Mobile operators take on global poverty and the gender gap

Mon, 2016-03-21 14:20 -- Liz Enbysk


"We have a real opportunity to accelerate the development of mobile technologies that can save lives, help women reach their potential and boost the growth of emerging economies for Britain to trade with. A more prosperous, connected and stable world is firmly in our national interest." 
-- Nick Hurd, UK International Development Minister


The UK government has teamed with the GSMA Foundation and GSMA, the organization representing mobile operators worldwide, to provide life-enhancing services to millions of people via innovative mobile technologies.

Doing so is not a new endeavor for the UK Department for International Development (DFID) or for GSMA. Rather, the recently announced partnership will build on efforts both organizations have been involved in over the years to improve the lives of vulnerable populations.

Over the past three years, DFID and the GSMA have worked together to deliver mobile-based solutions for people in the developing world, including:

  • ReadyPay Solar, to allow thousands of people in Uganda to pay for small-scale solar electricity in their homes through their mobile phone. It is estimated that power outages cost developing countries 1-2 per cent of their GDP annually;
  • PEG Ghana, using mobile technology to help 2.5 million people access solar power. Globally 1.2 billion people still lack access to electricity; and
  • SweetSense Sensors, to improve access to clean water in Rwanda. People living in rural Africa commonly use handpumps to access safe water, yet an estimated one in three are not functional. Mobile-enabled sensors inside the pump-head send information when a pump stops working the online dashboard sends alerts to maintenance staff so they can make immediate repairs, reducing the average time a community spends without safe water by 131 days.

"Over the last decade the UK has been at the forefront of bringing the battle against extreme poverty into the digital era," said Development Minister Hurd. "With more people in developing countries using mobiles than ever before, this partnership with the GSMA and its members will increase access to banking services, especially for women, bring access to energy to many for the first time and even vital health information."

The mobile gender gap
Council Lead Partner Ooredoo, a GSMA member, has in many ways demonstrated the promise of innovative mobile solutions to help improve lives – from smart education initiatives to apps to help reduce infant mortality rates.

Just recently Ooredoo joined GSMA in launching the Connected Women Commitment Initiative, which aims to reduce the mobile gender gap.

"Mobile technology has a profound impact in enriching people's lives and creating new opportunities for growth," said H.E. Sheikh Saud Bin Nasser Al Thani, Group Chief Executive Officer of Ooredoo. "However, a large percentage of women across the world are deprived of these possibilities due to challenges in accessing and using mobile phones and mobile Internet."

The operators want to increase the proportion of their female customers to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. GSMA research estimates there are 200 million fewer women than men who own a mobile phone in low- and middle-income countries.

"In an increasingly connected world, women are currently being left behind," said Mats Granryd, Director General of GSMA. "Ensuring digital and financial inclusion for women is critically important, as when women thrive, societies, businesses and economies thrive."

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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