Mobile for Development

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, health, agriculture, digital identity, 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, as there are now 690 million mobile money accounts across more than 90 countries. Furthermore, the mHealth programme reached just under 1.6 million women and households with lifesaving maternal and health information in eight sub-Saharan countries over the last two years.

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.

Connected Society


During 2018, an additional 270 million people connected to the mobile internet, bringing the total number to 3.6 billion globally1. Despite this achievement, more than four billion people remain offline. This is known as the ‘digital divide’. It includes one billion people who are currently not covered by mobile broadband networks (representing the ‘coverage gap’), and three billion people who live within the footprint of a network but are not accessing mobile internet services (equating to the ‘usage gap’). In developing markets, mobile is the cheapest and often only way of accessing the internet. This means that accelerating mobile internet connectivity and usage is critical to supporting the growth of the digital economy and ensuring no-one is left behind. In that context, digital inclusion has become a key facilitator for a range of essential mobile-enabled services in the areas of healthcare, education, utilities and financial services.

Programme Goals

The GSMA’s Connected Society programme focuses on accelerating digital inclusion. It works with the mobile industry and key stakeholders to increase access to and adoption of the mobile internet, spotlighting underserved population groups in developing markets. The programme supports the mobile industry in its efforts to extend network coverage and address consumer barriers to mobile internet adoption in order to unlock the significant socio-economic benefits of increased digital inclusion.


GSMA Connected Society website
GSMA Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit
GSMA Report: State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2018
GSMA Report: Enabling rural coverage - Regulatory and policy recommendations to foster mobile broadband coverage in developing countries
GSMA Report: Rural Coverage — Strategies for Sustainability
GSMA Report: Unlocking Rural Coverage — Enablers for commercially sustainable mobile network expansion
GSMA Report: Accelerating Affordable Smartphone Ownership in Emerging Markets

Public Policy Considerations

Significant progress has already been achieved but, 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 range of social, economic and cultural factors. Accelerating mobile internet adoption will require deliberate and strategic efforts by the mobile industry, policymakers and the international community, particularly for rural populations, women and other underserved groups.

Enabling rural broadband expansion. Offline populations typically have low income levels and live in sparsely populated, rural areas that lack enabling infrastructure such as electricity and high-capacity fixed communications networks. All of these factors adversely affect the business case for mobile network expansion in these locations. Policymakers should acknowledge that the mobile industry cannot close the coverage gap without the government's support. Instead, they can enhance incentives to invest in rural infrastructure by aligning key policies around best practices. These include 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.

Breaking down barriers to mobile internet usage. The majority of people who remain unconnected to the mobile internet are already living in areas with network coverage. Closing this ‘usage gap’ will require stakeholders to tackle issues in four key areas: affordability, usability and skills, relevance, and safety. Key considerations for governments include:

  • Avoiding the introduction of distortionary or disproportionate taxes on mobile handsets as they negatively impact the affordability of these devices, which remains a key barrier for many people in developing markets.
  • Prioritising digital skills in formal education and through government supported training programmes.
  • Developing e-government services to help drive an increase in the amount of relevant content and services available to citizens and, in turn, improve the accessibility and efficiency of government service.
  • Strengthening action against internet-related abuse and harassment, including through legal and policy measures, to build trust around the mobile internet, particularly among women.

Source: All figures quoted are GSMA Intelligence, Q4 2018 estimates unless otherwise stated.

Connected Women


Mobile connectivity has grown rapidly, but it is not reaching everyone equally. Many women are being left behind in today’s increasingly connected world. Women in low- and middle-income countries are 10 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than men on average1, which translates into 184 million fewer women owning mobile phones.2

Even those women who do own a mobile tend to use it less frequently and intensively than men, especially for more transformational services such as mobile internet and mobile money. Women are on average 26 per cent less likely to use mobile internet than men and 33 per cent less likely to use mobile money.3

Barriers to both access and use of mobile products and services often disproportionately affect women. These barriers include network coverage, the cost of handsets and services, concerns around security and harassment, and a lack of technical literacy and awareness of relevant products and services.

Closing the gender gap in mobile phone ownership and usage can substantially empower women, opening up access to information and life-enhancing opportunities — such as health information, financial services and employment opportunities — often for the first time.

The gender gap won’t close on its own. The social, economic and cultural barriers driving it can only be overcome with intervention by all stakeholders — including policymakers — collaborating with the mobile industry.

Programme Goals

The GSMA Connected Women programme focuses on accelerating digital and financial inclusion for women. Its mission is to reduce the gender gap in access and use of mobile internet and mobile money services in low- and middle-income countries.

It works with mobile operators and their partners to address the barriers to women’s use of these services, unlock this substantial market opportunity for the mobile industry, deliver significant socio-economic benefits and transform women’s lives. By July 2018, 36 operators had committed to reducing the gender gap in their mobile internet, their mobile money customer base or both by 2020.


GSMA Connected Women website

Broadband Commission Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide — Recommendations for Action:

Bridging the Gender Gap in Internet Access and Use

GSMA Report: The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2018

GSMA Report: Triggering Mobile Internet Use Among Men and Women in South Asia

Public Policy Considerations

To address the gender gap, policymakers and regulators should take a holistic approach to the issue that respects both local and cultural sensitivities. Strategies, policies and budgets that explicitly address women’s needs, circumstances, capabilities and preferences are essential if governments are to truly make progress. The adoption of clear targets around women’s access to mobile internet and mobile money is encouraged, along with the implementation of proper accountability structures to ensure these targets are met.

Creating a supportive policy environment is an essential first step to making progress towards three objectives. Such an environment will help address issues of gender equality and social norms. It must ensure that mobile devices and services are accessible, affordable, usable, safe and relevant for women. It must also ensure that women have the skills and confidence to use them.

For example, it is important to ensure appropriate policy and regulation is in place to lower cost and access barriers for customers. This can be achieved by reducing mobile-specific taxes, supporting voluntary infrastructure sharing among licensed operators and releasing sufficient spectrum at affordable cost.

Furthermore, governments can consider strategies for increasing mobile and digital skills through changes to school curriculums and having training programmes for women who lack digital skills. It may also be appropriate to address harassment via mobile phones and the mobile internet through awareness campaigns or legal and policy frameworks.

Targeted regulatory interventions can also play a key role in addressing the challenges that disproportionately affect women. In the context of mobile money for example, the adoption of flexible agent regulation and of tiered know-your-customer (KYC) requirements can go a long way in driving mobile money adoption among women.

Data is critical to help regulators and policymakers better understand the barriers women face. Demand-side data in particular can be an invaluable source of insights and also tends to be more reliable than supply-side data. Policymakers are encouraged to adopt creative approaches to ensure accurate sex-disaggregated data is available. This allows decision-makers to inform their own policies, monitor the gender gap and support operators and others in developing customer-centric approaches focusing on women.

We call for immediate measures to achieve gender equality in internet users by 2020, especially by significantly enhancing women’s and girls’ education and participation in ICTs, as users, content creators, employees, entrepreneurs, innovators and leaders.
— UN General Assembly, WSIS+10 Outcome Document

1. According to the GSMA’s 2018 Mobile Gender Gap Report.
2. ‘Mobile’ or ‘mobile phone’ ownership refers to personally owning a SIM card, or a mobile phone which does not require a SIM; and using it at least once a month.
According to the World Bank’s 2017 Findex Report

Digital Identity


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.

Programme Goals

The GSMA Digital Identity programme is working with mobile operators, governments and the development community to demonstrate the opportunities and value of mobile as a scalable and trusted platform to enable robust digital identity solutions for the underserved, leading to greater social, political and economic inclusion.

Mobile operators are ideally placed to play a leading role in the development of a digital identity ecosystem because they have:

  • Immense reach — they connect more than five billion unique subscribers worldwide.
  • Extensive networks of agents that can be used for face-to-face verification.
  • A local presence that is bound by local licences and laws.
  • The ability to access unique customer attributes through network management tools.
  • Experience in partnering with governments and service providers.

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.

1. World Bank: Identification for Development (ID4D) global data set.


GSMA Digital Identity Programme website

GSMA SIM Registration website
GSMA Report: Access to Mobile Services and Proof of Identity
GSMA Policy Note: Enabling Access to Mobile Services for the Forcibly Displaced

Ecosystem Accelerator


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

Programme Goals

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.


GSMA Innovation Fund website
GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund Portfolio
GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Insights

Mobile Agriculture


Agriculture contributes around 23.7 per cent of GDP in the world’s least developed countries1, with over 450 million smallholder farmer households depending on agriculture for their livelihood. However, smallholder farmers are increasingly vulnerable to volatile climate patterns affecting their yields. In addition, farmers, cooperatives and agribusinesses in agricultural value chains face many inefficiencies. The largest of these is the predominance of cash transactions, but there is no shortage of other issues. These include a lack of knowledge of the latest farming practices, of visibility into the value chain overall and of the agricultural assets available to farmers, like tools, inputs and equipment.

With mobile penetration across the world’s developing regions 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 can deliver the critical economic and climatic information that smallholder farmers need to improve their decisions. In addition, mobile offers a pathway to financial inclusion for mostly unbanked smallholder farmers. The digitisation of agricultural payments for the sale of crops via mobile money can support the formation of a financial identity and thus enable access to a range of services including credit, savings and insurance.

The GSMA forecasts that between 2017 and 2025 across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, East Asia and Latin America, some 350 million people will get their first mobile phone. 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 main opportunities for digitisation within agricultural value chains are business-to-person and government-to-person transfers, which the GSMA estimates as worth around $2 billion and $202 million of revenue each year.

Evidence of the social impact of mobile services suggests that mobile-based information services targeting smallholder farmers in the developing world are driving behavioural change and livelihood benefits. Active users of mobile information 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.

Programme Goals

The GSMA mAgri programme forges partnerships between mobile operators, technology providers and agricultural organisations. It supports scalable, commercial mobile solutions that impact smallholder farmers and the agricultural industry at large. As of March 2018, the GSMA mAgri programme had supported 12 projects, which had reached over 13.3 million smallholder farmers across Asia and Africa with mobile agricultural and nutritional services to improve their yields.

Public Policy Considerations

In some cases, national Ministries of Agriculture have been important for the success of information-based mAgri services, for example by providing validation for the content that mobile network operators send to farmers.

However, there are also some challenges that need to be addressed, such as:

The need for proportional know-your-customer (KYC) rules: 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. 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. Where national ID schemes are particularly weak — including Fiji, Somaliland and parts of India — some financial service regulators have allowed providers to open mobile money accounts using alternative forms of documentation, including reference letters from village elders, employers and government officials.

Mobile money transaction value and account size limits: 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.

Business-to-person payments in agricultural value chains are the most likely entry point to financial inclusion for farmers, so 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. In countries such as Ghana, Haiti, and Sri Lanka, where mobile operators are digitising agricultural last mile payments for the procurement of key cash crops, the transaction value and account size limits mandated by regulators have posed challenges to the implementation of digital payments.

Supporting mobile Internet of Things (IoT) for climate resilience: Mobile IoT and Big Data are crucial for bridging the data gap in weather monitoring and forecasting. To enable innovation in this space, national governments must allow public-private partnerships between domestic meteorological agencies, commercial weather service providers and mobile operators. Many governments view meteorological data as state-owned and so have prevented private providers from disseminating weather alerts. This has been a roadblock to leveraging the potential of mobile technology for weather monitoring and forecasting.
1. According to World Bank data.


GSMA Report: Creating Scalable, Engaging Mobile Solutions for Agriculture
GSMA Report: Prerequisites to Digitising the Agricultural Last Mile
GSMA Report: Opportunities in Agricultural Value Chain Digitisation — Learnings from Cote D’Ivoire
GSMA Report: Opportunities in Agricultural Value Chain Digitisation — Learnings from Ghana

Mobile for Development Utilities


Rapid network expansion means mobile now reaches further than the electricity grid, piped water networks and sewerage networks in most emerging markets. For example, while mobile coverage has grown extensively to cover more than 95 per cent of the world’s population, 2.4 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation solutions1. The result is a widening gap between access to mobile and access to basic utility services. In fact, by 2015 mobile networks covered more than 855 million people without access to electricity, more than 373 million people without access to clean water and 1.97 billion without access to improved sanitation, according to the GSMA’s Mobile for Development (M4D) programme.

This shortfall of affordable and sustainable utility infrastructure has a profound impact on people’s lives. For example, according to figures from charity WaterAid, nearly 300,000 children under the age of five die each year due to diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. Poorer people living off the electricity grid in emerging markets also often end up relying on expensive and harmful energy sources, such as kerosene, which suffer from fluctuating prices. As a result, a middle-class family in Europe can pay less for energy than a poor family in a country such as Bangladesh.2

However, by leveraging the enormous reach of mobile — as well as innovative mobile technologies and services, including machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and mobile money — the industry is well positioned to help bring the life-changing benefits of energy and clean water and sanitation to huge numbers of people in emerging markets.

Programme Goals

Challenges to providing universal access to energy, water and sanitation services include last-mile distribution, operation and maintenance costs, as well as payment collection.
The GSMA Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities programme focuses on leveraging mobile network technology and infrastructure to help solve these challenges in emerging markets.
The programme was established in 2013 with funding from the UK’s Department for International Development. The programme has also launched the M4D 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 July 2018, the fund had given grants to 53 organisations spread across four continents. The $12 million granted has unlocked a further $275 million from the private sector and benefited 4.5 million people in total.

The key goals of the programme include:
⦁ Supporting the Innovation Fund grantees and their mobile operator partners to help them deliver on the promise of their trials.
⦁ Demonstrating the commercial viability of improving energy, water and sanitation access using innovative mobile technologies.
⦁ Driving further industry interest and support for increasing access to improving energy, water and sanitation services through mobile technology.

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.


GSMA Mobile For Development Utilities website
GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities Innovation Fund website GSMA Connected Society Programme website
GSMA Toolkit: Mobile Money Payment Toolkit for Utilities Providers GSMA M4D Utilities Annual Report

Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation


Mobile networks, and the connectivity they provide, are now seen as a lifeline in humanitarian emergencies because they support critical communication and access to services for humanitarian agencies, affected populations and the international community.

Over the past several years, a proliferation of new coordination and response strategies have been built around mobile platforms and mobile-derived insights.

The impact of the 2017 Caribbean hurricane season — as well as the ongoing global displacement crises, which affect nearly 69 million people around the world1— provide recent examples of the critical importance of access to communication and information for populations affected by disaster and crisis.

Humanitarian responses are becoming increasingly reliant on mobile technologies. These include innovations as diverse as connectivity and information access for displaced populations to mobile money-enabled humanitarian cash transfers for communities impacted by disaster. 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, 148 mobile network operators have signed up to the GSMA Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, representing networks covering 106 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 disaster 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.

Programme Goals

The GSMA Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation programme works to accelerate the delivery and impact of digital humanitarian assistance. This will be achieved by building a learning and research agenda to inform the future of digital humanitarian response, catalysing partnerships and innovation for new digital humanitarian services, and advocating for enabling policy environments. The programme also runs an Innovation Fund to help catalyse new mobile-enabled solutions that can benefit those affected by, or responding to, humanitarian crises. The programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development.

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 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.

1. 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: Mobile is a Lifeline: Research from Nyarugusu Refugee Camp, Tanzania
GSMA Report: Refugees and Identity: Considerations for Mobile-enabled Registration and Aid Delivery
GSMA Report: Mobile Money, Humanitarian Cash Transfers and Displaced Populations
GSMA Case Study: Italy Earthquake Response and Recovery
GSMA Report: Mission Critical Communications
GSMA Report: The Importance of Mobile for Refugees: A Landscape of New Services and Approaches

Mobile Health


Developing countries continue to grapple with low investment in public healthcare, which has a negative effect on access, quality and cost of healthcare services, ultimately leading to poor health outcomes. More than 400 million people do not have access to essential healthcare services, mostly in Africa and South Asia..1 There is also a significant shortage of health professionals, as staffing levels are below World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended levels in many developing countries.2

Mobile’s wide reach makes it an ideal tool for strengthening health systems and enabling improved healthcare delivery in countries where there is a large, unmet demand. Many developing nations have over 90 per cent 2G coverage, which allows the delivery of health information services via basic mobile channels such as SMS, Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR). The coverage of 3G networks has also increased to over 80 per cent of the population. As a result, mobile operators have a key role to play as ICT and digital service partners for governments, health providers and health tech companies.

Programme Goals

The mNutrition Initiative, funded by UK Aid and implemented by the GSMA mHealth programme, aims to boost maternal and newborn child health (MNCH) via mobile solutions that promote the adoption of improved health and nutrition practices. By December 2017, mHealth services under the mNutrition Initiative had reached over 1.59 million users across eight markets in sub-Saharan Africa — Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia.

The programme emphasises supporting partners to develop sustainable, user-centred mHealth services. There are four key areas of focus:

Product development: The GSMA supports product owners with user-centric research, business intelligence analytics and monitoring and evaluation research to inform the product design and optimisation. The research also aims to inform pricing strategies and define the value proposition of the mHealth services to the end-users and other digital health stakeholders as well as potential funders of the solutions.

Content development: The GSMA, with its global content consortium, developed locally tailored, open source nutrition content for each market. Messages were translated into local languages, tested among key target audiences and validated by the Ministry of Health for each market.

Industry engagement: The mHealth programme works closely with health and mobile players across both the public and private sectors to ensure that services not only become commercially sustainable, but also deliver positive public health outcomes.

Insights generation: The GSMA mHealth programme delivers thought-leading publications showcasing best practice and learnings from our work in the digital health sector.

Public Policy Considerations

Digital health is taking its first steps in some African, Asian and Latin American countries. The number of initiatives is growing, and there is widespread belief that digital health can help address key healthcare issues if it reaches scale.

There are three main areas where digital health can have a significant impact:

  1. Access: Digital health can widen the reach of healthcare services, as some (such as patient monitoring and diagnostics) can be delivered and managed remotely. It also allows for greater and faster patient access to health information delivered via mobile.
  2. Quality: Digital health enables faster and more effective coordination of care and health professionals, and supports timely data sharing.
  3. Cost: The transition from paper to digital ensures that available health resources are used effectively where and when they are needed the most. Mobile networks can also be a platform for solutions that strengthen monitoring systems and help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Unfortunately, few digital health and mobile health pilots are currently followed by full-scale implementation due to a lack of sustainable financing. In developing countries, venture capital activity is limited and private sector healthcare provision is underdeveloped. As a result, government is likely to be the largest funder of digital health initiatives in these nations.

Governments can play a key role in the development and success of the solutions by providing more stable government investment to help drive scale. Ministries of Health can also encourage the implementation of national digital health plans by aligning them with ICT and broadband plans. Key enablers include setting outcome-based objectives to drive execution and track progress; and policy and regulation that promote investment for digital health solutions.

At the same time, digital health stakeholders need to stimulate government investment by demonstrating how digital health solutions help address national healthcare issues, especially in terms of broadening access, which is a key challenge for emerging nations.

  1. According to the World Health Organization’s 2015 report Tracking Universal Health Coverage.
  2. The WHO’s critical threshold is 23 doctors, nurses and midwives per 10,000 inhabitants.



GSMA Report: Creating Mobile Health Solutions for Behaviour Change
GSMA Report: Scaling Digital Health in Developing Markets
GSMA Report: mHealth Design Toolkit
GSMA Report: Mezzanine’s Stock Visibility Solution
GSMA Report: Living Goods Uganda
GSMA Report: Kilkari: A Maternal and Child Health Service in India

Mobile Money


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 $1 billion a day and over 168 million additional accounts became active during 2017. As a result, the number of registered customer accounts rose from 554 million in 2016 to reach 690 million by December 2017.

Globally, the percentage of providers who offer mobile money services through a smartphone app has increased from 56 per cent in 2015 to 73 per cent as of June 2017. Market figures clearly support the fact that mobile money is expanding financial inclusion. Services are now available in 85 per cent of countries where the vast majority of the population lacks access to a formal financial institution, while in 19 markets there are more mobile money accounts than bank accounts.

Furthermore, the mobile money industry has proven to be both viable and sustainable: as of 2017, there were 276 services in 90 countries.

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 programme 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.

There is a strong opportunity for mobile money providers to analyse personal data to develop innovative services for consumers 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 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.


GSMA Mobile Money Programme website
GSMA Mobile Money Regulatory Guide website
GSMA Report: 2016 State of the Industry — Mobile Money