Building digital ecosystems: Partnering for market readiness and local contexts

Digital solutions do not exist in vacuums. They require a system of end-users, service providers, regulators and, in the humanitarian context, both local and international humanitarian actors. A well-established ecosystem ensures provision of mobile and digital services in an efficient, effective, scalable, and sustainable manner.

A well-established and fully-functioning digital humanitarian ecosystem is one where the recipients of humanitarian assistance can independently and safely use mobile-enabled services, humanitarian actors can use mobile technology to deliver humanitarian assistance quickly and efficiently; and mobile service providers deliver essential products and services to an active, digitally included population.

Building a thriving ecosystem requires the involvement of all stakeholders to ensure market readiness and, that interventions are tailored to local contexts. It is especially important to ensure that the end-users’ requirements are provided for.

The GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation (M4H) programme, through its Strategic Partnerships team, actively looks to build and strengthen digital ecosystems in humanitarian contexts. There are several steps to the process which broadly include:

  • Definition of the opportunities and identification of relevant stakeholders;
  • Research to understand end-user barriers to access and usage, which will be unique to each market and user demographic;
  • Deployment of the solutions and iteration to adjust for market response, user behaviour and feedback; and
  • Continued awareness of the regulatory environment and advocacy if necessary.

There are good examples of projects that apply building the ecosystem approaches that are supported by the GSMA M4H programme. One, is development of the mobile money ecosystem in Northern Uganda with Grameen Foundation and MTN Uganda. This project involved not only training of end users in how to use mobile money, but also training and onboarding local merchants  as mobile money agents. This approach will not only ensure readiness on end-users to use mobile money but also create points of usage at agents. The project also helps the mobile money agents to get access to start-up capital and liquidity management thus addressing any supply side challenges. Another example, is developing guidelines for humanitarian cash assistance in Somalia with the Somali Cash Consortium. This project looks to address all aspects of humanitarian cash deployment that might use mobile or digital solutions, including the varied regulatory conditions across the regions of Somalia.

Finally, the training of mobile money agents in the humanitarian code of conduct by MTN Rwanda and Alight. The project aims to improve the last mile service delivery of mobile services to vulnerable populations in a broad definition that includes refugees, women, and the elderly.

In conclusion, to develop thriving digital ecosystems, long term sustainable multi-stakeholder partnerships are essential. Such collaboration can only be developed through constant dialogue and the continuous redesign of solutions to accommodate changing user demands. Download our recent report, “Building and strengthening digital ecosystems in humanitarian contexts” to examine each of these lessons in more detail.

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