UK-funded GSMA initiative to leverage mobile tech to aid underserved communities

  • US$2.1mil grant to support program to improve energy and water services in developing world
  • Challenge Fund open to mobile industry, start-ups, academia and not-for-profit sector; seed funding available

UK-funded GSMA initiative to leverage mobile tech to aid underserved communitiesTHE GSM Association (GSMA) has launched the Mobile Enabled Community Services (MECS) program, which hopes to leverage mobile technology and infrastructure to help improve access to basic energy and water services in underserved communities around the world.
The new program is supported by a £4.1-million (US$2.1-million) grant from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), which works to alleviate global poverty by delivering UK aid around the world, GSMA said in a statement.
Currently 1.3 billion people, nearly 20% of the world’s population, are without access to energy (International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2011). Furthermore, 783 million people or 10% of the world’s population do not have access to ‘improved’ water resources, according to Unicef and the World Health Organization (WHO).
This gap is due to challenges such as last mile distribution, operation and maintenance capabilities and costs, and payment ability and collection.
MECS will facilitate access to affordable and reliable energy and clean water, which is vital for health and wellbeing and can also help reduce poverty and drive economic growth, GSMA said in its statement.
“More than 3.4 million people die each year from water, sanitation and hygiene-related causes according to the WHO,” said Chris Locke, managing director, GSMA Mobile for Development.
“Mobile penetration in the developing world has risen exponentially in the last decade; for instance, in Africa, we estimate that mobile will reach 76% of the population by 2014,” he said, citing the GSMA study “Sustainable Energy & Water Access through M2M Connectivity” (to download a PDF of the study, click here).
“Through mobile technology, we will be able to support and improve the provision and maintenance of energy and water services, providing a critical resource to underserved communities,” he added.
The DFID grant will back a two-year program within MECS, which will be implemented by the GSMA’s Mobile for Development division, to support the creation of new, innovative mobile-enabled technologies and business models to improve access to energy and water services.
DFID and the GSMA will also launch a Challenge Fund open to the mobile industry, start-ups, academia and the not-for-profit sector, which will provide seed funding to companies for research to identify and develop pioneering solutions to overcome the challenges and obstacles to community service provision.
The UK Minister for International Development, Lynne Featherstone said: “An increasing number of people globally are using mobile phones, giving us new opportunities to help improve people’s lives through technology.
“The MECS program will significantly improve people’s ability to access some of the most basic human needs, improving their health and giving them better foundations on which to build their future.
“That is why we are committed to supporting the development of innovative new technologies that can provide simple and sustainable solutions to development challenges worldwide,” she said.
With its technology and significant size and reach, the mobile industry can help address these challenges and provide an unprecedented opportunity for scale in impacting lives, the GSMA said.
Mobile technology and infrastructure are already being used to improve access to energy and water through product distribution via existing channels, pay-as-you-go financing via mobile payments, and remote activation, monitoring and data collection, it added.
For more information on the Mobile Enabled Community Services (MECS) program, click here.
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators from 220 countries around the world. It also organizes events such as the Mobile World Congress and Mobile Asia Expo.
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