a mindset and culture of ICT-centric innovation (such as developing public policies for start-up visas or innovation; mentorship and innovation community-building programmes; and tax, start-up, procurement and investment laws).
  • Building innovation capacity: providing infrastructure and spaces to develop ICT-centric solutions (such as incubation and acceleration, entrepreneurial, research or university programmes).
  • Integrating ICT innovation in key sectors: enabling ecosystem initiatives that can digitally transform an economic sector’s value chain (such as tech parks or cluster development initiatives).

Your solution should:

  • Be evidence-informed practices that can be amplified and scaled at the national level.
  • Help other communities at the global level upgrade their practices to maintain competitiveness and innovation in their ICT ecosystems.
  • Provide an enabling environment that nurtures innovators to accelerate their ideas to market.

Additional information for this challenge:

The practice must be operational (not at an idea stage).



More Details About this Challenge can be Found on the ITU Website via

Note that each Idea has its own Application Link above.

Staff Writer

This article was written and edited by a staff writer.

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