Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation

For those of us at the GSMA, Mobile World Congress in many ways is the pinnacle of our year: an opportunity to meet and bring together our mobile industry and other partners, to showcase the progress made on our key topics and facilitate discussions that we hope will help set the agenda and priorities for the year ahead. For our Disaster Response team, MWC18 ushers in an exciting moment of change and growth.

Today marks the launch of our Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation Programme (M4H), a four year £15.5 million partnership with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to accelerate the delivery of a digital humanitarian future. 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, advocating for enabling policy environments, monitoring and evaluating performance, disseminating insights and profiling achievements.



We will double down in areas we have already begun exploring, such as the use of mobile money for humanitarian cash transfers and go deeper into the opportunities for digital identity solutions to ease registration and access friction for people affected by crisis. We will seek to understand how the digital gender gap—the 1.2 bn women in low and middle income countries who do not have access to mobile internet—will impact equitable access to digital humanitarian services and work to stimulate new business models and partnerships that can translate success in the mobile-enabled utilities and IOT sectors into humanitarian contexts to support the electrification of refugee camps and help build resilience against food insecurity and climate change. Additionally, through our M4H Innovation Fund, we will invest in new technologies and ideas that will deliver dignified and impactful support for the growing number of people vulnerable to, or affected by natural disasters and complex emergencies.

Through our conversations with humanitarian partners, we know that there is a transformation underway across the sector. There is a growing appetite to partner in new ways with the private sector, integrate innovation and use technology to increase accountability, efficiency and impact, driven in part by the expanding need- The UN estimates that 135m people will require humanitarian assistance and protection in 2018. We also know that there are challenges in getting these partnerships right, building in sustainability and user-centric design and driving replication to overcome duplication and fragmentation. Through our last five years in the Disaster Response programme, we have seen the momentum building between our industry and the humanitarian community to overcome these barriers- with over 130 signatories to our Humanitarian Connectivity Charter spanning over 100 countries. Their progress in the last year is outlined in our 2017 Annual Report. Additionally, the amount of funding requested by applicants in the first round of the Disaster Response Innovation Fund exceeded the size of the Fund by 30 times, with MNOs as the lead or official partner applicant in over one third of submissions. We are excited to engage our HCC signatories and bring in new partners to work across our wider M4H portfolio.

Our work in M4H will not be a silver bullet- these are complex topics, driven by politics, environmental change, economic inequality and social fragmentation. However, we do believe that the 5 billion mobile connections and the reality that over 90% of refugees live in areas with 2G or 3G coverage means that there is an enormous opportunity to harness mobile connectivity to improve preparedness, response, and recovery for those impacted by humanitarian emergencies.

At Mobile World Congress this year, you’ll see humanitarian issues across the programme- from demos of new technologies in Innovation City, to industry leaders providing insights on what motivates them to develop services for crisis context. We know that the challenge ahead is too great to be solved in silos and look forward to working with our partners to build an inclusive and sustainable digital humanitarian future.


This initiative is currently funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), and supported by the GSMA and its members.
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