Partnerships between MNOs and Innovators: Ideas from MWC

This year at Mobile World Congress (MWC), the GSMA Mobile for Development Ecosystem Accelerator and Utilities programmes held a roundtable discussion on partnerships in the Mobile for Development (M4D) space. The session aimed at presenting concrete examples of partnerships between innovative start-ups and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in order to identify the requirements for success.

GSMA Mobile for Development has done extensive work to identify the benefits of partnering for MNOs in this innovative environment, highlighting the importance of the topic. Some examples of our research are:


  • GSMA Intelligence’s survey-based report on why MNOs should partner to develop Value Added Services (VAS);
  • The Connected Women’s interview-based insight paper, building on the survey’s findings and focusing on successful partnerships between the social sector and MNOs to bring VAS to rural and marginalised populations, especially women; and
  • The most recent report, by the Disaster Response team, offers practical actions to ensure the success of partnerships between MNOs and humanitarian organisations (NGOs, INGOs and UN agencies).


These reports break down the assumption that MNOs’ priority markets and activities are removed from those of the M4D sector. On the contrary, MNOs are central actors on this stage, as providers of the network through which M4D products and services – from health SMS to energy metering solutions – are delivered and their impact does not end there. MNOs are uniquely positioned to provide quality services, leveraging their customer bases, their heavyweight marketing ability and their software management solutions. These services will support innovators in converting pilot-size service delivery into scaled, commercial ventures.

Once both parties – the M4D innovator and the MNO – have identified the benefits of partnering, the next task is understanding how to work together to achieve priority targets. During our session at MWC, some of the requirements for partnership mentioned by our participants, which included MNOs, innovators as well as investors and donors, are captured in the table below.


Requirements for MNOs  to partner with innovators Requirements for start-ups to partner with MNOs
  • Local presence and distribution network to ensure ability to scale.
  • Sufficient maturity of the company.
  • Ensure mobile coverage where the service is deployed.
  • Ability to invest or be commercially flexible.
  • Set commercial pricing for M4D products and services.
  • Appetite for innovation.
  • Sufficient human resources for the project at hand.
  • Identify a champion, within the MNO, to support the project internally.
  • Have a strong business case, including a value proposition and a replicable model.
  • Collaboration across countries.
  • Inter-operability in between MNOs to ensure replicability and scale.
  • Understand MNOs’ language and priorities.
  • Understand MNOs’ structure and requirements.
  • Need for coordination between the MNO at the Group and at the business unit (local) levels to ensure the product’s rollout.


Do these requirements resonate with you, as an innovator or MNO engaged in the M4D sector?

Join the Conversation (one comment)

  • In many cases Innovators don’t have the ability to invest (or at least limited resources). The partnership with the MNO brings more reliability businesswise through shared risks. The MNO will be opened to invest because it can rely on innovator’s assets (service concept, local presence, links with the ecosystem)to set up with the Partner a new service.
    For the MNO, temporary exclusivity and brand exposition are also factors to consider.

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