News & Events

CUNY and UNICEF join forces to promote innovation on a global scale

January 22, 2014

Back in July, CUNY students gathered at UNICEF’s New York headquarters to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts at the culminating event in the inaugural CUNY Designs for UNICEF Challenge. This program was conceived of and developed by Vice Chancellor for Research Gillian Small and the UNICEF Innovation Unit co-lead Christopher Fabian. The program was designed to tap into the vast talent of CUNY’s diverse student population to propose and scale innovations with the potential to reduce the approximately 7 million preventable child deaths that occur every year across the globe. As Vice Chancellor Small has asserted, “many of our students come from these countries; who better to understand the problems and to come up with inventive, low tech solutions for them?” In essence, it is a crowd-sourcing experiment with a social-innovation bent: how could compelling student ideas grow into viable, scalable solutions when paired with the institutional expertise and resources of UNICEF?

Students at CUNY self-organized into teams, and were asked to tackle the five main killers of children worldwide – pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea, pre-term birth complications, and complications during birth. During the four-month design process, these teams were connected to UNICEF’s global network of experts and resources for guidance and support.

Represeting Team Bridge Pure Water, members Hosea Mak and BiBi Ghafari hold up their winning product.

Represeting Team Bridge Pure Water, members Hosea Mak and BiBi Ghafari hold up their winning product.

Forty-five (45) teams representing 15 CUNY schools participated in the 6-month application process with 7 teams making it to the final round of the competition.  The winning teams demonstrated a creative problem solving approach and design process that has the potential to evolve and positively impact UNICEF programming in the field. They will receive support from CUNY to travel to a UNICEF Country Office to prototype their solution with end-users.

The 3 winning teams are:

A Bridge to Pure Water, from College of Staten Island, developed a photo-catalytic film that increases the efficiency of water purification. The film can be inserted into a plastic bottle, where it reacts with sunlight to inactivate bacteria. Team Members: BiBi Ghafari, Hosea Mak, Yamina Kezadri, Yang Liu, Yuanyuan Zha.  To watch their video, click here.

Creative Solutions, from Macaulay Honors College and Baruch College, proposed to strategically introduce oral iron supplements in the form of a hard candy through community-based organizations and partnerships with local universities.Team members: Rajshekhar Basak, Kristy Timms, Patryk Perkowski, Shehab Chowdhury, Slava Brodetskiy.  To watch their video, click here.

In Her Hands, from Macaulay Honors College, proposed a platform for maternal health education that integrates social and economic opportunity through a mentor-mother model. Team members: Agnieszka Gugala, Bianca Malhotra, Kate McQuater, Swathi Mummini, Jasmine Varughese. To watch their video, click here.

An honorable mention went to QC Engineering Brigade of Queens College for their invention of PedalPure, an open-source, modular water-purification system that uses bicycle power. Team members: Arunprakash Kumarakrishnan, Aditya Kumarakrishnan, Thomas Esch, Ze’ev Landau.

To learn more about winning teams and this year’s upcoming competition, please visit