Building and strengthening holistic digital ecosystems through strategic partnerships

COVID-19 has emphasised the importance of digital humanitarian assistance. As social distancing requires increased remote delivery of services and information, mobile network operators (MNOs) are leveraging their core services to serve the public, and partnering with governments, humanitarian and broader development organisations to provide an array of critical services. Essential use cases include the delivery of financial assistance through mobile money and the dissemination of health messages through bulk SMS. However, to deliver humanitarian assistance in this way, a fundamental requirement is that a digital ecosystem must be in place.

At a minimum, when using mobile-enabled services, pre-requisites like an existing mobile network and phone ownership among target audiences must be met in order to use these channels. Beyond this, once a holistic, fully-functioning digital ecosystem is in place, mobile technology is uniquely positioned to deliver transformational impact to those in need. To maximise this impact, all stakeholders seeking to leverage mobile technology must both understand and work towards the development of a robust digital ecosystem.

A fully functioning digital ecosystem is one where:

Recipients of humanitarian assistance can use mobile-enabled services safely and independently to improve their lives, build resilience and engage in and grow the local economy;
Humanitarian practitioners leverage mobile technology to deliver humanitarian assistance quickly and efficiently; and
MNOs provide essential products and services to an active, digitally included population.

One way in which the GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation (M4H) fosters the development of holistic digital ecosystems, is through the programme’s Strategic Partnership team, which provides technical assistance to catalyse partnerships between MNOs and humanitarian organisations.

Our latest report, ‘Building and strengthening holistic digital ecosystems demonstrates how, through the provision of 24 partnerships spanning nine countries across the globe, strategic partnerships are enabling the creation of sustainable and potentially scalable digital humanitarian solutions.

Image is an infographic taken from within the report. Text reads: Formed 24 partnerships generating 29 projects in 9 countries: Burundi, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda. Engaged over 30 humanitarian organisations, 17 MNOs, 5 fintech companies.
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Projects include facilitating the use of voice identification technology to verify recipients of mobile money enabled CVA in Somaliland and the development and support of consortiums that enable collaboration between stakeholders from across the humanitarian and mobile sectors to improve the collective impact of humanitarian assistance.

Learnings from these projects identified three overarching themes that make up the building blocks necessary to create and strengthen digital ecosystems:

  1. Developing strategic partnerships: Recognise the value proposition and align expectations;
  2. Shaping an enabling environment: Understand the necessary conditions (including regulatory and policy environment to infrastructure) for mobile-enabled interventions to be successful; and
  3. Building an ecosystem with users: Ensure market readiness and interventions are tailored to local contexts.

Long-term partnerships between MNOs and humanitarian organisations are essential to developing holistic, fully-functioning digital ecosystems. A well-developed digital ecosystem has the potential to not only provide people affected by crisis with a suite of life-enhancing mobile services, but also strengthen the business case for MNO and private sector involvement by expanding the addressable market and the range of digital products, services and platforms that can be offered and scaled. 

As humanitarian assistance is increasingly digitised, it is more critical than ever to create environments where appropriate, context-specific, mobile-enabled services can be used to better serve those affected by crisis. This report aims to add to the evidence base of the different ways to build and strengthen digital ecosystems so that partners can deliver their services more efficiently.

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