Mobile for Development

Mobile for Development

The transformative power of mobile is most apparent in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where it is typically the most widespread technology and supported with far-reaching infrastructure. This puts the mobile industry in a unique position to connect people with essential services.

Mobile for Development (M4D) is a dedicated global team within the GSMA that brings together our mobile operator members, tech innovators, the development community and governments. Singularly positioned at the intersection of the mobile ecosystem and the development sector, the M4D team stimulates digital innovation to deliver both sustainable business and large-scale socio-economic and climate impact for the underserved.
The team identifies opportunities and provides support for innovations in digital inclusion, financial inclusion, gender equality, agriculture, essential urban services, humanitarian and and climate resilience and adaptation.

A key part of the M4D strategy is taking advantage of the synergies between these areas to amplify their impact. For example, identifying ways to use mobile money payments and machine-to-machine (M2M) communication to improve access to energy, clean water and sanitation while, at the same time, working in a variety of contexts to make digital services accessible and helpful for populations otherwise at risk of being left behind, particularly women and persons with disabilities.

M4D has impacted more than 120 million people in the past decade thanks to the support of funding partners and stakeholders from the public and private sectors. It has supported the growth of the mobile money industry from a concept to a transformational financial inclusion tool boasting more than 1.2 billion registered accounts. Similarly, it has supported the early stages and growth of the pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar industry, which today provides clean energy to millions of households. Digital skills campaigns based on M4D content and gender strategies developed by mobile operators with M4D support have enabled tens of millions of users to get online for the first time.
In addition to the policy activities detailed in this handbook, M4D publishes foundational research, provides on-the-ground technical assistance to projects, creates technology assets to strengthen collaboration among industry players and de-risks pioneering digital solutions through the GSMA Innovation Funds, which have already provided capital to more than 100 ventures.

Through these activities and more, M4D tests the feasibility of new ideas and business models, supports the growth of those with the most potential for impact and scale and, ultimately, help digital solutions address the challenges faced by our societies, our economies and our planet.

Digital inclusion


The world is more connected than ever before, with more than four billion people and countless organisations relying on mobile operators to access the internet. Despite this achievement, 3.8 billion people remain unconnected and excluded from the benefits of mobile internet. The vast majority (89 per cent or 3.4 billion people) live in areas already covered by mobile broadband (this is known as the “usage gap”). Another 450 million do not have access to a network, mainly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Unsurprisingly, most unconnected people live in LMICs (93 per cent) and are more likely to be poorer, less educated, female and rural. Although this gender gap in mobile internet use has narrowed, it is still significant for women in LMICs. Women in LMICs are 15 per cent less likely to use mobile internet than men, which means there are 234 million fewer women using mobile internet. Expanding mobile broadband connectivity and accelerating mobile adoption are critical to the growth of the digital economy, achieving the SDGs and ensuring no one is left behind.

Through the Connected Women and Connected Society programmes, the GSMA works with the mobile industry, governments and other key stakeholders on digital inclusion initiatives that help to expand mobile broadband coverage and address the barriers to mobile internet adoption and use, with particular emphasis on underserved groups, such as women and persons with disabilities.

Public Policy Considerations

All stakeholders can and must do more to measure, understand and address the challenges perpetuating the digital divide. If no action is taken, based on current trends, almost 40 per cent of the world’s population will still be offline by 2025. The reasons for the mobile digital divide are complex and rooted in a variety of economic, social and cultural factors. Accelerating mobile internet adoption and closing the digital gender gap will require deliberate and strategic efforts by the mobile industry, policymakers and the international community.

From a policy perspective, stakeholders should focus on the following key areas:

Enabling rural broadband expansion. People without network coverage typically have low incomes and live in sparsely populated, rural areas without enabling infrastructure, such as electricity. Such factors have an adverse impact on the business case for mobile network expansion. Policymakers should recognise that the mobile industry cannot fully close the coverage gap without government support. Instead, they can create better incentives to invest in rural infrastructure by aligning key policies around best practices. For example, adopting coverage-driven spectrum allocation and pricing, implementing investment-friendly tax policies, facilitating access to public infrastructure, reducing red tape for deploying mobile infrastructure and encouraging voluntary infrastructure sharing.

Addressing barriers to mobile internet adoption and use. 3.4 billion people live in areas covered by a mobile network but do not use mobile internet. Closing the usage gap will require tackling five main barriers: the affordability of handsets and data bundles; knowledge of mobile internet and digital skills; lack of relevant content and services; safety and security concerns; and access to key enablers, such as formal IDs or accessibility features. Policy considerations include measures that help lower the cost of handsets and data; improve literacy and digital skills focused on the life goals and needs of targeted user groups; create an environment for businesses and organisations to digitally transform or for start-ups to grow; and address online safety and security concerns, such as harassment, disinformation or handset theft. Responsibility for these and other policy measures cuts across various ministries, regulators and other agencies. Successful policy strategies recognise this and address these barriers holistically through a whole-of-government approach and in collaboration with key stakeholders, including with the private sector. The usage gap will only be closed when all stakeholders share responsibility for accelerating mobile internet adoption and use.

Closing the mobile gender gap. The mobile gender gap is not going to close on its own. Targeted intervention is needed from industry, policymakers, the development community and other stakeholders to ensure that women are no longer left behind. To address the gender gap, policymakers and regulators should:

  • Ensure there is a focus on gender equality and reaching women at an organisational and policy level through senior leaders championing the issue and setting specific gender equity targets.
  • Understand the mobile gender gap by improving the quality and availability of gender-disaggregated data and understand women’s needs and the barriers they face to mobile ownership and use.
  • Explicitly address women’s needs, circumstances and challenges in the design and implementation of interventions and policies. This includes addressing the barriers women face related to mobile access, affordability, safety and security, knowledge and skills and the availability of relevant content, products and services.
  • Collaborate and create partnerships with different stakeholders to address the mobile gender gap.


GSMA Connected Society website

GSMA Connected Women Website

GSMA Report: State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2021

GSMA Report: The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021

GSMA Report: Enabling Rural Coverage: Regulatory and Policy Recommendations to Foster Mobile Broadband Coverage in Developing Countries

GSMA Report: Accelerating Mobile Internet Adoption: Policies to Bridge the Digital Divide in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

GSMA Report: Reaching 50 Million Women with Mobile

GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index

GSMA Mobile Coverage Maps Website

GSMA Capacity Building Course: Unlocking Mobile Rural Coverage

GSMA Capacity Building Course: Bridging the Mobile Gender Gap

Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation (M4H)


The GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation (M4H) programme was launched in 2018 with support from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). The mission of M4H is to accelerate the delivery and impact of digital humanitarian assistance through improved access to and use of life-enhancing mobile-enabled services during humanitarian preparedness, response and recovery.

The mobile industry continues to invest in partnerships and solutions that have the potential to deliver impactful, safe and efficient digital humanitarian assistance. 159 mobile operators in 111 countries have committed to the GSMA Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, an initiative to improve the preparedness and response of mobile networks during humanitarian crises. The M4H programme has shown that a well-developed digital ecosystem has the potential to not only provide people affected by crisis with a suite of life-enhancing mobile services, but also strengthen the business case for mobile operators, and across the private sector, by expanding the range of digital services and platforms that can be tested, implemented and scaled.

The GSMA is in a unique position to support system- and industry-wide transformation for an inclusive and impactful digital humanitarian future. M4H works to achieve this aim by catalysing innovations, supporting partnerships, generating evidence and advocating for enabling policy environments that accelerate the delivery and impact of digital humanitarian assistance. The programme’s high-quality monitoring, evaluation and learning framework allows it to assess the impact of its work and drive adaptive programming.

Public Policy Considerations

The M4H programme has developed the following policy considerations for multilateral agencies, governments, national regulatory authorities and mobile operators to accelerate the delivery and impact of digital humanitarian assistance:

Recognise the role of government in humanitarian preparedness, response and recovery. This includes the coordination of response to sudden-onset disasters, protracted emergencies and situations of forced displacement. This is a necessary role that enables governments to work with and empower the mobile industry and humanitarian partners to manage the risks associated with humanitarian crises and respond effectively.

Encourage mobile operators to have up-to-date business continuity plans or disaster recovery plans to ensure communications services are available and to minimise the impact on telecommunication services during emergencies.

Promote the adoption of robust privacy and data protection principles when dealing with personal data, particularly those of marginalised persons, in the absence of relevant legal frameworks.

Create an industry-conducive emergency telecommunications plan to enable all stakeholders to think through the life cycle of a potential emergency, determine the capacities required and establish a governance framework using a multi-stakeholder approach.

Create clear and consistent legal and regulatory instruments for managing humanitarian digital identity and break down barriers that may inhibit the roll-out of mobile enabled-identification (ID) services or create regulatory uncertainty.

Create an inclusive and comprehensive ID enrolment policy to provide formal identities for the millions who are unregistered. Ensure persons of concern (PoC) have an acceptable and recognisable form of ID to access mobile and other identity-linked services.

Establish a proportionate risk assessment process that considers different types of PoC when developing proof-of-identity policies, procedures and rules.

Promote the acceptance of other forms of IDs issued by humanitarian organisations to satisfy know-your-customer (KYC) requirements in markets where these are mandated.

Create a clear and conducive legal pathway for non-nationals, such as refugees, to access mobile connectivity and mobile money services in their own name. Harmonise ID-related SIM registration rules with the lowest tier of KYC requirements in countries and markets that mandate SIM registration.

Promote robust validation processes for humanitarian ID while being sensitive to data protection and privacy rules, particularly for marginalised groups and populations.

Provide for relaxed rules or regulations during emergencies to ensure the provision of mission-critical telecommunications services during any phase of a humanitarian crisis, and to allow mobile operators to adjust to unforeseen circumstances.

Promote partnerships, collaboration and coordination within government, across public and private sector agencies and within communities at risk to facilitate timely and effective responses.

Facilitate agreements among mobile operators that give all mobile customers access to their networks during emergencies.


GSMA and UNHCR Report: Displaced and Disconnected

GSMA Report: Access to Mobile Services and Proof of ID

GSMA Report: Proportionate Regulation in Uganda

GSMA Report: National Emergency Telecommunications Plans: Enablers and Safeguards – A Brief Evaluation Guide for Policy Practitioners

GSMA Report: Policy and Regulatory Recommendations to facilitate Mobile Humanitarian and Social Assistance during COVID-19

Mobile Money


Mobile money has done more to extend the reach of financial services in the past decade than bricks-and-mortar banking has in the past century. This has been due to the ubiquity of mobile phones and mobile operators’ extensive networks and retail distribution channels, which together provide customers a more secure and convenient way to access, send, receive and store funds.

Mobile money has transformed the financial services landscape in many LMICs by complementing and disrupting traditional banking. Mobile money platforms now process more than $2 billion a day through more than 1.2 billion registered mobile money accounts. More than $1 billion in international remittances is received into mobile money accounts every month, and $500 million is converted into e-money daily by 5.2 million unique mobile money agent outlets worldwide.

The mobile money industry has proven to be both viable and sustainable: as of 2020, there were 310 services in 96 countries. The services provided by mobile money providers (MMPs) are deepening, with the number of merchants accepting mobile money payments surging 29 per cent between December 2019 and June 2020. In 2020, the volume, activity and value of mobile money-enabled merchant payments all grew. Payments grew by 43 per cent, up from 28 per cent in 2019, generating more than $2.3 billion in monthly transactions on average in 2020.

Public policy considerations

Regulation has a major impact on the uptake of mobile money services. Evidence from the Global Findex Survey and GSMA research show that enabling regulatory frameworks accelerate 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 sound commercial partnerships, mobile money can be a catalyst for financial sector development. It significantly expands financial inclusion through lower transaction costs, better 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.

Analysis of customer data provides a major opportunity to develop innovative mobile money services and ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry. Appropriate data privacy frameworks will be critical to safeguard consumers’ personal data and promote trust. Enabling frameworks that support cross-border data flows while also protecting personal data will become increasingly important to the growth of the industry.

Global players in the financial services industry are adapting their business models to embrace the cloud and use new solutions provided by financial technology providers (fintechs) to improve services and lower investment costs. The mobile money sector is gradually adopting these technological changes to scale up their services and increase financial inclusion sustainably. However, regulatory concerns about using the cloud for mobile money services, such as data privacy and supervision and oversight by local regulators, should be addressed without restricting use for mobile money providers.

Mobile money can help governments achieve policy objectives for safe, secure and efficient payment systems. It also makes a country’s financial system less vulnerable by lowering the risks created by the informal economy and the widespread use of cash. For example, mobile money can usher more people from the informal to the formal economy and this, in turn, helps governments become more transparent and make more informed economic policy decisions. Government agencies can also reap the benefits of mobile money. Sending government-to-person (G2P) and person-to-government (P2G) payments via mobile money reduces cash-handling costs, security risks and theft of funds while improving transparency, speed and efficiency.

Trust is key to the success of mobile money. Over the past decade, mobile money has evolved from a niche product in a few markets to an emerging market phenomenon, bringing reliable financial services to unbanked populations. In many LMICs, mobile money has become the leading payment platform for the digital economy. The GSMA Mobile Money Certification is a global initiative to bring safer, more transparent and resilient financial services to millions of mobile money users around the world. Certification will help take the industry to the next level by improving quality of services and customer satisfaction, facilitating trusted partnerships, building trust with regulators and encouraging appropriate and proportional regulatory standards. Enhancing trust in mobile money is in the collective interest of the private sector, governments, regulators and consumers.

For mobile money to succeed, non-bank mobile money providers must be able to enter the market on an equal footing. This level playing field must be established via an enabling policy and regulatory framework. Policymakers and regulators should:

  • Embrace reforms to enable mobile operators to launch and scale mobile money services.
  • Allow market-led solutions to be implemented at the right time for consumers and providers, and ensure that government-led instant payment schemes have fair and inclusive governance principles and operating rules.
  • Engage with mobile money providers and provide adequate guidance to ensure that regulatory uncertainty on cross-border data flows is not a barrier to the use of cloud services in the mobile money industry.
  • Ensure that fiscal policy (taxation) is broad based and not sector specific. Taxes that discriminate against players and users in the financial services sector should be avoided, particularly given the positive externalities of mobile money services.
  • Adopt risk-based approaches to risk management and encourage the implementation of appropriate and proportional regulatory standards.


GSMA Mobile Money Programme Website

GSMA Mobile Money Metrics Website (Mobile Money Regulatory Index)

GSMA Mobile Money Certification Website

GSMA Report: Demystifying Regulatory Concerns for the Use of Cloud Services in Mobile Money

GSMA Report: 2021 State of the Industry Report on Mobile Money