Mobile networks have become the primary way of accessing the internet in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), driving economic growth, enabling access to life-enhancing services, and creating multiple opportunities for people and businesses to thrive. In fact, at a time when we are facing a global COVID-19 pandemic and ‘lockdown’ in many of our communities, a mobile connection can be a lifeline and the only way for people to access essential information and services such as health and educational content as well as to connect virtually with friends and family.
However, there remains a significant portion of the population who remain offline. These citizens tend to belong to the most marginalised groups and are disproportionately rural, female and illiterate. Women, for instance, are 20% less likely to use mobile internet than men in LMICs.
While the reach of mobile networks has expanded significantly in recent years, there is still a ‘coverage gap’ of over 750 million people who live in areas that are not covered by a mobile broadband network. There is also an increasing and much larger ‘usage gap’, with 3.3 billion people covered by a mobile broadband network but who are not using mobile internet services. Based on current trends, 40% of the population in LMICs will still be offline by 2025.
To help address this important challenge, today we announced the launch of the GSMA Innovation Fund for Mobile Internet Adoption and Digital Inclusion, aimed at supporting innovation that increases mobile internet adoption and usage for the underserved not currently able to use mobile internet services. This new Innovation Fund complements our previous Innovation Fund for Rural Connectivity as we work to identify and support innovations which can help drive digital inclusion and ensure no one is left behind in an increasingly connected world.
This Fund will allocate grants of up to a total value of £2.5 million, provided by funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and facilitated by the GSMA Connected Society programme.
The objective of the fund is to support solutions that tackle one or more of the following barriers to mobile internet adoption:
- Accessibility: Innovations which improve the accessibility and usability of handsets and mobile internet services for citizens who are unable to access them. This will not include accessibility to networks, electricity or IDs.
- Affordability: Innovations which improve affordability of handsets and mobile internet services.
- Digital skills: Innovations which focus on improving basic digital skills and confidence to use mobile internet.
- Safety and security: Innovations which focus on improving safety and security of those who want to use mobile internet. This will not include tacking issues of data privacy and fraud.
The GSMA believe that a considerable effort still needs to be made to increase digital inclusion. This fund will provide local innovators with the opportunity to create and scale relevant solutions which tackle key barriers to mobile internet adoption and usage for under-served population groups, including women, in developing countries.
The Fund is open to applicants delivering impact in both Africa and Asia regions and is looking for start-ups or SMEs willing and able to work with mobile operators on projects which advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to digital inclusion.
Funding of up to £250,000 per project is available. This will fund either an innovative new product, service or business model or the expansion of an existing product or service to reach groups who are digitally excluded, within existing or new markets.
Applications will be assessed through a two-stage application process. Concept notes should be submitted between now and 22 May 2020. The selection of projects to be funded will be finalised in late September 2020 by an independent panel of experts.
For detailed information and requirements, please click here.