This blog is guest authored by Jacob Korenblum, CEO of SoukTel and contributor to the ‘Partnership Guidelines: Building effective relationships between MNOs and NGOs in complex environments and crises’.
When disaster strikes, the ability to reach victims quickly, and at scale, is key to saving lives. Yet most crisis zones face a frustrating reality: the key players are in place but they’re just not talking to each other. At one end of the table sit aid agencies with significant resources, knowledge and experience—but often lacking national outreach channels. On the other side sit mobile networks, who can reach almost every corner of a country—even after a hurricane or explosion—but who lack a deep understanding of crisis response. In the absence of good guidelines for working together, these groups often don’t—and the ability to save millions of people is put at risk.
To bridge this gap, the GSMA’s Disaster Response team has unveiled an ambitious guide: Building Effective Partnerships In Complex Environments. It’s a first-ever resource to help mobile network operators (MNOs) join forces with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) more rapidly and effectively. Souktel was honoured to support this initiative, drawing on our experience building these partnerships in crisis zones like Gaza, Liberia, and Somalia.
The guide begins, boldly, by breaking down myths that the aid and telecoms sectors tend to perpetuate about each other: “The private sector are all the same”, and “NGOs take ages to get anything done” are two common refrains that are quickly debunked. MNOs, we learn, are as diverse as the countries where they operate—and many have specific teams dedicated to crisis response. NGOs, in turn, often have rapid-response funds and processes which let them move quickly after a disaster.
The guide then offers a real-world checklist of best practices, gathered from consultations with mobile operators like Ooredoo, hardware leaders like Ericsson, and non-profits like Internews. This is a hands-on resource, not abstract analysis. The guide includes ready-to-use Partnership Agreement templates, and a printable summary of the “Ten Commandments” for effective partnering. Three practical case studies round out the picture, showing concretely how NGOs and mobile networks have worked together on short notice in crises, with tangible results.
Now the hard work starts. This guide will either become a “must-have” resource for crisis responders and telecoms, or it will sit on our e-shelves and gather dust. The outcome depends heavily on the willingness of mobile networks and aid providers to abandon the status quo and take a risky leap of faith. By forging partnerships ahead of recurring crises (like seasonal cyclones), or by coming together rapidly after sudden earthquakes, the multiplier effect of these joint efforts can be dramatic. In both cases, the main barriers to action are institutional behaviour, not a lack of resources.
As extreme weather events persist, and as bombings continue in cities from Lahore to Brussels, the need for aid providers and mobile networks to work together is only growing. These guidelines answer key questions and dispel doubts; now we must act on them.