Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation: Our impact in 2020

We publish the GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation (M4H) programme’s annual report today, as we near the one year mark of COVID-19 gripping the globe. The pandemic has impacted lives heavily, and has increased those needing humanitarian assistance and protection by 40 per cent from pre-pandemic levels. Through this period of significant change, the mission of M4H has remained highly relevant: to accelerate the delivery and impact of inclusive and dignified digital humanitarian action.

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New funding and partnership models, together with scalable, innovative tools and approaches, are increasingly used to address the global humanitarian challenge. With the support of our donor, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), we continue to be uniquely positioned to work with our committed mobile industry members and humanitarian partners to harness mobile technology to respond to increasing humanitarian need, demonstrating how the private sector and technology intersects with and changes the current humanitarian paradigm. We have developed new technology solutions, replicated earlier successes in new contexts, and identified and responded to barriers that crisis affected communities face.

Our annual report captures the activities and progress of the M4H programme and our partners in this unprecedented year. It spotlights key achievements, reflects on trends influencing the sector and summarises the insights and outcomes of research, strategic partnership projects, advocacy efforts and the M4H Innovation Fund.

The report highlights 2020 achievements:

  • Sparked innovation: The programme contracted eight new grantees under round three of the M4H Innovation Fund, bringing our portfolio to 22 grants in total (including the inaugural Disaster Response round). To date, M4H Innovation Fund projects have directly impacted the lives of 714,000 people, with four grantees scaling or replicating in new contexts (Lumkani, Refunite, Mercy Corps and Flowminder).
  • Facilitated five new partnerships between MNOs and humanitarian organisations, reaching a total of 19 partnerships. The portfolio of projects implemented by M4H has impacted 454,000 people in humanitarian contexts who are now better able to access and use life-enhancing mobile services.
  • Became a stronger thought leader. M4H published 10 reports, translated from English into an additional four languages. In 2020 alone, M4H reports were cited 36 times and downloaded around 15,000 times. Of note was the Digital Lives of Refugees report, which was downloaded 3,146 times and cited 21 times by stakeholders such as UNHCR, UNDP and ODI.
  • Highlighted the messages of M4H at 30 in-person and online events globally, 12 of which were organised by the GSMA, reaching over 600 people.
  • Influenced policy change in Kenya, unlocking access to vital mobile services for recipients of a digital ID project led by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS). We documented the steps and events that culminated in a policy shift in Uganda that enabled approximately 600,000 refugees to legally register for mobile services in their own name.
  • Provided capacity building training to over 150 policymakers representing over 16 governments and intergovernmental bodies, including The World Bank and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Looking forward, our focus will remain on achieving the programme’s mission to accelerate the delivery and impact of digital humanitarian action, using mobile-enabled solutions and public-private partnership to reach seven million people by 2022 with improved access to and use of mobile services in humanitarian contexts.

As the humanitarian landscape continues to change in response to the shifting nature of crises and funding patterns, it is clear that partnership between the humanitarian sector and mobile operators, the wider private sector and governments is crucial to meet growing humanitarian need.

Please get in touch if you are interested in joining us in this work. You can find out more about the M4H programme on our website or contact us at

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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