For most of the world’s population, mobile is the primary way to access the internet. Although access to mobile internet is driving digital inclusion, there is still a ‘usage gap’ with over 3.4 billion people living in areas covered by mobile broadband networks but who are not using mobile internet services. As a result, they are missing out from access to information, services and life-enhancing opportunities, such as health information and guidance, financial services and employment opportunities.
Unconnected populations are predominantly located in developing world markets, typically on low incomes and lacking basic digital literacy skills. Social norms and disparities between men and women in terms of education and income influence women’s reduced access to and use of mobile technology, with the result that women are 15% less likely to use mobile internet than men in low- and middle-income countries. How can the mobile industry and the supporting ecosystem address the ‘usage gap’ and bring the benefits of mobile internet to those left behind?
To help address this important challenge, the GSMA Innovation Fund for Mobile Internet Adoption and Digital Inclusion was launched in April 2020 with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Deutsche Gesellschaft fȕr Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the GSMA and its members. The objective of the fund was to open up opportunities for innovative start-ups and SMEs to address the key barriers of accessibility, affordability, digital skills, and safety and security that prevent many from connecting to mobile internet.
The GSMA received a total of 598 applications from start-ups and SMEs in 44 countries in response to the call for applications. After a rigorous evaluation process followed by selection from an independent panel of experts, we are now pleased to announce our 9 grantees:
- Africa 118 | Ethiopia | Digital marketing service provider for African SMEs
- Ensibuuko | Uganda | Technology solutions provider to community-based savings and loans organisations
- Knowledge Platform | Pakistan | Digital learning provider
- Navana Tech | India | Conversational AI provider for low-literate, vernacular speaking, mobile-first internet users
- ScholarX | Nigeria | Digital learning provider
- The Orenda Project | Pakistan | Digital learning provider
- Vceela | Pakistan | Online platform for artisans in Pakistan
- WidEnergy Africa Ltd | Zambia | One stop shop for community energy, water and connectivity
- Zonful Energy | Zimbabwe | Pay-As-You-Go solar energy systems provider
The GSMA is delighted to be supporting this extraordinary group of organisations who are more committed than ever to closing the mobile internet usage gap, and delivering lasting impact in their local societies and economies.
We will be working with the grantees over the next 18 months, supporting them to realise their full socio-economic and commercial potential through:
- Promoting partnerships between mobile operators and grantees to increase the reach of mobile internet to new first time users;
- Providing technical assistance on topics such as digital skills training, how to reach more female customers, addressing handset affordability etc.;
- Providing tools, templates and specialist advisory support to help improve the offering and evidence outcome;
- Support with scalability and sustainability planning; and
- Opportunities to promote and showcase the work.
Looking ahead, much more needs to happen if we want to build an inclusive digital society for all. Citizens are more likely to use the mobile internet if it is available, they can afford it, they have the skills and confidence to use it, and they trust it and feel safe whilst using it.
The new Innovation Fund will help us to identify innovative approaches to addressing the barriers to mobile internet adoption and usage. It will help us to test business models with the greatest potential for growth and impact in Asia and Africa. Along with this, it will provide lessons and examples on the ways in which mobile is driving positive socio-economic change.
We are excited to provide a deep-dive into each of the grantees’ solutions and to provide more information on how they are creating impact in their communities and economies through an upcoming blog series. Please refer to our website and social media channels for the blogs in the coming weeks!
This initiative has been funded by UK aid from the UK government and is supported by the GSMA and its members. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK government’s official policies.