3 Key Trends from Round 2 of the GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation Fund

During Mobile 360 Series – Africa in July 2018, the GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation Fund (M4H) opened the call for Round 2 (grants of £100,000 and £300,000) for projects in Asia Pacific, Latin America, MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa.


This Round was dedicated to finding projects which will test new mobile-enabled technical solutions, catalyse ideas to improve or transform institutional systems to empower, assist or protect individuals and communities affected by complex emergencies and forced displacement. As a secondary focus, applicants were asked to target one of the programme’s five thematic areas (1) Mobile Enabled Utilities (2) Gender & Inclusivity (3) Mobile Financial Services (4) Digital Identity (5) Food Security, Adaptation & Resilience to Climate Change.


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  • 264 applications for projects active in 77 countries
  • The majority of eligible projects addressed critical contexts in Sub-Saharan Africa (62%) and only 2% of all projects were to be implemented across multiple regions (e.g. Nepal and Uganda)
  • On project impact, applicants said they would address 16 out of the 17 SDGs, with SDG 1 (No poverty), SDG 3 (Good health and well-being) and SDG 5 (Gender Equality) coming out on top.
  • 41% of eligible proposals had a Mobile Network Operator or Private Sector organisation as a project partner.
  • 55.4m GBP was the total amount requested by all applicants. This signals the continued need for increased resources devoted to innovating humanitarian response.




Trend 1: East Africa remains a hotbed of Humanitarian Innovation

In Round 1 (2017), Kenya, Uganda, Philippines and Nepal were clear hotspots for innovation. For Round 2 (2018), this trend continued as Sub-Saharan Africa boasted 62% of eligible applications, coming out top overall. Projects largely targeted Kenya (17%), followed by Uganda (13%), Tanzania (7%), and Rwanda (5%). In Asia Pacific, we saw new market trends emerging in Bangladesh (6%), India (4%), and Pakistan (3%). Whilst in Latin America, Colombia (3%) was most common and Jordan (3%) leading in the MENA region.

In East Africa, this trend highlights the number of humanitarian organisations increasingly seeking new models to answer questions about longer-term sustainability in their programme planning. Indeed, as the humanitarian sector gravitates towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) we can expect to see more opportunities for the private sector and mobile operators specifically to expand their many offerings to traditionally excluded segments such as refugees and internally displaces persons (IDPs).


Trend 2: Projects targeted more themes than expected with 20%+ of projects cutting across 3+ themes

Of the 5 thematic areas applicants were asked to select a primary and secondary focus area only. However, most applicants opted to select more than one theme. In fact, more than 20% of all applicants proposed projects which would cut across 3 or more themes.

This highlights how mobile technology presents opportunities to tackle the myriad ways in which users/beneficiaries are affected by complex emergencies and forced displacement. For example; PAYGO smart devices might be being used to improve water access in overpopulated refugee settlements addressing “Food Security, Adaptation & Resilience to Climate Change”, “Gender & Inclusivity” and “Mobile Financial Services”.



We saw this as a strong call to action and as evidence that M4H’s cross programme approach was more critical than ever. We will continue to strengthen our collaborative research and engagement work across GSMA’s M4D programmes, specifically:


Trend 3: Mobile technology is being used in a multitude of ways

Projects which would empower users or communities (41%) were the most common ‘type’ of innovation and many proposed USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) to send texts between users/beneficiaries and humanitarian organisations.

Not far behind, was innovation for ‘institutional change’ (38%) where mobile technology would be used to address issues of aid accountability, improve reporting structures or inter-agency coordination, for example, to reduce time in getting critical information to people.



To tech optimists, this highlights the role technology might play to improve aid accountability in the longer term. Technology alone, however, cannot overcome prevalent and systemic challenges without investing in people to accept, adopt and interact effectively with these tools (“change management”). Indeed, we’ll be keeping a keen eye out for strong projects in Round 2 and 3 which have considered resources for change management and understand how to make their project sustainable beyond the lifecycle of the grant.

The shortlist will be presented to an independent Fund Panel and Successful grantees will be announced in early 2019. In the meantime, find out more about the progress of Round 1 Disaster Response Grantees.


Thanks to Dario Giuliani and Matthew Downer for their analysis work.



This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.

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