What does Intelligent Connectivity mean for utilities in emerging markets? Our takeaways from MWC Barcelona and 4YFN 2019

From Monday, 25 – Wednesday, 28 February, the Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities team participated in Mobile World Congress 2019 (#MWC19) in Barcelona.

This year’s overarching theme, ‘Intelligent Connectivity’, aimed to mark the beginning of a new era of highly contextualised and personalised experiences centring around eight core themes (Connectivity, AI, Industry 4.0, Immersive Content, Disruptive Innovation, Digital Wellness, Digital Trust, and The Future). The M4D Utilities team and its Innovation Fund grantees were uniquely placed to participate in these conversations. Here, we’ve compiled some of our takeaways.

4YFN – Our Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) grantees stand out among the hottest start-ups in Europe

The Mobile for Development Utilities and Ecosystem Accelerator teams had a joint booth at 4YFN, the innovation and start-ups platform of MWC Barcelona. Seven organisations funded by the M4D Utilities Innovation Fund were able to showcase their business models to interested investors, learn from other start-ups, and identify opportunities for partnerships.

At 4YFN, our team also co-hosted a session entitled, ‘Doing Good Business and Doing Good Through Mobile Operator-Start-up Collaboration’, which was moderated by the head of our programme, Max Cuvellier. The session featured current and former M4D Utilities Innovation Fund grantees, Vitalite (Pay-as-you go solar-home-system-, cook stove-, and smartphone provider in Zambia), SolarWorks! (Machine-learning enabled solar-home-system provider in Mozambique) and SunCulture (IoT enabled pay-as-you go solar water pump provider in Kenya), who were able to pitch their business models to an audience of investors, entrepreneurs, and mobile operators from around the world.

They were followed up by a panel featuring Marieme Diop from Orange Digital Ventures, and Idriss N’Daho from MTN Cote d’Ivoire, who spoke about their investment strategies and the synergies between start-ups and MNOs. The panellists emphasised that successful MNO-start up collaborations depend on a strong business plan, a constant drive to meet identified goals and objectives, and most importantly trust and transparency between the two partners.

Ministerial Programme – senior policymakers exposed to innovative solutions in WASH

The GSMA’s prestigious Ministerial Programme brings together the most influential telecommunications leaders from across the world. We are thrilled that three of our M4D Utilities Innovation Fund grantees were able to participate in discussions on some of the most important topics at the intersection of technology, public policy, and global development.

Drinkwell, which operates remote-monitoring enabled water ATMs in Dhaka (Bangladesh), joined leaders from IBM and Vodafone in a session entitled, ‘Transforming Society through IoT’. Minhaj Chowdhury, Drinkwell’s CEO, highlighted the promise of technological solutions to water service delivery in emerging markets, and emphasised the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships as exemplified by Drinkwell’s work with Dhaka Water Supply & Sewerage Authority (DWASA) and mobile operator Robi Axiata in Dhaka.

Two other M4D Utilities Innovation Fund grantees were on stage on Wednesday, 28 February to participate in a thought-provoking panel entitled. ‘Transformation of Public Services’, which focused on how the public sector is using technology (including big data and blockchain) to fundamentally reimagine and transform government services and citizen engagement.

  • Eunice Gnay Namirembe from Kampala City Authority (KCCA), outlined how a GIS mapping tool, whose upgrade was supported by the M4D Utilities Innovation Fund, enables KCCA to gather critical evidence on the performance of sanitation service providers and the type of sanitation facilities throughout Kampala.
  • Gregoire Landel from CityTaps, a start-up piloting the deployment of prepaid smart meters in Niamey (Niger), emphasised that one billion people across the globe do not have access to proper running water. CityTaps’ expansion within Niger and further expected deployments in the region are illustrating the increasingly recognised role of mobile-enabled water services in meeting SDG 6 (ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all) targets.

Launch of the M4D Utilities Annual report: Intelligent Utilities for All

Our new annual report, fittingly titled ‘Intelligent Utilities for All’, was launched at the M4D stakeholder reception at MWC Barcelona.

Over the last five years, the M4D Utilities programme has catalysed some of the most promising innovations in mobile-enabled utilities. “In our first round of grants, we funded many of the pioneers in the PAYG solar space: M-Kopa, Lumos, PEG, Fenix, Mobisol. We helped them in their early days to demonstrate the shared value their businesses have for powering millions while also benefiting mobile operators through increased use of mobile money, brand recognition and customer loyalty – not to mention keeping their phones charged”, highlighted Ilana Cohen, Senior Market Engagement Director of the programme, during the report launch speech. “We funded the first PAYG solar irrigation business. We funded the first PAYG LPG business. While supporting expansion of PAYG solar models beyond East Africa, through first movers in markets like Myanmar”, she added. The annual report charts the course of the programme and the grantees of our Innovation Fund from 2013 to 2018, and identifies key trends for the future of mobile-enabled utilities.

Read the report

M4D Utilities stakeholder workshop – Addressing Challenges and Scaling Partnerships

On the side-lines of #MWC19, the M4D Utilities team also held a workshop that was attended by 20 stakeholders from utility service providers (energy, water, and sanitation), donors, investors, and mobile operators. We were glad to be joined by other organisations in the mobile-enabled utilities ecosystem such as GreenLight Planet, Shell Foundation, and Fundacion Netri. The session honed in on some of the key determinants of successful mobile operator-utility service provider partnerships. We paid particular attention to the role of mobile money transaction fees, the potential of operator-led NB-IoT deployments, and the IPN Hub. We look forward to using the learnings from the workshop to plan our future programme activities and take the mobile-enabled utilities ecosystem to new heights.

Hold on…we’re not done yet!

In addition, SunCulture’s CFO, Charles Nichols, presented Sunculture’s new IoT-enabled solar water pump RainMaker 2 at a M4D seminar entitled, ‘The Next 30 Years – Building an Inclusive Digital Future’. The session focused on what can be done to ensure that technology promotes inclusive growth but does not widen inequalities between the technology-haves and the technology-have nots.

Meanwhile, CityTaps’ Gregoire Landel was featured in a fire-side chat on ‘Partnering for Impact: Health-Tech Innovation Showcase’, and underlined the importance of gender equality and diversity in a panel entitled, ‘Innovating: The Importance of Diversity in Creativity’ as part of the Women4Tech Summit at #MWC19.

Finally, Drinkwell also showcased its water service delivery model at M4D’s stand at MWC Barcelona’s Innovation City. The stand not only featured Drinkwell’s innovative Water ATM, but also a live-stream showing Drinkwell’s customers collecting water in Dhaka in real-time.


The GSMA Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities programme is funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), USAID as part of its commitment to Scaling Off-Grid Energy Grand Challenge for Development and supported by the GSMA and its members.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.