FAQs – GSMA Innovation Fund for Digital Urban Services

What is the objective of the Fund, and what kinds of projects are you looking for?

The objective of the Fund is to extract insights from business models to inform the improvement of essential urban services delivery across four verticals:

  • Plastic and waste management;
  • Energy;
  • Water; and
  • Sanitation.

Grants will be utilised to test digital innovations, enable scale, and provide essential services to underserved populations across all four sectors. The grant projects must seek to answer the following questions:

  • How innovative digital technology, including mobile, can support delivery of urban services to underserved populations;
  • What business models and partnerships are required for innovative digital solutions to be adopted at scale;
  • What are the social, commercial and environmental/climate impacts of delivering digital urban services to underserved populations; and
  • What role mobile operators and other technology companies can play in these business models, and how they can make their role commercially sustainable.

For more details, please refer to the Innovation Fund Launch Report and the Terms and Conditions (T&Cs).

What kind of plastics initiatives will the Fund support?

The Fund will support plastics initiatives that leverage digital technologies to create more circular economies and deliver socio-economic, environmental and climate impact. This includes ‘downstream’ and ‘upstream’ innovations. Downstream innovations seek to improve plastic collection, sorting and recycling activities, and might use technology to improve citizen engagement in recycling, drive operational efficiencies or increase transparency in the plastics supply chain. Upstream innovations seek to prevent problematic and unnecessary plastic from entering the supply chain, for instance by enabling the design of products that use recycled plastic in place of virgin materials, or finding new ways to ensure that plastics used in products are reusable, recyclable or compostable.

Do we need to demonstrate how the projects are answering all four fund objectives above in our application?

No, you can address one or more of the relevant fund objectives/questions above.

What level of project maturity are you looking for?

We are open to support the below:

  • Test innovations that deliver essential urban services to the underserved leveraging digital technology, especially mobile, to deliver urban services with socio-economic and environmental/climate impact in one of the four verticals (energy, water, sanitation, plastics and waste management).
  • Develop approaches or business models in one of the four verticals that can be scaled or replicated in similar markets to provide digital urban services for underserved populations.

Overall, The GSMA Fund for Digital Urban Services will select projects that demonstrate potential for long-term sustainability and social impact. The GSMA wants to learn from the projects and share stories of both successes and challenges with the wider community, through insights such as reports, videos and blogs, etc.

The Fund will not support the development or prototyping of any new hardware solutions. Where there is a proposal to use existing hardware solutions (e.g. meters) as part of the project, applicants must be able to clearly demonstrate that all required approvals for wide scale importation and use of the hardware exist prior to grant execution.  Refer to Section 2 of the T&Cs.

Who can and can't apply for funding?

The T&Cs for this funding round set out the objectives of the Fund, the type of organisations the Fund is looking to support, and the eligibility criteria for applying for funding.

How do you define a small and growing enterprise?

Small and growing enterprise refers to for-profit start-ups, small to medium enterprises and social enterprises with up to 250 employees that have generated revenue from sales and have significant potential, and ambition, for growth.

To be eligible, applicants will need to demonstrate that a majority of their income is derived from commercial activities. Early-stage companies who have not reached this threshold will need to demonstrate a reliable path to sustainability via commercial activities that generate revenue to be considered.

Can NGOs, charities and foundations apply for funding?

All applicants, including NGOs, charities and foundations operating as social enterprises, will need to demonstrate that a majority of their income is derived from commercial activities to be eligible. NGOs, charities and foundations that do not meet this test are not eligible to apply or receive grant funding. However, such entities can partner with eligible organisations and be project partners.

Can governments and government-owned or appointed agencies, universities or academic organisations apply for funding?

While the Fund highly encourages partnerships with these entities, they will not be directly eligible to apply or receive grant funding.

Are enablers like incubators and accelerators eligible to apply?

No. Incubators and accelerators are not eligible to apply for funding. We welcome their support to recommend eligible start-ups in their current or past cohorts to apply directly.

Can mobile network operators apply to the Fund?

No. The Fund aims to support innovative small and growing businesses that are willing and able to work with mobile network operators, rather than providing support directly to mobile network operators. Note, applications from eligible organisations working in partnership with mobile network operators are welcomed and encouraged.

Can a consortium apply to the Fund?

Applicants cannot apply as a consortium. Only one organisation can apply for funding and become a grantee. An applicant can have downstream partners (see policy) who have a role on the project.

It is important that at the proposal stage the GSMA has full sight of all downstream partners so as to ensure that the lead applicant has (or plans to) appropriately procured, undertaken satisfactory due diligence checks and properly contracted them. This is because the GSMA is required to communicate full and accurate information about project delivery chains to its donors, and ensure that an appropriate level of scrutiny and oversight is applied to all organisations in those delivery chains.

Can we apply if we don't have a registered organisation in the country of project implementation but are willing to do so if we get funding?

No. For this round, we are unable to accept applications on the basis that you will register an organisation if a grant is awarded. We can accept organisations who meet the following criteria:

  • Are registered and have a bank account in the country where it will receive the grant money (if not the same as the project implementation country).
  • Have active users and revenue in at least one eligible lower or middle-income market in Africa, South or South East Asia (see ineligible countries in the T&Cs).

In cases where responsibility for service delivery lies with a downstream partner rather than the applicant, for example service delivery by local government, it may be acceptable for the applicant to be registered in a country other than that of project implementation (see geographic restrictions in section 3 of the T&Cs).

Is there a requirement for how long a start-up should have been registered as a legal entity prior to applying?

There is no requirement on how long the applicant needs to have been registered as a legal entity. The Fund will consider applications from organisations that are registered in the country of project implementation but are in early stages of operations (in countries of implementation). However, applicants must be able to demonstrate a current market presence and be fully compliant with relevant business licensing, taxation, employee and other regulations in the country of grant project operation.

How do we estimate how much impact we will have for the project?

The Fund aims to have the maximum impact on people from low-income populations, as well as environmental and climate impact. However, we expect all applicants to be both realistic and honest when they disclose the market potential or number of people they plan to reach. You will be asked to demonstrate (within reason) how you estimated the impact number you submit and how you will measure them throughout the life of the grant. If there are significant discrepancies between the pitch and panel stages (regarding impact numbers), it may result in the application being removed from the process.

What does it mean to 'demonstrate the potential and appetite to form a strategic partnership with mobile operators'?

The Fund is especially interested in understanding how you are currently working or might work with a mobile operator in your market during and after the grant project. We encourage you to share details of your current engagement with mobile operators or plans to engage with them in the future in your application.

Applicants do not need an existing partnership with a mobile operator to be eligible to apply for funding. However, all applicants must demonstrate having the appetite to form strategic partnerships with mobile operators and should be able to articulate the value proposition for a mobile operator.

What kinds of partnerships are encouraged, and what evidence should we provide for these partnerships?

The Fund encourages partnerships with public and private ecosystem players including governments, government-owned agencies (or appointed agencies), universities or academic institutions, start-up accelerators and incubators.

Partnerships with governments, government-owned agencies (or appointed agencies) and other utility companies will need to be evidenced if the application proceeds to the proposal stage.

Organisations piloting with government clients must have an MoU that demonstrates political will and capacity to commit to the project, prior to the final submission of the proposal to the Fund Panel, although this can be in progress during the application process. 

Organisations selling a service to a government during the grant must have a commercial agreement, prior to final submission of the proposal to the Fund Panel, although this can be in progress during the application. 

Must the grant funding be used for a project targeting just one country or can it be used for a project across the entire region e.g. several markets in Africa, South Asia and South East Asia?

The Fund is open to applications with projects focusing on one single market or across multiple markets (where eligibility criteria is met for each market).

N.B. Applications for projects in multiple markets will need to demonstrate that the projects can be effectively managed and completed within 18 months. If there are concerns about the feasibility of managing multiple markets, applicants may be advised to prioritise one market.

The lead applicant must apply for funding for a project in one of the eligible countries set out in the T&Cs.

If you have been awarded a grant by the GSMA previously, are you still eligible for this grant?

GSMA grantees that have successfully completed their grant are eligible to apply. However, the Fund is looking to test new and innovative business models which will be sustainable following the end of the grant. Therefore, you will need to demonstrate why additional funding will achieve something the original grant could not, or that the grant-funded project will contribute to new industry insights.

How should we decide the grant amount we are asking for during the pitch stage?

We require applicants are realistic and honest with grant requests as you will have to demonstrate how you will spend the money efficiently. The amount requested should correlate with what you require to deliver the solution you want the GSMA to fund (the project). Grant funding will not be used for costs that do not have a direct link to the project you’re pitching

If a project progresses from the pitch stage to the proposal stage, both the technical and financial proposal will be scrutinised to ensure the applicant can justify the spending of grant funding requested and ensuring value for money for donors. In the majority of cases, where you have clearly justified the amount, the Fund Panel will approve the amount requested, but this is not always the case.

If we apply for £100,000 at the pitch stage, is this the amount that we will receive from the Fund if we are awarded a grant or could the amount we receive be lower?

Applicants that are shortlisted at the pitch stage will be invited to submit a full proposal with a budget.

The budget and activities will be reviewed to ensure all spend is commensurate with the objectives of the Fund and demonstrate a good use of donor funds.

Is matched funding mandatory and what counts as a match funding contribution?

Yes, match funding is mandatory. The Fund requires a matching contribution from the applicant in order to demonstrate interest and trust from the wider investor community.

Acceptance of match funding is subject to approval by the Fund:

  • Requesting an amount between £100,000 to £150,000 at least 25% of requested grants amount.
  • Requesting an amount between £150,001 to £250,000 applicants must provide a matching contribution of at least 50%.

Matching contributions must be used towards the proposed project and spent in full across the 15 to 18-month project cycle. Match funding contributions can be made ‘in-cash’ and/or ‘in-kind’ and can be provided by the lead applicant themselves or a third-party. For more details and examples of what constitutes ‘in-cash’ or ‘in-kind’, please refer to the T&Cs.

Does the specific partner that will be contributing to the match funding have to be decided and secured before pitch submission? Or can that be confirmed later?

If a project proceeds to the proposal stage, the lead applicant will be required to provide evidence that the match funding has been secured or will be secured prior to contracting. Failure to provide this evidence may mean the proposal will not be presented to the Fund Panel. Please refer to the T&Cs for examples of evidence.

Can I edit my application once it has been submitted?

You can edit your application at any time until you hit submit by logging into the application portal. Applications cannot be edited once they have been submitted. You will receive a confirmation email once you have submitted in full.

Applications cannot be submitted after the deadline of 23.59 UTC+1, 2 July 2021 and any drafts including personal details will be deleted after this time.

Can I submit more than one application for projects?

Multiple submissions for the same project are not permitted. In cases where this occurs, the first submission will be reviewed if it is eligible but all duplicate submissions will be deemed ineligible and not reviewed.

Applications for different projects from the same organisation are allowed, although we do not encourage this approach. You must demonstrate and consider how you spend your own resources through this process and if you are able to support the application of more than one proposal.

Can I speak with someone personally if I still have questions?

While we are unable to address all individual questions, The GSMA Fund for Digital Urban Services will be hosting online sessions (see below) to address frequently asked questions:

  • Wednesday 2 June 10:00-11:00 UTC+1 (UK time)

We will also host sessions to address sector-specific objectives of the Innovation Fund:

  • Introduction to the Fund sectors and session on Plastics and Waste Management: Monday 7th June 10.00-11.30 am UTC+1 (UK time)
  • Sanitation session: Tuesday 8 June 10.00-11.00 am UTC+1 (UK time)
  • Water session: Wednesday 9 June 10.00-11.00 am UTC+1 (UK time)
  • Energy session: Thursday 10 June 10.00-11.00 am UTC+1 (UK time)

Since this is a fully competitive process we keep applicants details anonymous, and you will have the option to ask questions anonymously online. Finally, for urgent enquiries you can email [email protected], please expect a response within 2-3 working days. Questions received after 30 June 2021 will not be answered.