Julia Burchell

Scaling Mobile for Development: Strengthening the business case for social enterprises, including those delivering health care

For those with social entrepreneurship at the heart of what they do, the exponential growth in mobile phone penetration offers an exciting opportunity to create social impact through commercial means.

Eighty percent of mobile subscriptions now happen in the developing world. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, around 70 percent of the population owns or has access to a mobile phone. This is, of course, in stark contrast to the number of people who can access services key to development, such as finance (26 percent), electricity (33 percent) and sanitation (31 percent). (See the Scaling Mobile report.)

However, this gap in service access, combined with the prevalence of mobile phone access, presents an opportunity for social entrepreneurs, impact investors, NGOs and mobile operators alike. If we can deliver access to life-changing services through the tool many people have access to already, at a price they can afford to pay, we can achieve positive social impact through commercially viable businesses.

I work for the GSMA and we’re acutely aware of this opportunity, referring to it as Mobile for Development (M4D). We work actively to build the ecosystem by bringing together our mobile operator members, the wider mobile industry, social enterprises and the development community to drive commercial mobile services for underserved people. And it’s an area that’s gathering momentum. We’ve seen strong growth in the nascent M4D sector over the past five years, as shown in the graph below, and we now track over 1,600 deployments of M4D products and services, including over 600 projects that use mobile technology to deliver primary and secondary health care.

A graph, left, showing recent growth in M4D products and services.

However, scale in these initiatives has so far been elusive. Therefore, GSMA Intelligence, with its Mobile for Development resource, aims to support M4D businesses in reaching scale by offering a platform of data, analysis and insight to inform investment and design decisions for mobile services, which support the digital empowerment of people in emerging markets. And it’s completely free to access, through support from Omidyar Network and in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation.

Through this resource, you can support your M4D business case through accessing:

• A subset of GSMA Intelligence data, the leading mobile industry market information previously only available through corporate subscriptions. This helps entrepreneurs building a business around mobile discover what the 2G/3G/4G coverage is in their market, how many mobile connections there are, network downlink and uplink speeds, and so on.

Statistics from leading development organizations such as the World Bank, United Nations and World Health Organization to clarify the social needs in each market.

• Visibility of what M4D products and services already exist in what markets – available in map or list form through our tracker or by country.

Sector snapshots and impact pathways summarizing the social and economic opportunity in closing gaps in gender, banking, health, etc.

Analysis and insights.

• A diverse community of practice, meeting through regular webinars and industry events. Watch videos of recent events and register as a user to get news of those upcoming events.

We believe that open access to high-quality data and insights will improve business decision-making, increase total investment in the M4D sector and accelerate economic, environmental and social impact from mobile solutions. If you are developing a social business involving mobile, please let us know in the comments below or add your organization here. Our next event, a webinar summarizing key research highlights and offering the chance to ask questions and give feedback on our work, is happening online on Wednesday, Feb. 19. We hope you’ll be able to join us.

Julia Burchell leads community engagement for the GSMA Intelligence, Mobile for Development program to support and develop its free data, analysis and insight.

Education, Health Care, Impact Assessment, Social Enterprise, Technology
research, scale, social enterprise