M4H Innovation Fund COVID-19 adaptation: The impact and reach of grantees’ responses

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on global, social and political systems continues to have adverse consequences for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. Isolated communities lack access to essential services and lifesaving commodities, while more vulnerable groups such as women and those with disabilities continue to face increasing rates of abuse and stigmatisation. Small and medium firms have gone out of business as a result of lack of local economic activities and refugee settlements and internally displaced person (IDP) camps are witnessing rising number of diseases, hunger and deprivation of clean energy and/or water.

Against this backdrop, innovation in the humanitarian space has become even more important as organisations are forced to adapt to this ever changing situation, through more creative and novel approaches. Many organisations now have a renewed focus on innovation as a pathway to making progress in the humanitarian space.

In supporting an innovation-driven approach, the GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian (M4H) Innovation Fund launched an adaptation fund programme to support existing grantees to respond to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic through their projects.

Additional funding was provided to six grant projects, with the aim of using their existing mobile-enabled innovation to respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. A snapshot of the projects and related activities are highlighted below.

Danish Refugee Council (DRC)

ProjectLocationStatusImplementation Activities
Mobile Payments for Safe and Sustainable Water in Refugee SettlementsKyaka II Refugee Camp, UgandaCompleteThe DRC team have built trust around the mobile money ecosystem through digital literacy trainingsThe team have provided 350 households with access to a mobile phone, including SIM registration in conjunction with UNHCR, Airtel and MTN Uganda, and one-time cash transfer.

Impact of DRC’s COVID-19 adaptation activities:

Through this adaptation DRC was able to distribute 350 mobile phones to users in Kyaka II refugee camp and provide a one-time cash transfer to support these households during the impact of COVID-19. These 350 beneficiaries also received digital literacy training from DRC to foster a stronger understanding of mobile money payments, and long-term trust in the use of the water ATMs and wider mobile money ecosystem. Through the digital literacy sessions, end-users were able to appreciate the use of mobile technology to transact for water especially during COVID-19 in which social distancing and contactless payments were encouraged, which led to greater uptake in use of the water ATMs. Furthermore, the more efficient water ATMs also reduced queuing which enabled adherence to COVID-19 safety measures. Through this project adaptation DRC was able to focus on community engagement and building digital support around the Water ATMs which has meant that user committees and the communities as a whole now fully own this project, as they see the importance of raising money for maintenance and continued usage of the Water ATMs. Overall, the mobile payment systems and digital literacy encouraged by DRC through the Covid adaptation has demonstrated the transformational role these tools can play in building sustainable and resilient livelihoods.

United Healthcare Distributors (UHD)

ProjectLocationStatusImplementation activities
Empowering Women in Camps and Off-Grid CommunitiesWest Nile Region, UgandaCompleteCOVID-19 has been disruptive for UHD’s customers, with restrictions making it difficult for them to access and rent batteries and therefore power their homes via community solar hubsIn response, UHD increased the number of smart batteries available by over 500, making them available at a more affordable price. UHD also increased the number of battery distribution points to increase access whilst adhering to social distancing Finally, UHD adapted their Mobile Power App (MOPO) to make it more user friendly and offer a flexible battery rental period.

Impact of UHD’s COVID-19 adaptation activities:

Through the community solar hub (CSH) project, UHD were able to reach a total of 3,751 beneficiaries, with 2,138 of those being female. The project increased the number batteries by an additional 580 (totalling 3,580) as well as increased the number of distribution points and lessees trained. Changes were made to the mobile application MOPO in order to allow for more flexible battery rental period and embed disease prevention and control to support customer track and trace. This COVID-19 adaptation funding allowed UHD to amend their business model and expand their operations, building in continuity processes to enabled them to safely and effectively reach customers in the new reality created by COVID-19.

Naya Jeevan

ProjectLocationStatusImplementation activities
My Beautiful Thar: How Mobile Technology Can Reduce Forced DisplacementPakistanCompleteAddress reported increase in mental health disorders in the Thar region with a cohort of eight frontline health workers trained on screening for mental health disorders like Post Traumatic Stress disorder. Additional psychosocial support via mobile has been provided to 250 households across eight villages, including 12 private video sessions with a licensed profession for those requiring mental health treatment.

Impact of Naya Jeevan’s COVID-19 adaptation activities:

Therapy and support sessions were undertaken, with Naya Jeevan presently finalising an end line survey to assess the full impact of these sessions with the recipients. Despite the complexity of mental health in the Thar region and some misconceptions around the topic, the community’s response to speaking to therapists has been largely positive. Recipients have been very open and upfront in the therapy sessions, quite contrary to what had been assumed at the beginning of the study. The study has shown the appetite and desire amongst the Thar community to seek mental health support and suggests that these interventions would also be beneficial across other similar demographics in the region. Naya Jeevan continue to engage with local government officials to highlight the results from these sessions, in order to gain support for a sustainable and government backed initiative supporting mental health interventions. You can learn more about the impact of mental health in the region and Naya Jeevan’s interventions, by reading this recently published blog.

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

ProjectLocationStatusImplementation activities
Protecting Vulnerable Populations in El Salvador, Honduras and GuatemalaEl Salvador, Honduras and GuatemalaCompleteIRC have expanded their service to women, girls, survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and the LGBTQ+ population in Guatemala, building on their work in El Salvador and Honduras.Service providers have been mapped, and content developed for GBV prevention and response amidst COVID-19, with virtual psychosocial support and information made available via CuéntaNos and the Twilio two-way messaging platform.

Impact of IRC’s Adaptation Fund Activities:

IRC were able to expand the CuéntaNos platform in Guatemala by adding over 90 service providers to the platform, allowing users to access vital services and information. IRC also translated information into three Mayan languages, improving the accessibility of the platform. Through emotional support groups and individual consultations, IRC was able to assist around 200 women in Guatemala. IRC will continue to expand their operations in Guatemala, by adding more service providers to the CuéntaNos platform and translating articles and information into an additional 20 Mayan languages. They also hope to expand the number of emotional support groups and individual sessions being offered to women, across Guatemala.

We recently spoke to IRC about how they have adapted to COVID-19, specifically around virtual vs in person training, which you can read on our blog.

Solidarités International

ProjectLocationStatusImplementation Activities
Solis Mobile WhatsApp Service  LebanonLiveThe Solis WhatsApp Bot is a pilot program launched by Solidarites to provide an effective two-way communication channels with between refugees and humanitarian organisations, whilst also enhancing accountability for refugeesAdditional adaptation funding has focused on incorporating Machine Learning into their WhatsApp bot to improve the efficiency of conversations, provide more accurate answers on an extended scope of topics (particularly COVID-19) and reduce the need for mass group trainings. A smarter bot strengthens the understanding of refugee needs and allows Solidarités to deliver more appropriate COVID-19 aid.

Impact of Solidarités’ Adaptation Fund Activities:

Challenges presented by COVID-19, has led to Solidarities putting an even greater emphasis and focus on digital tools to reach their target audience, to ensure efficient response to information and support requests. Through the bot, Solidarities have so far reached around 14,000 users. By enhancing the bot to include a machine learning component, Solidarities hope to increase its each by 20–30 per cent (a further 6,000 users during the grant lifecycle). Going forwards, through improved targeting and more efficient dialogue, the ‘smarter’ bot will respond more appropriately to local dialect, respond to requests at greater speed and direct users to more appropriate and targeted information, particularly when it comes to information about COVID-19, COVID-19 prevention and where users can find their nearest vaccination centre. The full impact of this intervention continues to be monitored.


ProjectLocationStatusImplementation Activities
Cholera Detection through a Mobile PlatformBangladesh and KenyaLiveWork with on the ground partners to expand water testing sitesCreate connections with mobile network operators so their cloud-based portal can be used to send alert notifications to local communities about cholera outbreaks  This helps address the compounding effects of cholera and COVID-19, both of which are in part prevented through clean sanitation and access to fresh water.

Impact of OmniVis’ Adaptation Fund Activities:

OmniVis is working on connecting with MNOs in Kenya and Bangladesh to integrate its cloud-based database of cholera sample collection and pilot SMS alerts, while simultaneously continuing updating the handheld device to ensure it is ready to send to partners in Kenya and Bangladesh to begin testing in time for the rainy seasons. OmniVis has identified this as an opportunity to change healthcare by working with MNOs to set up active alerts in-country to easily disseminate outbreak information, an area that has been brought into sharp focus during the Covid pandemic. This circular and holistic approach to health creates a unique opportunity to integrate mobile technology with a community-based approach to health and resilience that will have lasting impact and relevance. Impact of these activities will be monitored as part of the on-going project.

The impact and reach of these projects demonstrates the potential of deploying mobile-enabled innovative solutions in repose to addressing problems posed by global humanitarian crisis such as COVID-19 pandemic. The M4H Innovation Fund continues to support grantees with an overarching objective of promoting innovation in the use of mobile technology to address humanitarian needs. Lessons and insights from these projects, as well as other projects from our portfolio will be documented and shared in due course. To learn more about the M4H Innovation Fund and the organisations we are working alongside, you can visit our interactive map detailing all of our grantees.  To read more about how our grantees have adapted their programmes in the COVID-19 pandemic in greater detail, check out our report.

This initiative is currently funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
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