Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation: Annual Report

Around the world, humanitarian agencies, donors, governments and the private sector face mounting pressure to meet the needs of people affected by humanitarian crises. Currently, over 70 million people are forcibly displaced. When you couple this with the looming threat of COVID-19 – and predictions stating that the number of people facing food crises will double unless swift action is taken – there is consensus that new funding and partnership models, together with scalable, innovative tools and approaches, are urgently needed.

Against this backdrop, the role of mobile technology has never been more important. People affected by crisis continue to prioritise mobile technology to communicate, seek and share information, access humanitarian assistance and become more financially resilient.

GSMA’s Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation (M4H) programme was setup to support stakeholders in building an inclusive, digitally enabled humanitarian future in which mobile and digital solutions provide greater access to services, information and choice for people that could be, or already are, affected by crisis. We are driving forward this vision with generous support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

Our Annual Report, published today, details the progress made by the M4H programme and our partners over 2019. It highlights key achievements, reflects on trends influencing the sector and summarises the insights and outcomes of our research, advocacy efforts, partnership projects and the M4H Innovation Fund.

Read the report

Between 2018 and 2019, the M4H programme laid the foundation for an inclusive digital humanitarian ecosystem by conducting topical research, contributing to a more enabling regulatory environment for refugees, catalysing new solutions and approaches through the M4H Innovation Fund and building partnerships with mobile network operators (MNOs) and humanitarian organisations to deliver digital humanitarian services.

A snapshot of 2019 activities

  • The M4H Innovation Fund supported 18 grantees in 22 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa, Asia and Latin America. Five of these grantees from the inaugural Disaster Response Innovation Fund completed their projects and, as of November 2019, had reached over 100,000 beneficiaries.
  • Facilitated 14 new partnerships between MNOs and humanitarian organisations to deliver projects aimed at improving the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Uganda, Somaliland, Pakistan, Rwanda and Kenya, as well as globally with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme.
  • Actively responded to knowledge gaps and stakeholder demand for robust insights and data by publishing reports such as the Digital Lives of Refugees, and handbooks on mobile money-enabled cash and voucher assistance for mobile money providers and humanitarian organisations.
  • Held the GSMA Humanitarian Connectivity Charter regional workshop for Asia-Pacific in Jakarta, Indonesia. Over 30 participants came together to share ideas and technologies used in humanitarian crises.
  • Partnered with UNHCR to conduct an in-depth policy landscaping research report, Displaced and Disconnected, which identified legal and regulatory barriers to mobile services faced by refugees in 20 countries.
  • Influenced policy changes in three countries:
    • In Uganda, joint advocacy efforts with UNHCR resulted in the government accepting the UNHCR-issued Refugee Family Attestation letter as a valid document for registering a SIM card. There are now approximately 600,000 refugees who can legally register for mobile services in their own name.
    • Provided support to two countries (Ghana and Tunisia) to develop a National Emergency Telecommunications Plan and put in place improved disaster response arrangements with MNOs.

Looking ahead

In 2020 we’re already deep into our activities for the year, not least by collaborating closely with our MNO members and humanitarian partners, as well as with DFID to support stakeholders in building and scaling digital humanitarian responses to COVID-19. Our broader vision for 2020/2021 is to diversify our portfolio of projects by exploring gaps and pursuing synergies across the programme’s five thematic areas (mobile financial services, digital identity, climate resilience, inclusivity and mobile-enabled utilities), scaling and replicating early successes and capturing the lessons of M4H grantees and portfolio partners to inform the wider sector.

We look forward to engaging with you on these topics. To find out more about the Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation programme please visit our website or contact us on

Read the report
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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