Refugees and Connectivity

Last Thursday, on September 19th, GSMA Mobile for Development held a breakfast event in the SDG Media Zone at the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the opportunities presented by mobile technology in meeting humanitarian challenges. At the event participants heard from the GSMA, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), and Vodafone Group. The event was emceed by Kyla Reid, Head of Digital Identity and Disaster Response at the GSMA.

The event was attended by leaders from the private and public sectors, together with the development and humanitarian community, who are inspired to find innovative ways of addressing the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Given rising levels of global displacement and precarity due to conflict, persecution, natural disasters, climate change and other factors, it is absolutely imperative that stakeholders from different sectors meet to discuss ways that these challenges can be met in a coordinated and appropriate manner.

We were pleased to host this event to showcase the multitude of ways that mobile technology is delivering impact to lives around the world. M4D has nine global initiatives demonstrating the power of mobile technology to deliver both social and commercial benefits. Mobile internet access, particularly in refugee camp contexts, can allow people to directly benefit from and contribute to the digital economy. Mobile money now reaches half a billion people and represents an amazing opportunity to digitise humanitarian payments. Mobile-enabled agriculture solutions have demonstrated the ability to improve income for farmers and reduce pesticides and can now be leveraged for food security. Mobile solutions are closing the digital gender gap, ensuring greater access for all in times of crisis. Mobile health services have the potential to generate significant impact by reaching women and children who lack access to essential healthcare and nutritional information.The intersections between these multifaceted areas of innovation for the underserved in both shorter-term and protracted humanitarian crises are endless.

However, many forcibly displaced persons (FDPs), including refugees, are impacted by identity-related barriers and face digital, financial and social exclusion as a result of these barriers. At this breakfast event we launched a Policy Note which offers several considerations for host-country governments and regulators on how to potentially address these barriers, so that FDPs can access mobile services. The Policy Note also outlines several benefits to host countries, local communities and the humanitarian aid sector, where mobile services – including mobile money accounts – are readily accessible by FDPs.

Mats Granryd, our Director General, discussed the ways that the mobile industry is united in connecting everyone and everything to a better future, and how mobile is truly a lifeline for refugees. Mats recently authored a blog sharing five ways mobile technology can help in humanitarian emergencies for The World Economic Forum, and it was timely to have this follow up during UNGA given the extreme and devastating natural disasters we are currently seeing across the globe.

Each of the speakers brought expertise and insights to the discussion from their respective areas. Baroness Sugg, Lords Whip from DFID, told the gathering how private sector expertise is key to finding humanitarian solutions, and encouraged all to apply to the Disaster Response Innovation Fund, which closes on October 13th. Ursula Mueller, Assistant Secretary-General of UN OCHA and UN Deputy Relief Coordinator, discussed the ways that all those gathered at the event are humanitarians, not only individuals who are working with public organisations or NGOs, highlighting the importance of thinking broadly about what humanitarianism looks like in the 21st century. Joakim Reiter, Director of External Affairs at Vodafone Group, highlighted the plight of children in refugee camps, discussing how Vodafone is addressing the education gap of these kids with their school-in-a-box initiative. Each speaker added an important nuance to the wider conversation, and we are grateful to have had their contributions at the event.

We also released a video demo at the event, showcasing four examples of how the mobile industry is impacting humanitarian response. You can watch the video on our M4D Youtube channel, ideally from a mobile device to allow the full effect of the demonstration. Please also follow our work on Twitter and Facebook to stay on top of new research, news and developments showcasing the ways that mobile can impact humanitarian assistance.

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