The UN Is Throwing Its Weight Behind 14 Tech Startups Taking On Humanity's Big Issues

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When you think of the United Nations, you probably don’t think of emerging tech like drones or floating fabrication labs. But those are exactly what the staid international organization, which turned 70 this year, wants to use to address issues humans face across the globe.

I went to the UN Headquarters for the Solutions Summit last weekend, which spotlighted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the 14 winning startups chosen from over 800 entries via science ministries of countries on all six continents. These startups were chosen by the UN to tackle global goals from clean water, green energy, sustainable infrastructure, and zero hunger. These issues aren’t particularly new, but the means by which the startups are approaching them certainly are: tree-planting drones, e-waste recycling centers, and fab labs that float down the Amazon.

“Often the governments come together cross-functionally when we’re at war, but we need the governments do it when we’re at peace,” Megan Smith, the Chief Technology Officer of the United States and former vice president of Google X, told me. “So we wanted to bring this to the UN so that our policy colleagues can see the way we techies roll—that we come together in collaborative communities.”


So, here at Gizmodo, we’re kicking off a special 14-part series that’ll spotlight each of the winning startups. You can catch them as Morning Inspiration stories, which we post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning.

It’s important to keep in mind that these Sustainable Development Goals apply to all UN member states, including developed nations like the US.

In fact, Megan Smith thinks that American can learn from many countries—she points to Estonia. Estonia is well-known (and envied) around the world for its “e-government,” in which citizens can vote, pay taxes (which takes just minutes), and get medical prescriptions instantly online through one website. Estonians even get a card with a microchip embedded that grants them access to 4,000 services from banking to fishing license applications. “We work with them all the time,” Smith says.


To push nations to take cues from each other in a collaborative way is the idea behind these goals–stay tuned to learn more about the winning startups, and how the tech industry’s showing the world a thing or two about developmental diplomacy.

Top image: AP