Global South COVID-19 Digital Innovation Challenge

Scaling up digital innovations through South-South and triangular cooperation

Do you have a digital solution that addresses the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Global South?

The Global South COVID-19 Digital Innovation Challenge, in response to COVID-19, is co-organized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the  United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC). The challenge will identify scalable innovative digital solutions that will enable countries, societies, communities, institutions and individuals from the Global South to deal with the cascading effects of the pandemic – across governance, economic and social sectors, and wellbeing – and contribute to the organizations’ respective focuses on South-South cooperation and digital technologies. The Challenge objective is to promote South-South cooperation by replicating or scaling up existing innovations with a potential partner/ country in the South. The Challenge will provide a mentorship scheme to increase the potential/ capabilities of the selected proposals/ teams to scaling up innovations across developing countries.

Download the full challenge brief and Terms & Conditions

About the challenge

The COVID-19 crisis had an unprecedented impact on our society. Regardless of speculation about what the “new normal” will be, no one is certain about what the future holds. The crisis has exposed the fragility of the current system’s functioning across the globe, but has also provided a powerful lens to examine the underlying conditions that led to this fragility, and illuminated gaps in economic and social values chains, providing provided the opportunity to improve economic resilience and related issues.

South-South Cooperation, coupled with embracing new and innovative approaches, present an opportunity to respond to the current health emergency and far reaching socio-economic headwinds. Digital innovation reduces information and transaction costs, improves service delivery, creates new jobs, generates new revenue streams and helps conserve resources. Since the beginning of the pandemic, innovators have been responding to the crisis with a progressive approach.

Our goals

The Global South COVID-19 Digital Innovation Challenge aims to build a network of champions in developing-country ecosystems to:

  • accelerate the response to the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • grasp the current innovation impetus and bring innovative digital solutions into international development, and reach out to entities which are usually in innovation’s frontlines activities;
  • leverage South-South cooperation networks, platforms and funding mechanisms to achieve impact at scale through sharing and replicating selected innovations; and
  • provide open access to resources from the international expert community and build entrepreneurship capabilities for innovators in governments, intergovernmental organizations, private sector and start-up companies, research institutions and academia, and CSOs.

Challenge eligibility

Only legally registered organizations/institutions from developing countries [1] are eligible to participate in this challenge. The challenge is open to governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, private sector and start-ups, research institutions, academia, and civil society organization (CSOs).

Applying organizations/institutions must have an existing project or minimum viable product (MVP) [2] that:

  1. promotes South-South cooperation by replicating or scaling up existing innovations with a potential partner/country in the South,
  2. demonstrates a new innovative project/prototype, outlining its potential for scaling up through South-South cooperation, and
  3. is a digital solution

Only one submission per applying organization/institution is permitted (in case of multiple submissions, only the first one received will be considered).  All submissions must be made in the English language only. Applying organizations/institutions will be required to submit proof of their legal registration.

  1. These include the least developed countries, small island developing states, landlocked developing countries, middle-income, low-income countries, and countries with economies in transition.
  2. An MVP is a product with enough features that can be used by early customers and receive feedback for future development. 

Applicants’ projects/MVPs must fall into one of the following categories/topics:

  1. Enabling governments and communities to suppress the transmission of the virus
    • Use of technologies (such as AI, blockchain, IoT) for:
      • Social-distancing measures (e.g., logistics and distribution for local supply chains, digital aggregate platforms for food delivery)
      • Telecommuting solutions
      • Technology-based health solutions (e-health/ telehealth)
      • Learning and knowledge sharing through open educational resources (OERs), teleschooling (e-learning), etc.
  2. Mitigating the socioeconomic impact and safeguarding people and their livelihoods
      • Pilot or scale up digital cash transfers solutions
      • E-commerce solutions
      • Digital financial inclusion solutions
      • Digital rights- and security-related solutions with a special focus on vulnerable and digitally unserved groups
      • Food security and water management solutions
      • Incubating inclusive agribusiness
  3. #RecoverBetter
      •  Preparedness measures (e.g., contact tracing, testing and surveillance) by governments and communities
      • Skills development and digital literacy solutions for small, micro, and home-based businesses (particularly those owned by women and youth in the informal sector)
      • E-governance solutions (digitizing government functions)
      • Renewable energy for healthcare solutions

Steps to apply

  1. Register your solution on this platform and email your application.
  2. Once your submission is received, the overview of your solution will be visible on this platform.
  3. A selection committee will shortlist 20 – 25 best submissions.
  4. Selection committee will convene to select up to 10 finalists during a live pitching event.
  5. Submitters of the selected award – winning proposals are invited to a bootcamp.
  6. Implement/improve/scaleup proposed solutions by end of April 2022.


The organizations/institutions whose submissions have been finally selected by the selection committee as the winning proposals will through their appointed representatives:

  1. Attend a virtual boot camp to further refine their plans and their milestones (e.g. market entry, deployment, impact traction).
  2. Will be provided with seed funding up to USD 25 000 to implement/improve/scale up their proposed solution(s), with mentorship and training support, in a new market (developing country) by end of April 2022 (subject to the presentation of a sound budget and workplan with  clear milestones and budget allocation. The seed funding will be applied based on progress of implementation.) Both the seed funding will be provided by ITU subject to the terms and conditions of agreements signed between ITU and each winning institution/organization.
  3. Present virtually their digital innovation solutions/prototypes at UNOSSC’s annual Global South-South Development (GSSD) Expo and ITU’s 2021 Global Innovation Forum, where they will also share knowledge and explore opportunities for potential partnerships.
  4. Be eligible for additional fundraising and resource mobilization support from UNOSSC through a crowdfunding window of the South-South Galaxy platform.

Evaluation Criteria

The evaluation criteria below will be used by the selection committee for both the shortlisting of 20 to 25 best submissions, as well as and the final selection of the winning submissions. Each criterion has been assigned a percentage weight for scoring.

  • 20% for Relevance: Incorporation of South-South and triangular cooperation as a modality for replications and scaling up to other developing countries. The innovation should demonstrate how it will increase peer-to- peer learning among the Global South.
  • 15% for Adaptability: Should demonstrate its adaptability and replicability to local context
  • 15% for Sustainability: Support sustainable and continuous response to Covid-19 crisis and its short or long-term impact.
  • 15% for Viability: Demonstrate viability of the solution in terms of its effectiveness and feasibility.
  • 20% for Partnership: Engagement with local partners in other developing countries to assure viability in local conditions, and to promote sustainability and scalability of the solution.
  • 15% for Impact: The innovation much showcase how it has the potential to impact lives and drive socio-economic benefit, most of all among vulnerable and excluded populations.

Key dates

  • 2 June 2021 Challenges launched
  • 15 July 2021 Application deadline
  • 05 August 2021 Candidates shortlisted
  • August-September 2021 Pitch live event and final selection of proposals
  • 1 -15 October 2021 Virtual boot camp
  • 19-20 October 2021 GIF 2021 and other events
  • October 2021 to April 2022 Implementation period


July 15, 2021
Program dates Aug 5 - Sep 15, 2021
Organizer ITU
Website Visit website
Africa, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Micronesia, Nicaragua, Northern America, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South-eastern Asia, Southern Asia, Southern Europe, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Uruguay, Venezuela, Western Asia
Sectors Sector agnostic
SDG (17) All