Our team looks back at a decade of change and discusses what's next in our evolution
An introduction from the Head of Mobile for Development
What we've learned over a decade of M4D
Globally, the number of unique mobile subscribers reached the 5 billion mark in 2018. Since early 2019, more than 4 billion people in emerging markets, or 62 per cent of the population, can benefit from the access to mobile. Ten years ago, about a third of the mobile subscribers had a mobile internet subscription, today it is more than two thirds who are active mobile internet users, representing more than 2.6 billion people. This revolution in mobile access worldwide has impacted social systems and shifted the way people communicate and access to information, to an extent difficult to fully apprehend.
In 2013, access to the internet via mobile phones passed the point of parity with fixed broadband, and increasingly, mobile has become the entry port to the Internet for those covered by mobile broadband networks. In the 18 Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) surveyed by the GSMA Intelligence Consumer Survey in 2018, an average of 57 per cent of respondents who had used the internet in the previous three months accessed it exclusively on a mobile phone. This reliance on mobile for internet was even higher in certain countries and regions – for example in Myanmar 94 per cent of respondents accessed the internet only on a mobile device.
4G will soon become the dominant mobile technology, surpassing half of global mobile connections in 2019, while 5G networks are in planning. Reflecting on these past ten years, the growth of mobile ecosystems and their maturation has paved the way for the launch and scaling of foundational services such as mobile money and digital identity. In an era of growing inequalities, an important question remains on how these digital solutions can offer development organisations potential to increase aid effectiveness for everyone and unlock new ways to deliver socio-economic impact.
Mobile ownership, and mobile internet adoption, still remain far from universal. Across LMICs, 15 per cent of adults still do not own a mobile phone and 45 per cent do not use mobile internet and if current trends continue, more than 40 per cent of the population in LMICs will still be offline in 2025. These individuals tend to belong to the most marginalised groups: they are disproportionately rural, illiterate and older. They are also predominantly female.
It cannot be assumed that these underserved groups will automatically adopt mobile as time progresses because they face substantial barriers around access and usage that they may not be able to overcome through their own agency. While the reach of mobile networks has expanded spectacularly in recent years, there is still a “coverage gap” of 750 million people globally who live in areas which are not covered by mobile broadband networks and 3.3 billion people are covered by mobile broadband networks but not using mobile internet services (the ‘usage gap’).
The main challenge to solving the coverage gap is an economic one; building network infrastructure in remote locations is normally not commercially viable as the cost of the infrastructure can rise to double and the revenue generated (from a sparser and poorer set of customers) can be ten times lower. Ways to tackle this economic challenge include looking at how innovations in infrastructure can reduce costs as well as reviewing the regulatory and policy frameworks.
Barriers to adoption and usage coalesce into five main areas: accessibility, affordability, skills, relevance, and concerns around safety and security. Concerted effort is needed to tackle these barriers, for example, the cost of smartphones may have reduced but for many of the world’s poorest they are still out of reach. Another key consideration is acknowledging that those individuals not using mobile internet include people with low literacy levels and poor to non-existent digital skills. One way that the GSMA is working to resolve this barrier is through the Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT), designed to introduce customers to the mobile internet and provide them with the skills necessary to use popular applications.
In the case of humanitarian work, the GSMA believes inclusivity is a foundational pillar of the humanitarian ecosystem. Humanitarian organisations must be cognisant of not marginalising vulnerable groups, such as women and persons with disabilities, when introducing digital solutions. Vulnerable groups are often disproportionately affected during and in the aftermath of crises due to pre-existing cultural or social barriers and stigmas. Estimates indicate that more than 75 per cent of refugees and displaced people are women and children.
While still a nascent area, digital technology may better prepare vulnerable populations for natural disasters and help alleviate some of the gaps in humanitarian assistance. However, their different needs and social conditions must be taken into account in order to ensure that no one is left behind, particularly in a humanitarian crisis. For instance, GSMA M4H research found that refugee women in Bidi Bidi settlement in Uganda are 47 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone than men, and experience numerous barriers in accessing and using mobile phones such as literacy, digital literacy, and often have limited livelihood opportunities impacting their ability to afford mobile handsets and/or airtime. By understanding women’s unique needs and barriers to mobile access and use, humanitarian organisations and mobile operators can work together to reduce the mobile gender gap in refugee contexts and provide tailored solutions. Landscaping the digital humanitarian ecosystem offers more insight into the different needs of vulnerable groups and the tailored digital solutions that can help these groups overcome some of the barriers they face in humanitarian crises.
Another fundamental aspect of digital inclusion is universal design. Digital inclusion can only be achieved if the most underserved populations are placed at the centre of product and service ideation, design and development. Developing products that deliver real value for population groups like women, persons with disabilities and the elderly, as examples, grow the relevance of mobile and mobile-based services for these customer segments. However, creating valuable services is not enough and successful adoption and repeat usage of these services is only achieved if they are appropriately marketed and designed to meet the needs and technical capabilities of these customer segments.
Engaging with users reveals how they become aware of new services, who their main influencers or gatekeepers are, what their needs and aspirations are – all factors which should inform the product design. Involving users in every step of the product development process reveals any pain points they may experience along the customer journey – from awareness, adoption and navigation, or payment. For example, research conducted by the GSMA mHealth and Connected Women teams revealed that users may be more likely to adopt a new product if they are offered a free trial, suggesting that more creative pricing is required for price-sensitive users.
Previously if we were paid cash, the money was spent lavishly. But since they started paying us through the mobile money account, I am able to manage it very well. This helps me to have financial stability.Grace, a cocoa farmer from Nankese, Ghana.
Remembering the early days of mobile money, there was a lot of uncertainty and not many success stories. Fast forward to its second decade, the mobile money industry continues to reach new heights. Today, many industry players have scaled, growth in transactions and accounts is steady, mobile money has become the absolute essential innovation, intersecting with almost every other development topic and it is enabling a breadth of partnerships in humanitarian, in agriculture, in energy, etc., many of which were not imagined in the early days of mobile money.
Figures from our latest State of The Industry report demonstrate the scale and health of the industry. With 866 million registered accounts and live services across 90 markets, the mobile money industry is offering a financial future to millions of customers around the world. No longer simply a service to “send money home”, today millions of consumers are using mobile money in their daily activities; to pay for their children’s school fees, to access loans to invest in their farming activities, to save for the financial future of their household, and to anticipate and mitigate financial risks and shocks.
The third Global Findex shows transformative progress in financial inclusion around the world, with 515 million more adults reporting account ownership in 2017 than in 2014. The mobile money industry has played a pivotal role in this journey. An impressive growth of more than five percentage points in financial institutions account ownership is witnessed across thirty-one markets since 2014 which can be attributed to the growth in active mobile money use. The majority of these countries are in Sub-Saharan Africa, where mobile money is the leading force for financial inclusion with 21 percent of adults having a mobile money account (nearly twice the share in 2014).
What has underpinned this success? Regulation calibrated to enable low-cost services for the financially excluded has been essential. Today, most successful providers overwhelmingly operate in markets where regulation is enabling. Industry leaders in these markets adopted a myriad of strategies but shared key business characteristics: understood the market context and launched a product with a strong initial go-to-market proposition (or a hook product), got the basics right by building a robust agent distribution network acting as the face of mobile money to digitise and disburse cash, continuously invested in business in the early days with a long term overview on success and scale.
The success and the growth of mobile money services also had a knock-on effect on multiple sectors, one of them being the off-grid energy sector. More than 1 billion people remain off-grid, but in less than five years, the solar pay-as-you-go (PAYG) model has improved the quality of life of some eight million people, primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa. The growth of the PAYG solar industry, particularly in East Africa, is closely linked to the success of mobile money in the region. Increasingly, the symbiotic nature of this relationship is being proven. In markets where mobile money is nascent, utility payments are sometimes the first time customers are interacting with mobile money, not only for electricity access but also water. Utility applications are helping the mobile money providers acquire new customers, scale agent networks to rural and off-grid areas, facilitate digital financial literacy and generate frequent account activities. Increasingly the PAYG business model is being replicated to assets like agricultural equipment and smartphones.
Given the benefits of digitising humanitarian cash and voucher assistance (CVA)– increased transparency, reduced risk of theft and fraudulent activity, greater freedom for beneficiaries – humanitarian organisations are increasingly distributing cash via digital modalities. Mobile money is a viable solution for cash aid delivery, whilst also offering access to life-enhancing services such as identity-linked services and educational and health information through voice and data channels. However, investment in tailored customer service, infrastructure, hardware, and time are all key to ensuring the successful deployment of mobile money enabled CVA.
M4H’s report, Mobilising cash and voucher assistance programmes: The case for mobile money, highlights how mobile money can facilitate access to a suite of mobile-enabled products for forcibly displaced populations and the broader host populations. M4H field research found that over half of the refugee population (59 per cent) in Kiziba Camp in Rwanda, uses mobile money, which is higher than the host community (36 per cent) and presents opportunities for stakeholders to offer mobile money enabled CVA to this population. In Zambia, UNHCR has reported a decrease in the time it is taking to complete the stages of the executing mobile money CVA, from months to days.
4 billion unique mobile subscribers, 2.7 billion mobile internet users, 299 million active mobile money users: in emerging markets, mobile operators have reached an unprecedented scale. Nevertheless, these mobile operators face a plethora of challenges. Sustainable competitive advantage in the telecommunications sector is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve. Digital disruption has made it difficult for mobile operators to keep up with the accelerating pace of innovation.
Now looking at start-ups ecosystems in the same markets, the situation is the other way around. Despite an increasing number of mobile products and services solving critical local challenges and driving tangible socio-economic impact in emerging markets, reaching scale is still a challenge for most. According to VC firm Partech, in 2018, out of the 54 African countries, only 146 tech start-ups raised a total of just over US$ 1 Billion in equity funding. This is roughly five times less than start-ups in a country like India, comparable to Africa in terms of population. Beyond funding, access to market also remains a challenge for start-ups.
Today in emerging markets, more than anywhere else, there are opportunities for mobile operators and start-ups to collaborate. Mobile operators have reached the scale that start-ups lack, while start-ups have the local innovation mobile operators need.
Donors have played a vital role to support emerging digital ecosystems in developing markets, providing ‘risk capital’ for innovative ideas that companies may not have had resources to pursue otherwise. A notable example is DFID’s early investment in Safaricom’s M-PESA, which enabled the service development team the freedom to experiment. This helped grow the seed of an idea, which first aimed to allow microfinance institution customers to repay small business loans, to the flourishing financial service that by 2016 had lifted 194,000 households, or two percent of households in the country, above the poverty line, as well as being predicted to generate 50 per cent of Safaricom’s revenues between 2019-2022.
As the world grapples with the realities of achieving the ambitious UN Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear that we need to continue finding new ways to collaborate across the public, private and development sectors. Harnessing the power of mobile will be critical to progress across all 17 goals, therefore it is key to progress across all sectors of society. The GSMA National Dialogue initiative recognises this need, convening key government ministries – such as ICT, finance, planning, gender, energy, agriculture, health etc. – with mobile industry leadership and the development community to demonstrate how mobile can be a positive force for societal change and build a collective vision to deliver on this opportunity. For each country of engagement, an action plan is developed to help government and private sector to work together to create new social and commercial value and deliver on the SDGs through mobile.
The social impact of digital is profound: for individuals, mobile phone ownership supplemented with internet access is associated with an improvement in how people evaluate their own lives, as evidenced by Gallup’s analysis showing increases in both average life evaluations and net positive emotions. At the macro-economic level, it’s now beyond question the economies of the future will be digital. World Economic Forum and Accenture analysis estimates the combined value of digital transformation to industry and society at $100 trillion over the next decade.
If embraced, the mobile-enabled digital revolution powers the destruction of silos: between programmes, departments, donors and sectors. This enables the creation of collaborative, cross-sector models of partnership that can in turn accelerate action and impact. A thriving, sustainable private sector is vital to development.
Doing good through good business is vital to development, but it is also increasingly vital to business viability in a rapidly changing world: greater sustainability can help businesses overcome global burdens to growth and deliver trillions in new market value. Therefore, new business and partnership models will be vital to unlocking the potential this presents.
Over the last decade, convergence between models is becoming prevalent, from messaging platforms such as WeChat getting into payments space to ride-hailing apps such as Grab venturing into logistics and food deliveries. A similar trend is also observed in the mobile for development space, where mobile money providers are shifting towards a ‘payments as a platform’ model, connecting consumers with third-party services across a range of industries such as utilities, agriculture, health and humanitarian. In this platform-based model, it is essential to lay the groundwork for the financial and technology ecosystems to grow around the core mobile service, expanding the range of products available to customers and spurring local entrepreneurialism and innovation. This can only be achieved through creating a more accessible environment for third parties through APIs and through solutions such as IPN hub, which provides a single point of integration between mobile money providers and the growing solar PAYG sector.
However, creating a more accessible environment for third parties is not just a technical challenge: it spans the business and requires a fundamental shift in mind-set from strategy and governance to legal contracting, data protection, enterprise customer support and customer experience management. The key difference between this new approach of being more open to partnerships and the legacy approach is that barriers are lowered to enable the entire ecosystem to develop innovative products and services, rather than focusing on selected external partners, one-on-one negotiations and integrations. Implementing this new strategy may involve embracing a combination of approaches, such as partnerships with players who were regarded as competitors in the past, incubators, direct investment in or acquisition of fintechs or other innovators, and fostering innovation internally.
By implementing new digital technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data, organisations are finding new ways to strengthen the efficiency of their programmes, make better informed decisions, and reach more people with fewer resources. Early blockchain projects are being used to improve people’s access to self-sovereign identities, bring new levels of transparency to the distribution of international aid, and improve the efficiency of humanitarian cash transfers. Early evidence shows that these projects could provide MNOs with new opportunities to support their development partners, create new revenue streams, reduce their Know-Your-Customer (KYC) compliance costs and related barriers, and contribute to the SDGs.
Organisations are finding new ways to use AI to mine huge amounts of complex data, revealing insights and connections that can inform more inclusive business models and address many development and social challenges. For instance, the GSMA’s Gender Analysis and Identification Toolkit (GAIT) uses a machine learning algorithm to analyse mobile usage patterns and help operators predict the gender of their subscribers. The information gap the toolkit addresses is an important one: understanding the nature and scale of the mobile gender gap is a prerequisite for closing it.
MNOs can also help solve complex problems by providing powerful and unique insights based on anonymised, aggregated network data. GSMA has shown how Mobile Big Data can be used to improve public health organisations’ response to epidemics and plan targeted health interventions, or allow governments to better understand the impact of pollution and climate change on citizens. It can also support emergency relief agencies to more accurately and efficiently direct their resources in times of crises. For instance, Turkcell has developed a powerful real-time analytics tool – ‘Galata’ – which combines more than 100 billion events per day to enable the governmental emergency response and aid agencies to make better-informed and time-sensitive decisions before and during natural disasters.
Basic and feature phone technologies have revolutionised how people in emerging markets interact and the power and pervasiveness of these technologies remain today undeniable. 181.3 million-unit feature phone shipments were shipped in India in 2018 while Africa’s mobile phone shipments were down 1.9 per cent year-on-year in 2018, basic and feature phones accounting for 59 per cent of all mobile phone shipments (215.3 million units), compared to 41 per cent for smartphones. Why are basic and feature phones still so relevant and widely used today? First, feature phones are simple, cheap and functional, making them the technology of choice for many consumers at the bottom of the pyramid. People with higher incomes are much more likely to own smartphones than those with lower incomes.
Second, since electricity is still inaccessible to a sizable population, particularly in rural areas, mobile users are more likely to own basic and feature phones since they have long-lasting battery life. Finally, feature phones enable all mobile users to access what we refer to as “low-tech” offline channels, such as voice, IVR, SMS, USSD and mobile money services. Despite the growth of social messaging apps, in 2019 there is still no text-based or voice-based channel that has been adopted more than GSM based voice and SMS. In Tanzania, almost 25.7 billion local and international SMS messages were sent in the last quarter of 2018, a 63 per cent increase from Q4 2016. USSD also still holds weight in many emerging markets: over 90 per cent of mobile money transactions in Africa in 2018 were completed using USSD.
In this context, we are calling emerging markets’ start-ups to consider the low tech opportunity and mobile operators to deploy developer-friendly APIs for 3rd parties to access these low-tech but high reach channels.
USSD, the dominant channel for accessing mobile money services, was not originally designed for customer-facing applications and therefore has restricted capabilities, such as limits on character count and a narrow range of languages.
With sales of basic/feature phones predicted to grow as mentioned by Maxime Bayen, it is safe to assume that a considerable proportion of low-income individuals will continue to use feature phones in the coming years. While designing a user-friendly USSD interface should be a top priority, providers should not ignore the other opportunities that feature phones present. Feature phones currently run on a myriad of operating systems, drastically limiting the ability of third parties to innovate and create new apps that can be deployed on these phones. Recognising this gap, Google last year invested in KaiOS, a company that has built an operating system for feature phones and is currently the world’s third most popular mobile OS, outpacing iOS in emerging markets like India. This will create an exciting opportunity for mobile money providers, start-ups and local entrepreneurs to innovate and leverage KaiOS’s app store for widespread distribution of their services.
Future growth in mobile internet and smartphone adoption is projected to come from emerging markets. This means that social interactions which previously took place in the analogue world will increasingly happen online, through social and messaging platforms. Mobile money providers must therefore also cater to the evolving needs of customers and offer them a similar level of user experience to which they are accustomed. They will increasingly need to move at two speeds, simultaneously innovating for feature phone and smartphone customers, and ensuring that UI and UX are optimised.
It’s as if [the doctor] is sitting right in front of us, so we can tell her our problems, and then she advises us. She tells the nurse which medicines we need, and then prescribes them. I can see a huge difference in my health.”Khatoon, a patient using video consultation through mobile in Pakistan.
As citizens move from paper-based to digital forms of identification, mobile operators will find new opportunities to unlock access to a wide range of critical services, including those offered by public institutions. The Government of Rwanda has established a digital platform, called Irembo, to provide a one-stop portal for over 80 (as of May 2019) e-Government services, including paying taxes, registering land, scheduling vaccinations, applying for community-based health insurance, and applying for a new National Identity Card. There are also now over twenty services available on Irembo that users can apply or pay through mobile money using any type of mobile phone (relying on USSD). For authentication purposes, having an active mobile number and a National ID card are prerequisites for registering on the platform.
The digitisation of agricultural value chains is a key emerging area and offers growth opportunities for mobile operators. In developing countries, agriculture contributes between 10 per cent and 35 per cent of GDP. Typically, close to 50 per cent of the labour force is employed in agriculture. Overall, 475 million smallholder families across Africa, South and Southeast Asia and Latin America depend on agriculture for the livelihood.
Smallholder farmers and agribusinesses however face many inefficiencies within agricultural value chains, primarily related to the predominance of cash but also to lack of agricultural assets (tools and inputs), inadequate knowledge and practices, and lack of visibility into the value chain. The mobile industry has an opportunity to address these challenges. Mobile operators can target growth of consumer and enterprise businesses in rural regions by partnering with AgriTech innovators to develop digital tools that lead to business performance improvements for both smallholder farmers and agribusinesses. These solutions enable agribusinesses to digitise payments to farmers for the procurement of crops via mobile money, improve control and monitoring of operations, transparency of transactions and the establishment of effective communication channels with smallholder suppliers.
Among these, the transition from cash to mobile money payments to smallholder farmers drives mobile money adoption in rural areas. Crucially, the digitisation of agricultural value chains enables the creation of economic identities for farmers via digital records from the sale of agricultural produce, which in conjunction with other farmer and farm data points generated by digital tools, can open up to full financial inclusion, enabling farmers to access credit and reinvest in their farms.
As the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, companies are seeking to harness new and emerging technologies to reach higher levels of efficiency of production and consumption, expand into new markets, and compete on new products for a global consumer base composed increasingly of digital native.
There is a real question about the disruptive power of digital technology, and how that will impact societies, especially workers. On one hand, connectivity can create more entrepreneurship opportunities, and flexibility; on the other, we know that the confluence between pervasive connectivity, artificial intelligence and automation will make redundant millions of low skilled jobs. Although job websites and programmes are expanding in developing countries, major obstacles remain in matching up skills, positions, and locations. Additionally, new skills are required in an age of automation and technology.
In most developing countries, large shares of workers remain in low-productivity employment, often in the informal sector with little access to technology – in India, for example, over 90 per cent of the labour force is working in the informal economy (India Ministry of Labour & Employment Survey 2013-14). So how do you prepare for that future? This can start with investing in education & training, to ensure everyone can become proficient with ICT; but also upskilling and make organisations more resilient to technological changes.
Mobile technology is uniquely positioned to provide and enable tools for climate change mitigation, adaptation, weather disaster response, pollution and environmental monitoring. At the same time, the mobile industry as a whole can significantly reduce its environmental footprint through more sustainable practices and operations. Mobile operators can drive change in both of those opportunity areas if best practices and technical support are available to them. A variety of digital tools and technical solutions have already emerged to strengthen the climate resilience of populations. Mobile-based weather forecasts and agri-climatic advisory, for example, provide already information to help vulnerable smallholder farmers dependant on rain-fed agriculture adapt to climate change.
Beyond the dissemination of information via mobile phones, mobile technology is also becoming more and more crucial to bridge the data gap in weather monitoring and forecasting. For example, microwave data from backhaul networks and mobile-based geo-location data (GPS, cell ID) can be combined with big data from satellites and sensors to create flood warnings or hyper-localised forecasts for communities that are vulnerable to climate change. In addition, services such as digital weather and crop insurance are replacing features of a traditional insurance model with technology based solutions, such as the use of mobile technology to locate, register, and pay farmers via mobile money, presenting an opportunity to boost the uptake of insurance for climate adaptation and resilience.
By 2050, the global urban population will grow to around 2.5 billion people by 2050, with almost 90 per cent of the growth coming from Asia and Africa. For cities and the utilities operating therein, this presents challenges such as water shortages, poor sanitation, unreliable power provision, traffic congestion, and a lack of affordable housing. Mobile solutions such as prepaid smart meters coupled with digital payments through mobile money, and system monitoring can be critical to reducing operational costs and preventing losses for the utilities. For instances in the water sector, our study with CGAP revealed that the introduction of digital payments increased water service provider revenues by 15 to 37 per cent, while decreasing collection costs by 57 to up to 95 per cent. In sanitation sector, which faces more challenges than utility sectors, mobile technology plays a critical role in ensuring the linkage between different stages and stakeholders along the value-chain.
Humanitarian crises present a daunting challenge to the humanitarian and private sectors. The UNHCR yearly Global Trends report found that 70.8 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2018, representing the highest number in the organisation’s almost 70-year history. Eighty per cent of them live in countries neighbouring their countries of origin. These crises are more prolonged, displacement lasts an average of 10 years, and conflict continues to be the main driver of humanitarian needs. Moreover, UN OCHA estimated that in 2019, there will be 150.5 million people in need of humanitarian aid, and in 2018 this came at a cost of approximately US$22.5 billion. A digitally connected ecosystem—accessible and sustainable mobile-enabled services—can play a central role in supporting people affected by crises. With 93 per cent of refugees covered by 2G and 3G networks, this rapid expansion is offering new opportunities for digital humanitarian response.
There is an increasing appetite from humanitarian stakeholders to collaborate in new ways with the private sector, in order to integrate innovation and use technology to increase accountability, efficiency and impact. For instance, UNHCR has implemented IRIS registration of 2.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt with IrisGuard, demonstrating UNHCR’s willingness to employ digital identity solutions.
In low- and middle-income countries, the mobile gender gap persists. Women are still 8 per cent less likely than men to own a mobile phone, 20 per cent less likely to use mobile internet, and 33 per cent less likely to use mobile money. As mobile technology continues to be a critical enabler of economic growth, if women are digitally excluded then they will be increasingly economically and socially excluded as well. Urgent, targeted action is therefore required from the mobile industry, policy-makers and other stakeholders to help drive female digital and financial inclusion.
Using an engagement framework built around five themes (accessibility, affordability, usability and skills, safety and relevance), the Connected Women programme facilitates the development of strategies by mobile operators to close the gender gap in mobile access and use. The first step in the framework is to size the mobile gender gap and for many mobile operators an obstacle to doing this is knowing the gender of their own customer base. As previously mentioned by Matt Wilson, the GSMA Gender Analysis Identification Toolkit (GAIT) can help solve this problem via using a machine learning algorithm that analyses mobile usage patterns to estimate the gender of subscribers.
The mobile gender gaps are driven by a complex set of socio-economic and cultural barriers that can be very context specific. These barriers, and also the drivers, to women’s mobile usage can change depending on the local context as well as the stage of the customer journey for example what stops a women first using mobile could be family permission however what prevents them from adopting mobile money could be that they don’t perceive it to be relevant to their day-to-day lives.
Market-specific social norms are crucial to understand as they can also have a large impact on women’s mobile adoption and use. For example in South Asia, due to fears around the potential negative sides of the internet (e.g. exposure to illicit content or inappropriate communication with/from men) an important trigger for women’s mobile internet adoption can be use cases that have externally justifiable rational benefits. While the risks can’t be ignored, these types of use cases help to persuade gatekeepers that access to mobile internet will benefit the entire household.
In terms of exclusion, few are more excluded than people with disabilities. Today, about 1 billion have some forms of disability, with up to 190 million facing severe impairments, making it hard to navigate society and much-needed services. Research shows that in many countries, a disability and development gap is growing: unless people with disabilities are routinely included in development efforts, their socioeconomic status often remains static while the status of their non-disabled peers surges ahead. Another striking statistic is that only 10 per cent of PWDs have access to the assistive technology they require to live more autonomous lives.
As more services are becoming digital by default, there is a risk that PWDs might be left behind once again from the series of services, most of us use today. A shift needs to happen to consider universal design when launching new products and services, as a way to expand the symbiosis between technology used by/for people with disabilities and everyday products. Everyone should be able to access information or use a product and/or service easily. The advancement in AI also promises important breakthroughs, such as solutions like SeeingAI, relying on a smartphone camera to describe a picture or a person’s surroundings. With support from DFID, the GSMA launched a new programme dedicated to Assistive Tech and how connectivity and the use of mobile channels could support the development of assistive products, but also to make mobile services generally accessible to everyone. Part of the AT2030 programme, the GSMA will collect this year evidence about the digital inclusion gap for PWDs in Kenya and Bangladesh.
Recent technological advancements can have a positive impact on the barriers that lead to digital, financial and social exclusion. However, all initiatives using new technologies should be deployed in a manner that respects an individual’s privacy and incorporates principles of ‘privacy by design’. Due to low levels of digital literacy, many low-income consumers do not see the importance of keeping their personal information, or their mobile devices, secure and private. New mobile services should allow informed, meaningful user consent and control over personal data, and privacy protections should be proactively embedded within the design of any applications to prevent harm and minimise vulnerability. Education campaigns around mobile privacy, and the risks associated with user behaviour, can address this knowledge gap – whilst also helping ensure that mobile users’ privacy and data security rights are respected. Countries embarking on a digital transformation journey with inadequate privacy or data protection frameworks are likely to face calls to introduce better or new consumer safeguards. Stronger regulatory policies that promote transparency in how personal data is used and tools for consumers to make simple and meaningful choices about their privacy are potential solutions.
With the increasing use of digital tools such as biometric solutions and mobile money by humanitarian and private sector stakeholders, the onus is on these actors to protect beneficiaries’ data, ensure beneficiary consent, and create awareness on how their data may be used. These steps can also help in building trust between humanitarian stakeholders and their beneficiaries, many of whom are in vulnerable situations.
Closely related to trust is ethics. Innovations in the humanitarian sector are providing new opportunities for communities and individuals to access and interact with humanitarian services. Questions are raised about how much focus is given to the unintended consequences or unforeseen risks these interventions may produce. Where innovation can be seen as a proxy for experimentation, great care is needed when trialling new and developing solutions, especially where these are targeted at reaching vulnerable populations in humanitarian contexts. There is an opportunity to further leverage the experience of both MNOs and humanitarian actors, bringing together expertise on user experience testing and the humanitarian principle of ‘do no harm’. In the digital context, sectoral guidelines including the ‘Principles for Digital Development’, remain ever important.
It is clear that mobile access has the potential to include and encourage greater economic and social inclusion for vulnerable groups, such as refugee women and refugees with disabilities. Recent GSMA research in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement, Uganda and Kiziba camp, Rwanda, demonstrates the benefits of mobile phone access and use for women, including an increased sense of safety and security, better access to important information and the ability to connect with diasporic loved ones.
We used to buy water. One day they brought me a 70 USD bill and that made me sick. Before this system, I did not control my bills, but now I control my bills and I don’t spend a lot of money.Halima, a customer using mobile payments for water utilities in Niger.
The biggest world economies are facing growing social inequalities and are increasingly struggling to deliver inclusive growth. As mentioned in the previous sections, mobile continues to demonstrate its power as a transformative tool in emerging markets, uplifting people from poverty and improving the level of access to basic services. Such lessons could be applied in high GDP markets where basic connectivity is almost universally available, although the affordability of broadband remains an issue for low-income groups.
Our recent report, Accelerating Digital Inclusion for the underserved in high GDP markets, examines the role of mobile technology in accelerating digital inclusion and improving the socio-economic conditions of underserved and marginalised populations in such markets. Addressing the needs of underserved groups, such as the elderly, low-income populations, persons with disabilities, homeless persons and refugees, through mobile technology is both an opportunity and a responsibility for the mobile industry.
Our research and interviews suggest that the GSMA is uniquely positioned to play an active role in the digital inclusion ecosystem in high GDP markets. Given the unique strengths of our industry programs and vast experience with multi-stakeholder programs, we are pursuing the opportunity to work with established players in the field to push cross-industry initiatives to meet the needs of the underserved. Moving forward, the GSMA Digital Equity Initiative seeks to support and partner with organizations currently utilizing mobile and digital tools to enhance socio-economic conditions for underserved and marginalized users in the United States.
More broadly, our research has shown us that a focus on collaboration between the private sector, public sector and civil society organisations is crucial for achieving sustainable impact in these contexts. It is also important to employ the triggers that drive digital inclusion (e.g. inclusion by design, offline support, multi-stakeholder participation), but also to address the challenges technology poses for user privacy, the potential bias of artificial intelligence (AI) and the unintended consequences of technology in general. For example in the UK, the government’s embrace of digital technology and automation was especially visible in universal credit, where the digital-by-default approach excluded people with no internet access or skills.
We are excited to see what developments come from this emerging space over the next decade of our work, and encourage you to reach out to us and to join us on this journey by signing up for updates across M4D.
Beneficiaries over the last 10 years
Key milestones in our 10 year history
iPhone is launched; the most advanced consumer smartphone.
Safaricom launches M-Pesa in Kenya thanks to the UK Department for International Development (DFID) seed funding
The Mobile Money for the Unbanked programme is established, initially with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Green Power for Mobile programme is established to “extend mobile beyond the grid” thanks to International Finance Corporation (IFC) funding
First 4G rollout begins in Africa (2009) and in APAC (2010)
The mAgri programme supports M-Kilimo Farmer Helpline in Kenya, one of the first mobile-based agricultural advisory services for smallholder farmers, backed by the Rockefeller Foundation
The mWomen initiative received initial funds from USAID
Partnering with Lighting Africa, a joint IFC and World Bank programme, the Community Power from Mobile programme is established to provide excess power generated by off grid base stations to local, off-grid communities
GSM networks cover around 70 per cent of the developing population, up from 37 per cent in 2009
The mWomen programme is established with the support of USAID, DFAT and Visa to enable underserved women to own and benefit from mobile phones and reduce the mobile gender gap
The mFarmer initiative launches supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID to use mobile communication to provide advisory services to smallholder farmers
Disaster Response programme is established to strengthen access to communications and information for those affected by crisis
Mobile Money publishes the first State of the Industry Report on Mobile Money
Access to the internet via mobile phones passed the point of parity with fixed broadband, ending the year at 36 per cent penetration of population against 35 per cent of households with home broadband
The Mobile for Development Utilities (M4DU) programme is established with the support of DFID to unlock access to essential utility services through mobile
M4DU Innovation Fund launches and provides early funding to some of the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar home system (SHS) pioneers of today (M-Kopa, Fenix and PEG)
M-Pesa surpasses 13 million accounts
mNutrition initiative is established backed by DFID to support mAgri and mHealth programmes, including the launch of mHealth partnerships in 8 African countries
UN launches Sustainable Development Goals under 2030 Agenda and recognises ICTs as fundamental enabler to sustainable global development target, enshrined in SDG Target 9.c
The Connected Society programme is established with the support of DFID aiming to target barriers to digital inclusion
The Digital Identity programme is established with the support of DFID to leverage mobile technology as an enabler of digital identity and associated services which provide social and commercial value in developing markets
The Humanitarian Connectivity Charter launches to support mobile network operators in improving preparedness and resilience among mobile networks
Mobile operators in the Connected Women working group reach over 15 million women with women-focused offerings
mHealth reaches 1.6 million African mothers and fathers of children under 5 with mobile-based maternal and new-born child health and nutrition information
Ecosystem Accelerator programme is established, backed by DFID, and launches an Innovation Fund
Mobile Money publishes the first set of harmonised mobile money APIs
Connected Women launch their Commitment Initiative where mobile operators commit to increase the proportion of women in their mobile internet and/or mobile money customer base by 2020
mAgri reaches 3 million active Agri value added services (VAS) users across 6 markets: Ghana, Malawi, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh & Myanmar
Mobile Connectivity Index launches to help to measure the performance of countries against the key enablers of mobile internet connectivity
5 million unique mobile subscriptions worldwide
The Instant Payment Notification (IPN) Hub launches in Rwanda, to provide a single point of integration between mobile money providers and the growing PAYG sector
Collectively, the organisations funded by M4DU Innovation Fund have raised more than £223 million in follow-on funding after receiving GSMA support
GSMA becomes co-founder of EQUALS, the global organisation dedicated to promoting gender balance in the technology sector and Chair of the EQUALS Access coalition
GSMA Disaster Response Innovation Fund launches with support from DFID
GSMA National Dialogues, powered by M4D, launches to explore new models of public-private collaboration
90 countries, 272 deployments and 866 million registered mobile money accounts
Mobile Money programme launches the Mobile Money Certification scheme: a global initiative to bring safer, more transparent, and more resilient financial services to millions of mobile money users around the world
Mobile Money Regulatory Index launches to measure the effectiveness of mobile money regulatory frameworks
The GSMA and DFID establish the Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation (M4H) programme to accelerate the delivery and impact of digital humanitarian assistance, including an Innovation Fund to promote innovation in the use of mobile technology to address humanitarian challenges
Connected Women sizes the mobile internet gender gap for the first time in its annual Mobile Gender Gap report
Connected Society Coverage Maps launch to help drive investments in expanding mobile infrastructure
Connected Society Innovation Fund for Rural Connectivity launches to support innovative mobile internet connectivity solutions for unconnected rural communities
The Commonwealth Digital Identity Initiative launches, supported by DFID and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), to help provide access to a digitally enabled identity for every woman and girl in the Commonwealth by 2030
Funded by AT 2030, the Assistive Tech programme launches on 3 December for the International Day of People with Disabilities to address the digital inclusion gap of persons with disabilities, and identify innovation opportunities for making mobile technologies enablers of AT
As of the end of Q1 2019, 81 operators across 52 markets had announced plans to launch mobile 5G services
The Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund portfolio of start-ups have reached over 2 million beneficiaries, had 18 MNO collaborations & raised £38 million crowding-in funding
38 mobile operators have made 53 Connected Women commitments and have reached over 16 million new women with mobile money or mobile internet services
156 mobile network operator signatories of the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, operating in over 108 countries
mAgri, rebranded AgriTech, launches its Innovation Fund to scale digital solutions for the agricultural last mile and improve smallholders’ financial inclusion, livelihood and climate resilience
CleanTech programme is established
The Mobile Money programme launches the Inclusive Tech Lab: a GSMA-led global industry initiative that will take a hands-on approach to research, testing and development of the inclusive technologies of the future.
The number of registered mobile money accounts surpasses one billion (December 2019).
The work of Mobile for Development impacts the lives of 74.2 million people and counting…