Mobile for Development
The transformative power of mobile is most apparent in emerging markets where it is usually the most widespread and reliable infrastructure. Isolated populations in these countries are often underserved by basic services, so this puts the mobile industry in a unique position to help connect them to key infrastructure, as well as to health and financial services.
Mobile for Development (M4D) is a dedicated global team within the GSMA, which brings together our mobile operator members, tech innovators, the development community and governments, to harness the power of mobile in emerging markets. The team identifies opportunities and helps deliver innovations in financial services, agriculture, digital identity, disability, energy, water, sanitation, disaster resilience and gender equality.
A key part of M4D’s strategy involves taking advantage of the synergies between the different strands of the team’s work to amplify the overall impact of the programme. For example, it works to identify ways to leverage mobile money payments alongside machine-to-machine communication to help improve access to energy, clean water and sanitation in emerging markets. Correspondingly, it promotes the use of digital identity solutions to support the registration of newborn babies via mobile phones, which can then boost the effectiveness of maternal health programmes.
The programme continues to demonstrate impact across a number of important areas. For example, mobile money services have helped to greatly reduce financial exclusion over the past decade, there are now over 300m active monthly accounts across more than 96 countries a 17% increase year on year. Furthermore, as of June 2021, the AgriTech team has supported 20 projects reaching over 15.1 million smallholder farmers across Asia and Africa with digital agriculture services to improve their livelihoods and climate resilience
Via its Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation Fund, the GSMA is also helping allocate grants to innovators whose activities bolster crisis response, while its Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund is supporting start-ups in Africa and Asia Pacific with non-equity funding, mentorship and technical assistance to help them create commercially sustainable products and services.
Through these activities and more, M4D’s work seeks to test the feasibility of new ideas, support the spread of those with the most potential and scale those projects that have proven their worth. This section details how these efforts are translated into real projects with meaningful socio-economic impact.
Agriculture contributes around 22.1% per cent of GDP in low-income countries globally , with over 450 million smallholder farmer households depending on agriculture for their livelihood. Smallholder farmers are increasingly vulnerable to volatile climate patterns affecting their yields and are in need of climate adaptation strategies.
Within agricultural value chains, farmers, cooperatives, and agri-businesses face many inefficiencies. A major challenge is the predominance of cash transactions, but there is no shortage of other issues. These include a lack of knowledge by smallholder farmers of the latest farming practices, a lack of visibility into the value chain overall, and access to agricultural inputs such as high-quality seeds, fertilisers and agricultural assets to mechanize and automate operations.
With mobile penetration across low to middle-income countries expected to reach 68 per cent by 2025, mobile can deliver efficiencies and improve the business performance of both large- and small-scale agriculture operations.
Mobile-enabled digital agriculture solutions can deliver critical agro-climatic information, such as agricultural advisory and localised weather forecasts, that smallholder farmers need to improve their decisions. Evidence of the social impact of mobile services suggests that digital advisory services targeting smallholder farmers in the developing world are driving behavioural change and livelihood benefits. Active users of digital advisory services have reported significantly more on-farm changes than comparable non-users. This includes planting, land management and harvesting. For instance, in Pakistan active users of GSMA-supported services are 1.9 times more likely to report an increase in income than non-users.
In addition, mobile-based digital agriculture solutions offer a pathway to financial inclusion for mostly unbanked smallholder farmers. The digitisation of agricultural payments for the sale of crops via mobile money, together with other data points such as digital farmer profiles, can support the formation of a financial identity and thus enable access to a range of digital financial services (DFS), including agriculture-specific ones (Agri DFS), such as credit and loans product enabling the purchase of agricultural inputs, from seeds to fertilisers to mechanised assets, agriculture and weather insurance products,
Provided that mobile operators and other mobile money providers are able to operate in an enabling environment, a significant share of these people (many of whom are farmers) could be added as new mobile money customers.
 The World Bank: Agriculture, forestry and fishing, value added (% of GDP) – Low income countries
GSMA Mobile for Development Goals
The GSMA AgriTech team forges partnerships between mobile operators, agricultural sector stakeholders, innovators, and investors in digital agriculture to launch, improve and scale impactful and commercially viable digital solutions for smallholder farmers in the developing world. As of June 2021, GSMA AgriTech has supported 20 projects reaching over 15.1 million smallholder farmers across Asia and Africa with digital agriculture services to improve their livelihoods and climate resilience.
Public Policy Considerations
Public policies should support the adoption of digital agriculture solutions to improve the livelihoods and strengthen the climate resilience of rural populations. There are several areas that need to be considered:
Supporting the deployment at scale of digital advisory solutions for government-led agricultural extension programmes: National Ministries of Agriculture and Rural Development have been important for the success of information-based digital agriculture services, either by deploying directly digital solutions for government-led agricultural extension services targeting smallholder farmers, or by supporting private sector-led initiatives, for example by providing validation for the content that mobile network operators send to farmers via their digital advisories. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of agricultural and food systems and governments have turned to digital solutions to communicate with farmers. It is important that this shift is supported by digital literacy programmes rolled out in partnership with value chain actors that manage farmer relations such as farmer unions, cooperatives, and agri-businesses.
Developing an ecosystem for Agri DFS: Governments have led the way in many low and middle-income countries by instituting social programmes that rely on mobile money and other digital financial products to rapidly disburse funds to low-income populations. There is an opportunity to boost a shift toward digital government-to-person (G2P) payments for agricultural subsidies that support farmers by improving access to inputs. Digitising payments can address the challenges of reducing fraud and the costs required to distribute subsidies to farmers, but few digital G2P payment schemes have emerged so far.
During the pandemic governments have supported the adoption of mobile money services in rural areas by eliminating fees and raising transaction limits. The impact of these measures in countries such as Rwanda were immediate, boosting the number of unique mobile money users. To sustain adoption in the longer term, it is fundamental that governments support an enabling ecosystem for Agri DFS. Besides G2P payments for agricultural subsidies, the digitisation of Business-to-person payments (B2P) in agricultural value chains for the sale of crops is another key opportunity to develop the ecosystem.
It is imperative that service providers and regulators understand the unique nature of the agricultural sector. Failing to do so risks cutting off the full breadth of opportunities in the digitisation of agricultural payments.
Introducing proportional know-your-customer (KYC) rules to support mobile money adoption in rural areas is a key intervention: Complex due diligence processes impede mobile money service uptake in rural areas, since many farmers and agents are unlikely to have the official documentation needed to sign up for a mobile money account. In many countries, the mobile money transaction value and account size limits mandated by financial sector regulators are not able to handle the size and value of payments for the sale of crops from agribusiness to farmers. Those seeking to enable uptake of mobile money services in rural areas must strike the appropriate balance between relaxing due diligence requirements and maintaining financial sector integrity.
Supporting transformational technologies such as IoT based smart farming solutions via enabling regulatory environments: Frontier technologies such as IoT and Big Data are crucial for bringing to farmers a digital agriculture solutions that optimise production processes and growth conditions, while minimising costs and saving resources. These include smart irrigation solutions, smart greenhouses, livestock and aquaculture management solutions. Mobile IoT is key to smart farming solutions, but IoT deployments in the agricultural sector can be expensive and challenging to roll out. Through licensed NBIoT and LTE-M networks using mobile connectivity, it is possible to cover large farming areas with smaller data requirements, potentially lowering the cost of deployment. Other advantages of licensed networks are security and scalability due to the application of international standards, and the potential to bundle with other mobile offerings.
Climate change is the most pressing challenge facing humanity and we continue to witness its impacts. At the very most, we have one decade to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid potentially irreversible damage to our planet. Although no country is immune to the effects of climate change, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are typically the least prepared for climate shocks and will continue to be impacted the most.
Mobile technologies and digital solutions continue to deliver socio-economic and climate impact across many sectors, such as energy, water and agriculture. They are also increasingly used to support natural resource management activities and enable more circular economies.
Now, more than ever, it is imperative to create cross-sector partnerships, foster local innovation, and encourage even greater integration between digital technology and climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience strategies.
We unlock the power of digital technology in LMICs, to enable their transition towards a low-carbon and climate resilient future. We do this through the collective support of the mobile industry, as well as public and private actors.
Through our research activities, we identify, promote and inform opportunities for digital innovation and develop pathways for aligning climate action with the sustainable development agenda.
We also aim to catalyse partnerships between the GSMA, the mobile industry, tech innovators, governments and the development sector in order to reduce fragmentation, facilitate scale and promote collective action.
Public Policy Considerations
Cross-sector collaboration is essential, and MNOs and other technology organisations have a critical role to play. Initiatives from the private sector are playing an important role in facilitating shared value partnerships with governments and non-profit organisations, often providing their partners with access to their company’s technical skills, resources and digital expertise.
Adopt favourable policies/regulations to facilitate the adoption of renewable energy solutions for mobile towers; including green telecoms incentives, net metering, frameworks for corporate procurements of renewable energy and importation/customs duties for renewable energy equipment.
Recommendations for governments in LMICs to address plastic, e-waste and general waste management:
- Take action to improve data collection and analysis on solid waste management;
- Share data on waste generation and flows on an open source platform to enable local innovators or MNOs to use it to support solutions that help improve plastic waste management;
- Consider partnerships with MNOs to conduct joint public awareness campaigns about the threats of plastic pollution and that encourage behaviour change around the segregation of waste and recycling plastic waste in particular;
- Proactively prepare and implement new EPR mechanisms, levying fines or extra fees on larger polluters while lifting fees and providing subsidies to those who act more progressively and in line with the aspirations of new EPR policies;
- Consider implementing tax incentives for recyclers, which can be an effective way to promote a healthy and vibrant recycling sector; and
- Create strong, legally binding national policy and regulation that covers the collection and exportation of e-waste.
The ability to prove that you are who you say you are and have this information authenticated when interacting with the state or private companies is critical to accessing basic services such as healthcare, education and employment, as well as exercising voting rights or benefiting from financial services. Yet World Bank estimates from 2018 indicate that at least one billion people lack any form of officially recognised ID, either paper or electronic.1 This problem disproportionally impacts rural residents, poor people, refugees, women, children and vulnerable groups; and is most pronounced in Africa and Asia. The international community has recognised this so-called ‘identity gap’ as a critical barrier to achieving inclusive and sustainable social and economic development. Indeed, the ninth target of UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 aims for everyone to have a legal identity by 2030.
The identity gap is both a symptom of slow economic development and a factor that makes development more difficult and less inclusive. The problem is particularly stark when it comes to birth registration, with Unicef figures showing that one in four children under five lacks a legal identity simply because their birth wasn’t registered. World Bank research in sub-Saharan Africa indicates that more than half of the population lacks an official identity, yet more than two-thirds of residents in the region have a mobile phone. These figures highlight the transformative potential of mobile to bridge this identity gap and catalyse greater socio-economic impact in emerging markets.
Public Policy Considerations
Digital identity has the power to increase digital, social and financial inclusion, drive economic growth, support more efficient and transparent processes and prevent fraud. Mobile operators can play a number of roles in advancing digital identity ecosystems and accelerating governments’ digital transformation strategies. For example, they could leverage their nationwide reach to support residents’ enrolment into new digital identity systems.
They could also validate people’s existing identity credentials against government databases, where these exist, to strengthen ‘know your customer’ (KYC) processes.
To enable mobile-based digital identity solutions, policymakers should consider investing in and promoting e-government services.
Furthermore, an enabling regulatory environment needs to be put in place if mobile is to deliver digital identity solutions to the underserved. Governments must first ensure consistency between the different legal and regulatory instruments that affect the management of digital identity. They must also work to break down any legal, policy and regulatory barriers that may inhibit the roll out of mobile identity services.
For example, in at least 147 countries mobile operators are already subject to identity-related requirements, such as mandatory SIM registration and KYC obligations for mobile financial services. Taking an integrated policy approach to these requirements would boost momentum towards mobile-based digital identity. It is also important for policymakers to ensure that a critical mass of citizens has had the opportunity to access an official form of ID before imposing any requirements on mobile operators to disconnect users who failed to register their SIM using an ID. Consideration should be given to the needs of underserved and vulnerable groups including refugees, those in remote areas or those with disabilities.
Governments also carry a responsibility to foster a trusted environment where consumers’ privacy is respected, by adopting data protection and privacy frameworks based on international best practices. Finally, governments should also actively engage with mobile operators, key stakeholders and the wider identity ecosystem to help drive interoperability and innovation.
World Bank: Identification for Development (ID4D) global data set.
The internet is connecting people to new opportunities and life-enhancing services, driving economic growth and advancing progress towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Almost half of the world’s population – 3.8 billion people – are using mobile internet. This continues to grow, with an additional 250 million people connecting for the first time in 2019. Mobile broadband continues to be the primary way in which many users access the internet in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where it accounts for 87% of internet connections.
Despite significant progress over the past years, mobile internet connectivity is not equitable; just over 44% of the LMIC population (around 2.9 billion people) are connected, compared to around 75% of the population in high-income countries. Worldwide, 4 billion people are still unable to realise the social and economic benefits that mobile internet can enable.
Out of the 4 billion people that remain unconnected, 3.4 billion (or 85%) live in an area already covered by mobile broadband. We refer to this as the usage gap. There is also a coverage gap of 600 million people who live in areas that are not covered by mobile broadband yet.
Those in low- and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected, and COVID-19 has reinforced the impacts of the digital divide, with the unconnected – who tend to be poorer, have lower levels of education and live in rural areas – less able to mitigate the economic and social disruptions to their lives. Connecting the unconnected is therefore more important than ever.
Mobile for Development Programme Goals
The GSMA Connected Society team works with the mobile industry and key stakeholders to further increase access to and adoption of mobile internet, focusing on underserved population groups in low- and middle-income countries. The programme is funded by Sida and the FCDO and supported by the GSMA and its members. Key activities include:
- Supporting mobile operators to expand coverage and increase mobile internet use
- The GSMA Innovation Fund for Rural Connectivity (funded by the UK’s FCDO) awarded up to £330,000 to iSAT Africa and NuRAN to deploy turnkey solutions in deep rural communities in Ghana and Uganda with low population density, difficult terrain or limited infrastructure.
- The GSMA Innovation Fund for Mobile Internet Adoption and Digital Inclusion (funded by the UK’s FCDO and Germany’s BMZ) aims to support start-ups and SMEs in Africa and Asia willing and able to work with mobile operators on projects that help the underserved overcome one or more of the barriers to mobile internet adoption and use (access, affordability, digital skills, safety and security).
- The Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT) was designed to help people with little or no mobile internet skills use the mobile internet. The MISTT is a set of ‘train the trainer’ resources that are used by mobile operators, governments, the development community and other interested parties, so far impacting 18 million users in 23 countries. The toolkit consists of 12 lessons that can be easily adapted to local needs and languages.
- The Mobile Digital Skills Alliance is a learning, communications and collaboration network that brings together representatives of the mobile and technology industries, international organisations, NGOs and others in response to the mobile digital skills gap in low- and middle-income countries.
- Generating and disseminating insights and learnings
- Industry leading research, case studies and data
- The Mobile Connectivity Index which measures the performance of 170 countries against the four key enablers of digital inclusion: infrastructure, affordability, consumer readiness, and content and services
- The Mobile Coverage Mapping tool, which is now available for 16 countries, enables operators, policymakers and other stakeholders to increase the efficiency of infrastructure investments by helping to locate and target uncovered areas with sufficient potential to deploy commercially sustainable sites.
- Advocating on behalf of the industry to highlight digital inclusion efforts and gain policy/regulatory support
- The capacity building course “Unlocking Rural Mobile Coverage” was designed to provide regulators and policymakers with a detailed understanding of the economic challenges of expanding rural coverage as well as to share a global perspective on best practices in policy and regulation to foster investments in rural networks.
- The GSMA National Dialogues provide a platform for the mobile industry, policymakers and other stakeholders to create a shared vision on digital transformation and how mobile can contribute to socio-economic growth.
Public Policy Considerations
If current trends continue, more than 40% of the population in LMICs will still be offline in 2025. All stakeholders have a role to play and can do more to measure, better understand and address the barriers to digital inclusion. Advancing digital inclusion will require a holistic approach that tackles both the coverage and usage gap.
On coverage, the priority is to expand the reach of commercially sustainable networks as much as possible by reducing costs regulatory and barriers to deployment. Governments and regulators can create an enabling environment by putting in place pro-investment and pro-innovation policies that reduce the costs and uncertainty around spectrum allocation, licenses and permits, promote best practices on tax policy, and remove obstacles to network deployment. Specifically, they should:
- Assign sufficient amounts of mobile spectrum to operators in a timely manner - including coverage bands
- Do not inflate spectrum prices. Also, look for trade-offs between reduced spectrum fees and carefully considered wider coverage obligations
- Avoid licence terms and conditions that discourage network investment and innovation and needlessly increase costs
- Reduce mobile-specific taxes and fees that impede rollouts and harm internet affordability
- Provide non-discriminatory and timely access to public infrastructure
- Simplify and streamline the planning approval process for new base stations to incentivise and speed-up deployments
- Adopt competition policy which supports investment in high quality mobile networks
- Allow infrastructure sharing on a voluntary basis
- Only consider state intervention to support coverage once all regulatory measures to maximise coverage through market-driven mechanisms have been exhausted and after a careful assessment of different options
Closing the usage gap. In order to close the usage gap, policymakers and regulators will need to address five key barriers: accessibility, affordability, usability and skills, relevance, and safety. Key considerations for governments include:
- Increase access to networks and enablers and improve the usability of handsets, content and services
- Ensure more people can afford internet-enabled handsets and data services
- Increase awareness and understanding of mobile internet and its benefits, and develop digital skills strategies that help people meet their life goals and needs
- Support the expansion of local digital ecosystems with content, products and services that meet user needs and capabilities
- Address safety and security concerns, and build user trust
For a more comprehensive overview of policy considerations and targeted action that policymakers and regulators should take, read ‘Accelerating mobile internet adoption: Policy considerations to bridge the digital divide in low- and middle-income countries’.
- GSMA Connected Society website
- Connected Society Overview
- The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity Report 2020
- GSMA Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit
- GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index
- GSMA Mobile Coverage Maps
- Understanding people mobile digital skills needs
- Accelerating mobile internet adoption: Policy considerations to bridge the digital divide in low- and middle-income countries
- Achieving mobile-enabled digital inclusion in Bangladesh
- Keeping Bangladesh connected: The role of the mobile industry during the COVID-19 pandemic
- The poverty reduction effects of mobile broadband in Africa: Evidence from Nigeria
- Life Stories from DRC and Bangladesh
- Supporting the growth of the tech start-up ecosystem in Uganda: A policy outlook
- The power of mobile to accelerate digital transformation in Pakistan
- Enabling rural coverage – Regulatory and Policy Recommendations to
- Foster Mobile Broadband Coverage in Developing CountriesClosing the Coverage Gap – How Innovation Can Drive Rural Connectivity
The mobile industry has had a hugely positive impact on the lives of citizens in developing nations because it has delivered a wide range of innovative services at unprecedented scale. However, many opportunities remain untapped because innovative start-ups in emerging markets face challenges in establishing partnerships with mobile operators and vice versa.
For example, start-ups commonly report fundamental issues related to differences in organisational goals, business language or technical limitations around incompatible application programming interfaces (APIs). Conversely, operators report a lack of market insight, a scarcity of appropriate partners and a dearth of clear business models when attempting to partner with local start-ups. Operators are also struggling to identify the best candidates for collaboration because they are flooded with requests for partnerships from a large number of start-ups.
As a result, mobile operators miss out on new innovations and commercial opportunities — including potentially disruptive ones — at a time when other players are becoming increasingly influential within the ecosystem. This is highlighted by GSMA research carried out in March 2018, which found that there were around one thousand active tech hubs in Africa and emerging markets in Asia Pacific. Of these hubs, half report a partnership with at least one tech giant — such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon — but only 10 per cent were partnering with a mobile operator.¹
In emerging markets, mobile operators have reached the scale that start-ups lack, while start-ups are developing the local innovation mobile operators need. The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator works to bridge the gap between mobile operators and start-ups, enabling strong partnerships that support the growth of commercially sustainable mobile products and services. By kickstarting dialogue between start-ups and mobile operators, the programme helps create synergies and expand the scale of the most promising ideas. This, in turn, helps the industry deliver the most impactful mobile solutions to the people and places that need them the most.
Through the Innovation Fund in particular, the programme leverages public sector capital to provide funding and tailored support to competitively selected start-ups in emerging markets that can deliver strong socio-economic impact.
The Innovation Fund supports start-ups in Africa and Asia Pacific with non-equity funding, mentorship and technical assistance, as well as by facilitating partnerships with mobile operators. As of July 2018, the programme has committed £5.5 million, and funded startups have tripled this money from other sources. During its lifetime, the programme will award over £7 million to help start-ups in Africa and Asia-Pacific realise their commercial and social potential.
Since it started in 2016, the fund has received more than 1,650 applications globally from start-ups across multiple verticals, focused on leveraging mobile technology to tackle the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As of August 2018, 24 start-ups from 15 markets have received funding from the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund, positively impacting some 1.5 million people.
The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.
Public Policy Considerations
The innovative ideas and nimble working practices that start-ups bring to business mean they often have a huge impact on both economies and societies.
As a result, governments now have a duty to implement policies that help start-ups act and move quickly. For example, governments can help by reducing bureaucratic barriers, improving access to capital, encouraging talent development and fostering a culture of innovation where risk-taking is not punished.
Governments can also have an impact by becoming more involved in supporting local tech hubs, given their potential to facilitate the creation of new jobs and to develop solutions that tackle social challenges and positively engage young people. Promoting investment in local start-ups also helps broaden the available range of locally relevant content and services. This can help drive the uptake of the internet and digital services among the broader population. Multilateral and non-government organisations also have a role to play in the emerging tech innovation landscape, particularly in providing technical support and a platform for collaboration.
Key ecosystem stakeholders also need to collaborate to ensure that new mobile-based solutions achieve scale and sustainability. For example, mobile operators can help by opening up APIs to third-party developers and start-ups. This will encourage even more innovation in the mobile ecosystem.
1. From the GSMA Blog: 1000 Tech Hubs are Powering Ecosystems in Asia Pacific and Africa.
Mobile money has done more to extend the reach of financial services in the last decade than bricks-and-mortar banking has in the last century. This has been possible because mobile money leverages the ubiquity of mobile phones, along with the extensive coverage of mobile operators’ networks and retail distribution channels, to offer customers a more secure and convenient way to access, send, receive and store funds.
As a result, mobile money has transformed the financial services landscape in many developing markets, by both complementing and disrupting traditional bricks-and-mortar banking. Mobile money platforms now process more than $2 billion a day and over 136 million additional accounts became active during 2020. As a result, the number of registered customer accounts rose from 1.07 billion in 2019 to exceed 1.2 billion by December 2020.
Globally, 66 per cent of providers offer mobile money services through a smartphone app while USSD – which is feature phone-friendly – also remains an important channel for mobile money transactions . Market figures clearly support the fact that mobile money is expanding financial inclusion as mobile money is now live in 76 per cent of LMICs (as classified by the World Bank), where a large proportion of the population lacks access to a formal financial institution.
Furthermore, the mobile money industry has proven to be both viable and sustainable: as of 2020, there were 310 services in 96 countries.
Mobile for Development Programme Goals
According to the World Bank’s Findex database, about 1.7 billion people remain unbanked, without access to safe, secure and affordable financial services. The GSMA Mobile Money team helps mobile operators and industry stakeholders enhance the utility and sustainability of mobile money services to increase financial inclusion for these people.
The programme is working to develop a robust, highly-interconnected mobile money ecosystem where transactions are digitised for sectors including retail, utilities, health, education, agriculture and transport. Diversifying mobile money customer usage patterns to go beyond merchant payments and draw in transactions such as cross-border remittances and bulk disbursements can accelerate network effects and broaden the payments ecosystem.
To truly transform the financial lives of underserved people, mobile money must become a central monetisation mechanism that can be used to carry out a diverse range of digital transactions. Making mobile money more central to the financial lives of users can help achieve greater financial inclusion, economic empowerment and economic growth.
Public Policy Considerations
Regulation has a major impact on the uptake of mobile money services. Evidence from the Findex and GSMA studies shows that enabling regulatory frameworks accelerates the development and adoption of digital financial services.
When banks and non-bank providers, especially mobile operators, are allowed to deploy mobile money services and establish partnerships that make commercial sense, mobile money can be a catalyst for financial sector development. It significantly expands financial inclusion through lower transaction costs, improved rural access and greater customer convenience. It can also provide the infrastructure to support a broad range of financial services including insurance, savings and loans.
Appropriate data privacy frameworks will be critical to safeguard consumers’ personal data and promote trust. Enabling frameworks that support cross-border data flows, while protecting personal data, will also become increasingly important to the growth of the industry.
Mobile money can also help governments achieve their policy objectives of safe, secure and efficient payment systems. It also reduces the vulnerability of a country’s financial system by lowering the risks caused by the informal economy and widespread use of cash. For example, it helps to bring more people from the informal to the formal economy, which means that governments can increase transparency and make more informed economic policy decisions.
Governmental bodies can also benefit in multiple ways from using mobile money for government-to-person (G2P) and person-to-government (P2G) transactions. These include lower cash-handling costs, reduced security risks, minimal theft of funds, increased transparency, instant transfers and improved operational efficiencies.
For mobile money to succeed, a level playing field must be established via an enabling policy and regulatory framework that allows non-bank mobile money providers to enter the market. Regulators should:
- Embrace reforms to enable operators to launch and scale mobile money services.
- Allow market players to determine the timing, technical model and commercial model for all forms of interoperability.
- Allow market-led solutions to be implemented at the right time for consumers and providers.
It is also important that governments refrain from imposing discriminatory taxes that target mobile money customers, as these types of taxes are likely to increase consumer costs and generate a headwind against this promising, socially beneficial service.
In recent times, COVID-19, together with increased conflict and climate change has “created the greatest humanitarian challenge since the Second World War”, pushing the expected number of people in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in 2021 to 235 million. Such tumultuous events and trends have tested and demonstrated the hypothesis that connectivity is a lifeline for people affected by humanitarian crises. A reimagining of the role of the mobile industry and private sector in the humanitarian system is firmly underway.
Humanitarian responses are becoming increasingly reliant on mobile technologies. Mobile networks support critical communication and access to services for humanitarian agencies and the international community. Communities affected by disaster, disease, conflict and displacement continue to prioritise mobile technology, not only to communicate, sustain and recover their livelihoods, seek information and protection and reunite with loved ones, but also as a tool to access humanitarian assistance.
These include innovations as diverse as connectivity and information access for affected populations to mobile money-enabled cash and voucher assistance (CVA). The digital humanitarian ecosystem is also maturing, creating new services, partnerships and business models to support the evolving use of mobile-enabled technologies in these contexts.
Recognising the importance of these developments, 159 mobile network operators have signed up to the GSMA Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, representing networks covering 111 countries. The Charter consists of a set of shared principles adopted by key players in the mobile industry to support improved access to communication and information for those affected by crisis in order to reduce the loss of life and positively contribute to humanitarian response.
The role of mobile in humanitarian preparedness and response continues to grow, and as the ecosystem becomes more complex, there is a need for a better understanding of how the global mobile communications community can support continued access to communication and information. There is also a need for further understanding of how mobile network data can be used in privacy-friendly ways to derive helpful insights and how the mobile platform can be used as a delivery channel in the wake of humanitarian emergencies. Equally important are efforts among stakeholders to ensure that crisis-affected communities have access to mobile services, including collectively addressing barriers such as the ability to meet know-your-customer (KYC) requirements. This has proved to be a significant barrier to the digital and financial inclusion of forcibly displaced persons who lack an official proof-of-identity and are therefore unable to access mobile and mobile money services in their host countries, where such proof-of-identity is mandatory for registration.
 United Nations Secretary-General (1 December 2020), Secretary-General’s video message to launch the 2021 Global Humanitarian Overview
Mobile for Development Programme Goals
The GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation(M4H) team works to accelerate the delivery and impact of digital humanitarian assistance. The M4H vision is to achieve an inclusive, digitally enabled humanitarian future in which mobile and digital solutions provide greater access to services, information and choice for people that could be, or already are, affected by crisis. This is being achieved by building a learning and research agenda to inform the future of digital humanitarian action, catalysing partnerships and innovation for new digital humanitarian services, and advocating for enabling policy environments. The programme also runs an Innovation Fund providing catalytic funding to support innovative solutions to humanitarian challenges. M4H is supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Public Policy Considerations
The GSMA has developed a set of recommendations for governments, regulatory bodies and mobile operators to follow during times of crisis.
- The key elements of these recommendations are that governments — along with relevant multilateral agencies — and operators should agree a set of regulatory or policy guidelines that can be adopted to best respond to, and recover from, an emergency and ensure broad access to mobile services for those affected. The guidelines should
- Set out unambiguous rules and clearly defined lines of communication between all levels of government and operators in emergency situations
- Provide the flexibility for operators to adjust to unforeseen circumstances rather than insisting that rules designed for non-emergency situations apply no matter what the circumstance.
- Help improve communication and coordination among various government entities involved in responding to an emergency and facilitate a timely and efficient response.
- Clarify what proof-of-identification is (or could be) acceptable for forcibly displaced persons (FDPs) to access mobile services: this should include forms of identity that most FDPs have access to, for example United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR)-issued identification.
- Allow some flexibility in the applicability of certain rules at times of emergency, for example enabling lower, tiered thresholds of KYC requirements to allow FDPs to open basic mobile money accounts, particularly in emergency contexts
- Adopt and promote robust privacy and data protection principles when dealing with people’s personal data, particularly in the absence of relevant legal frameworks.
- According to the UNHCR’s Global Trends Report.
GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation website
GSMA Humanitarian Connectivity Charter website
GSMA Report: Enabling Access to Mobile Services for the Forcibly Displaced: Policy and Regulatory Considerations for Addressing Identity Related Challenges in Humanitarian Contexts GSMA Report: The State of Mobile Data for Social Good
GSMA Report: Partnering During Crisis: The shared value of partnerships between mobile network operators and humanitarian organisations
GSMA Case Study: Italy Earthquake Response and Recovery
GSMA Report: Mission Critical Communications
While there has been a historic rise in mobile connectivity in low-and-middle income countries, billions of people continue to lack access to utility services that are essential for life. The lack of affordable, reliable and safe utility services is very costly for low-income populations in urban areas as they have to spend more money and time to access these services. It also is very costly to society as it makes cities less resilient to challenges, decreases productivity and social mobility and prevents the transition towards a low-carbon urban future.
The nature, quality, and accessibility of utility services has important implications for income inequality, public health, connectivity, climate change, education and gender equality – some of the most important determinants for productive, liveable and resilient cities and communities. With rapidly expanding informal settlements across Africa and Asia, where 90 per cent of global urban growth from now until 2050 will be concentrated, water shortages, unsanitary conditions, unreliable power provision, pollution and inadequate waste management could remain a defining reality for many.
However, the expansion of mobile connectivity has enabled the emergence of digital solutions that are making essential urban utility services more accessible, affordable, reliable, safe and sustainable. These solutions are set to play a vital role in making cities more resilient to the challenges of population growth, climate change and persistent inequality.
Mobile for Development Programme Goals
The Programme’s mission is to enable access to affordable, reliable, safe and sustainable utility services for low-income populations through digital solutions and innovative partnerships. Inclusive utility services, such as energy, water, sanitation, waste management and transport support urban resilience, which allows cities in low-and-middle-income countries to better withstand challenges related to population growth, climate change and inequality.
The Digital Utilities team was established in 2013 with funding from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). The team has also launched the Digital Utilities Innovation Fund, which aims to accelerate the development of promising mobile technologies and business models that target improved access to energy, water and sanitation services. By June 2021, the fund had given grants to 50 organisations spread across four continents. The $9.4 million granted has unlocked a further $309 million from the private sector and benefited over 6.5 million people.
- To achieve its objectives, activities include:
- De-risking and catalysing innovative urban utility services;
- Research and insights;
- Partnership facilitation between innovators, mobile operators, government providers of utility services and convening of key ecosystem stakeholders; and
- Technical advice to mobile operators, municipalities, and utility service providers.
Public Policy Considerations
Governments should recognise and support the role mobile can play in improving access to energy, clean water and sanitation in emerging markets. Mobile technologies are increasingly becoming a key strategic element of the models used by Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and energy providers to support service delivery.
For example, many energy and water providers employ mobile M2M technology to support the delivery of their services. M2M technologies can be used to monitor water pumps remotely and trigger repair call-outs automatically when a fault occurs, reducing down time. Governments should ensure that taxation levels on M2M connections are set at appropriate rates to encourage these types of innovative solutions.
Equally, several companies offering home solar power kits in emerging markets rely on mobile money to make these kits affordable to low-income populations via pay-as-you-go financing. Governments should ensure supportive regulation is in place to allow mobile money services to thrive and continue to sustainably provide these much-needed affordable financing schemes.
Furthermore, in developing markets, affordability is critical to increasing the use of mobile phones and associated services such as mobile money. Mobile-specific taxes raise barriers to mobile phone ownership and usage. Governments can play a key role by ensuring consumers do not face higher taxes on mobile handsets and services than on other goods and services.
1. Defined by the United Nations as separated faeces from human contact, via latrine, flush or other means.
2. According to the GSMA’s 2013 report Sustainable Energy and Water Access Through M2M Connectivity.
Today, over one billion people – about 15 per cent of the global population – live with some form of disability and need access to assistive technology (AT). Around 90 per cent of persons with disabilities do not have adequate access to the AT they require, limiting their capacity to live healthy, productive, independent and dignified lives.
As more services become ‘digital by default’, and as the world’s reliance on internet access increases as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increased risk that persons with disabilities may be left behind if technology products and services are not made accessible and affordable to all.
By clustering together multiple ATs in a single device, mobile phones are cost effective tools for persons with disabilities to enable greater inclusion. However, the evidence is clear that mobile access and use remains unequal – there is a significant disability gap in mobile phone ownership, and persons with disabilities are less likely to own smartphones and use mobile internet than people without disabilities.
The Principles for Driving Digital Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities
In conjunction with mobile operators and disability and accessibility experts, the GSMA has developed the Principles for Driving the Digital Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. These principles provide a framework for action for the industry along with a set of potential activities that can be taken by mobile operators to reduce the gap in access and use.
Principle 1: Embrace disability inclusion at every level of the organisation.
Principle 2: Understand how to reach and better serve persons with disabilities.
Principle 3: Deliver inclusive products and services that meet the varied needs of persons with disabilities.
Public Policy Considerations
A global effort is needed to create a significant shift in how persons with disabilities are reached and included. This shift needs to happen across the entire mobile value chain from how mobile services are inclusively designed to innovating with and for persons with disabilities.
Governments, policymakers and regulators play an important role in addressing the mobile disability gap and the barriers to digital inclusion for persons with disabilities, such as accessibility, affordability and digital skills.
Governments need to take strong leadership and drive a multi-stakeholder approach for the development and implementation of holistic disability inclusion policy frameworks to ensure the full participation of persons with disabilities in society. Governments also need to develop digital inclusion action plans based on robust disability data, with clear milestones and timelines, and ensure the coordinated implementation and monitoring of disability inclusion policies.
GSMA Report: The Mobile Disability Gap 2020
 Aranda-Jan, C. (2020) The Mobile Disability Gap Report 2020. London: GSMA.
Owning a mobile phone and accessing the internet can be life changing. The scale and reach of mobile technology is enabling billions of people around the world to access crucial services and information to meet their life needs, often for the first time. Yet, mobile ownership and use remain unequal. While 83% of women across low- and middle-income countries now own a mobile phone, 58% use mobile internet, and 112 million additional female users came online in 2020, the gender gap remains substantial. Women across these countries are 7% less likely than men to own a mobile phone, 15% less likely to use mobile internet and 33% less likely to use mobile money. There are still 234 million fewer women than men accessing mobile internet
Barriers to both access and use of mobile devices and services often disproportionately affect women. These barriers include those relating to access, affordability, safety and security, knowledge and skills, and the availability of relevant content, products and services.
Access to a mobile phone and mobile internet provides women with a range of opportunities to improve their lives, including information and services related to income generation, education, health, safety and personal well-being. These opportunities are even more critical as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and impacts health, livelihoods and economies around the world, disproportionately affecting women. Mobile technology is supporting women during the pandemic by enabling them to access COVID-19 information, stay connected to their families during lockdowns, continue their business activities where possible and access government and other support. Still, the women who are most likely to benefit from mobile connectivity are still the furthest away from accessing it.
The mobile gender gap demands significant attention from all stakeholders to enable women and their families to reap the full benefits of connectivity and ensure that progress in reducing this gap is not reversed. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic as economies suffer and mobile becomes less affordable. It is only with the concerted action and collaboration of different stakeholders that we can truly accelerate progress on this issue, including the mobile industry, development community and policymakers.
Mobile for Development Programme Goals
The GSMA Connected Women team aims to reduce the gender gap in mobile internet and mobile money services and unlock significant commercial and socio-economic opportunities. The programme aims to advance the global conversation around the mobile gender gap and to drive increased awareness, prioritisation and action amongst stakeholders.
The programme works closely with the mobile industry to drive efforts to accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women across Africa, Asia and Latin America. As part of the GSMA Connected Women Commitment Initiative which launched in 2016, 40 mobile operators have made formal commitments to accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women. So far, they have collectively reached over 40 million additional women with these services.
GSMA Connected Women also develops insights and thought leadership on the size of the mobile gender gap, the drivers of the gap, and opportunities and approaches for addressing it. Connected Women also supports the GSMA’s wider efforts to accelerate digital and financial inclusion for women and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), through our engagement in key partnerships, such as EQUALS; as well as capacity building efforts with policymakers and regulators.
Public Policy Considerations
To address the gender gap, policymakers and regulators should:
- Ensure there is a focus on gender equality and reaching women at a policy level and across departments, through senior leaders championing this issue and setting specific gender-equity targets.
- Understand the mobile gender gap by improving the quality and availability of gender-disaggregated data and understanding of women’s needs and barriers to mobile ownership and use. Gender-disaggregated data is currently limited, despite such data being critical to understanding and measuring the mobile gender gap, setting targets, tracking progress and informing strategies and policies that can help bridge this gap.
- Explicitly address women’s needs, circumstances and challenges in the design and implementation of mobile-related policies and services. This includes addressing barriers faced by women related to access, affordability, safety and security, knowledge and skills, and the availability of relevant content, products and services. For example, consider initiatives and policies that disproportionately benefit women, such as digital skills training in schools and lowering mobile-specific taxes. It should also include a consideration of social norms and disparities between men and women in terms of education and income which influence women’s access to and use of mobile technology, and often contribute to women experiencing these barriers more acutely than men. If governments do not proactively consider reaching women and their needs and aspirations, they are likely to inadvertently maintain or further entrench the mobile gender gap.
- Collaborate and partner with different stakeholders to address the mobile gender gap. The root causes of the mobile gender gap are complex, diverse and inter-related and cannot be addressed by one organisation alone. Targeted intervention is needed from industry, policymakers, the development community and other stakeholders to ensure that women are no longer left behind.
- GSMA Connected Women website
- Connected Women Overview
- GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021
- Reaching 50 Million Women with Mobile: A Practical Guide
- Connected Women Life Stories: Video Series
- Addressing the Mobile Gender Gap in Pakistan
- Safaricom’s Maisha Ni Digital Campaign: Case study
- MTN MoMo Pay Merchant Payments: Case study
- Vodafone Idea’s Sakhi service: Case study
- Are the effects of mobile money regulation gender neutral?
- 10 Lessons Learnt: Closing the Gender Gap in Internet Access and Use
- Broadband Commission Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide: Recommendations for Action
- Triggering Mobile Internet Use Among Men and Women in South Asia
- A Toolkit for Researching Women’s Internet Access and Use
- GSMA Training: Bridging the Mobile Gender Gap
- W20 Digital Equity Policy Brief W20 Japan 2019
- A Framework to Understand Mobile-related Safety Concerns
“If women are to become equal citizens in a more digital, post-COVID world, closing the mobile gender gap has never been more critical,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, of the GSMA. “I urge policymakers, the private sector and the international community to take note of the important findings laid out in the Mobile Gender Gap Report because only concerted action and collaboration will enable women and their families to reap the full benefits of connectivity.”