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Mobile Money has Changed the Way Aid is Delivered

Mobile money has changed the way aid is delivered

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) launched its joint ‘Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation’ (M4H) programme at this year’s Mobile World Congress.

Funded by DFID to the tune of around £15 million, M4H aims to improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance across a wide range of scenarios - from ongoing support to long-term refugee camps to temporary help in flood and natural disaster situations.

The new programme was discussed at a well-attended seminar held at the congress which attracted a large audience drawn from across the mobile and humanitarian ecosystems.

With the UN estimating that in 2018 more than 135 million people across the world will need humanitarian assistance and protection, participants agreed that governments, NGOs, MNOs and other companies need to collaborate and learn from each other to help maximise aid efforts.

Kyla Reid, Head of Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation at the GSMA, opened by reminding attendees that, in times of crisis, it's the telecom networks which need to be re-commissioned first to help victims contact relations and friends – and aid workers to co-ordinate their efforts.

Robert Opp from the World Food Programme outlined how the telecom industry has changed the ways it assesses who needs assistance – and then how it distributes aid. He said that over the past five years the advent of mobile money has completely changed how aid is delivered with the WFP shifting to the distribution of cash. 

Likewise, Tillman Bruett from the UNCDF (United Nations Capital Development Fund) detailed how his organisation had been working with people in refugee camps in Uganda to increase the adoption of digital finance.

The spread of Ebola in West Africa had provided the first real evidence for how the gravity of a situation – and the response required – can be assessed via mobile; It had been unsafe to send people into areas which were quarantined so the WFP has simply called people to find out the situation on the ground.

Opp added that the WFP wants to expand its use of analytics to improve its decision-making.

Turkcell has been one of the most vocal operators in talking about how refugees need help but should also be viewed as potential customers.

Turkcell’s Chief Digital Services Officer, Aysem Ertopuz, Chief Digital Services Officer, said that the company is now providing services to more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey.  

“It’s our job and responsibility to help people coming in and living with us…but people are coming not because they are poor but because they can’t live where they were living anymore.”

This led into a conversation about how Governments, humanitarian organizations and operators need to get better at upfront preparation and strategic discussions to establish a playbook for different disaster scenarios.

The launch of the Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation’ programme will no doubt be able to hasten the production of this guidance with best practice and learnings from across the world.