Mobile for Development Utilities – Innovation Fund

Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund

The M4D Utilities Innovation Fund is now closed and we are no longer accepting submissions

What is the Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities Innovation Fund?

The M4D Utilities Innovation Fund, supported by the UK Government and the Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development, aims to test and scale the use of mobile to improve or increase access to energy, water and sanitation services.

The Innovation Fund was launched in June 2013. In two phases of funding, grants have been competitively awarded to 34 organisations across four continents, amounting to 6 million GBP. A catalogue of past and current grantees can be found here.

To date, M4D Utilities estimates the trials have impacted over 2.5 million direct beneficiaries in underserved populations around the world. The grants awarded since 2013 have led to an additional $174 million raised by grantees from the private sector, showcasing the proof of concept for mobile-enabled utility services.

The impact of mobile on the utilities sector is explored in this case study video.

What is the Objective of the Fund?

The objective of the Innovation Fund is to extract insights from the trial and scaling of these innovative models to inform three key questions for growing the sector:

  • How can mobile support utility services?
  • For a mobile-enabled solution to be adopted at scale, what building blocks are needed
  • What are the social and commercial impacts of delivering community services to underserved mobile subscribers?

Our past findings on these questions are showcased in our case studies, published for each Grantee.

The Innovation Fund is open to:

  • Mobile operators
  • Technology solutions providers
  • Energy, water, or sanitation services providers, including:
    • Decentralised service providers
    • Urban and peri-urban utilities, and
    • NGOs trialling business model approaches

who propose to implement innovative products or services that include the use of one or more mobile channel(s) as a significant element of the delivery model.

Strong preference will be given to applicants that are NOT implementing pay-as-you-go energy services in East Africa.

Please note the scope of our fund:

Geography: We accept applications from Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia only, excluding the following countries: Algeria, Botswana, Gabon, Libya, Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, Malaysia and Thailand.
Sector: Energy, Water and Sanitation grants only will be considered. For Sanitation, we do not consider solid waste collection and management proposals.

What are the M4D Utilities Mobile Channels?

Please refer to the infographic for a description of the mobile channels. The list below gives some examples of what is considered a mobile channel and what is not.

1. Mobile Payments

  • What it is: mobile money services offered by mobile operators, premium SMS or mobile airtime based payments.
  • What it isn’t: mobile banking, online banking, mobile money services not offered by mobile operators

2. Machine to Machine Connectivity

  • What it is: Smart metering, monitoring of utility systems, remote control of services based on GSM and cellular technologies
  • What it isn’t: connectivity solutions using unlicensed spectrum (e.g. LoRa, Zigbee)

3. Mobile Infrastructure

  • What it is: Telecom tower acting as the anchor load for the energy service company, that also supplies energy to surrounding communities via a microgrid / energy hub model
  • What it isn’t: Just powering the telecom tower with renewable energy

4. Sales, Distribution and Branding

  • What it is: MNOs’ sales and distribution channels and their recognisable and trusted brand can be leveraged to market and sell products/services.
  • What it isn’t: the use of the mobile money agent network for regular mobile money services on its own is not considered sales and distribution

5. Mobile Services

  • What it is: Voice, SMS, USSD, mobile apps used to report service delivery status, improve field operations, optimise supply chains, or provide customer support for instance.

6.Mobile Operator Customer Data:

  • What it is: Leveraging MNO customer data, with customer and mobile operator consent, improve targeted marketing, access to finance, etc.

What types of grants are available?

The two types of grants the programme awards include:

Seed Grant The specific objective of the Seed Grant is to support the trial of products/services that use mobile to enable sustainable access to energy, water or sanitation. Up to GBP 150,000 in funding, 33% of total project cost matched by grantee View the termsheet for more information
Market Validation Grant The specific objective of the Market Validation Grant is to support partnerships with mobile network operators OR utility service providers to support scaling or replication of an existing service that increases or improves access to sustainable energy, water and sanitation services to underserved customers. The service will already have demonstrated early success and have active users in at least one market. Up to GBP 300,000 in funding, 100% of total project cost matched by grantee View the termsheet for more information


In April, we held two Q & A webinars about the Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund, you can listen to the recordings here and here. If you still have some questions, please email

Application timeframe

Final Round
Concept note due: September 10, 2017
Proposal phase for shortlisted applicants: October 2 – November 17, 2017
Grant award announcement: early February 2018

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Additional information 



Scaling Off-Grid Energy is a global partnership founded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Power Africa, the U.K. Department for International Development’s Energy Africa campaign, the Shell Foundation – a UK-registered charity, and the African Development Bank. The Grand Challenge for Development aims to extend energy access to 20 million households across sub-Saharan Africa through off-grid household solar solutions.