Refugees and Connectivity

GSMA Disaster Response

When refugees began arriving in Lebanon, local MNO touch saw not just a group of people in need of help, but also a customer base important enough to warrant the development of a refugee specific bundle. 

The refugee crisis generated by the Syrian war has impacted the whole Middle Eastern region, and beyond. Many countries have seen an influx as a result of this turmoil, among them Lebanon which has seen an overwhelming number arrive. According to UNHCR, Lebanon officially now hosts over 1 million refugees, but the true number is thought to be much higher – in a country of only 5.9 million. As result, one in four of those residents in Lebanon is now a refugee, the highest such ratio in the world.

Unable to afford international roaming services in Lebanon, Syrian refugees struggled to continue using their Syrian SIM cards

Contacting and staying in touch with families is a priority for refugees arriving in Lebanon. Many have left relatives behind in Syria, others have family members across the region and even in Europe. Unable to afford international roaming services in Lebanon, Syrian refugees struggled to continue using their Syrian SIM cards, travelling up and down the border in search of a strong enough signal to make a call. The aid response supporting them is simply not equipped to satisfy one of their most significant needs: cheap connectivity.

Touch, managed by Zain Group, is the leading mobile telecom operator in Lebanon, with a market share of 54%. Touch’s infrastructure and network, which cover 99% of the country, have been upgraded to cope with the demand associated with the population increase generated by the influx. In responding to the influx, the company saw an opportunity both to deliver the humanitarian aims of their Corporate Social Responsibility program Positive touch– and to reach out to a new and growing customer base.

 

al-tawasol-campaign

Click on the image to visit the Al Tawsol marketing campaign.

In May 2015 touch launched Al Tawasol (English meaning: to communicate)

When the refugees began arriving, the company’s baseline product was Magic, a 25 dollar prepaid bundle covering calls, SMS and data within Lebanon. Although affordable by Lebanese standards, the cost was too high for the incoming refugees, especially as the package did not include international roaming calls. Many are unemployed, living on savings, supported by family members, or dependent on aid agency support.

After extensive research, in May 2015 touch launched Al Tawasol (English meaning: to communicate), a product explicitly targeting refugees. Priced at just 11 dollars per month, it included 40 call minutes and 30 SMS to Syria, in addition to local Lebanese calls and SMS. The model adopted remained prepaid rather than post-paid as the company needed a minimum monthly expenditure to make the project viable. The package also incorporates data but with a limited capacity of 100MB: while some Syrians have smart phones many are still reliant on feature phones for whom data is less of a priority.

Having developed the product, touch faced a difficult marketing challenge. Despite their numbers, refugee populations in Lebanon proved hard to reach. Most are either in camps – to which access was limited by the aid agencies running camp management services – or distributed across the country, with a concentration in border areas and urban centres. The border areas presented a particular challenge as they have virtually no media coverage. Lack of access to camps and other refugee areas made even researching their audience exceptionally hard: for data security reasons, the information on refugees collected by the Lebanese authorities and aid organisations is highly restricted.

 

l Tawasol promotional poster illustrating the connection between Lebanon and Syria, Touch, Lebanon Photo credit: Touch

l Tawasol promotional poster illustrating the connection between Lebanon and Syria, Touch, Lebanon Photo credit: Touch

 

To reach their audience touch worked with the global media agency Mindshare. The campaign invested in highly targeted and visible marketing including billboards and leaflet distribution in refugee areas. They also worked closely with UNHCR and other aid organisations. The marketing team approached aid organisations with a proposal of including Al Tawasol package with aid deliveries, arguing that connectivity is indeed a basic need like water, food and shelter. They also worked with Lebanese government agencies to understand the geographical distribution of refugees.

Al Tawasol has been a success both in commercial and CSR terms. With no end to the war in sight, touch is looking at its refugee clients as long term customers.

On the ground, touch staff would set up stations outside camps and talk to those entering and leaving in an effort to tap into community networks and increase Tawasol service recognition among camp residents. A partnership with aid organisations allowed access to the camps where promoters talked to residents and distributed flyers about the service.

Another challenge was addressing security concerns. Many fleeing Syrians were deeply troubled about their privacy, fearing that their calls, accounts and identities could be tracked. Touch worked hard to remove this concern, promising them utter privacy.

The campaign was recognized at CommsMEA 2015 Awards, where it was awarded the Best Marketing Campaign of the year. Over 50,000 customers are now using the A Tawasol package.

For touch, Al Tawasol has been a success both in commercial and CSR terms. With no end to the war in sight, touch is looking at its refugee clients as long term customers.  As a result, the company plans to keep developing the product and increasing penetration, thus reaching more refugees. They are also looking to enhance the offer to include additional destinations other than Syria and Lebanon where refugees are also settling. After all, these refugees, wherever they reside, are in need of a simple, cheap bundle that allows them فخ stay in touch with those at home.

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