Funded in 2013 by the U.K. Department for International Development, the Mobile for Development Utilities Program (M4D) makes basic utility services in impoverished areas accessible, affordable and reliable.

The M4D Utilities Program currently exists in 24 global markets, 15 of which are in Africa. It addresses Goal 6 (ensuring access to water and sanitation) and Goal 7 (ensuring affordable energy) of the 17 U.N. sustainable development goals.

The program improves access to water, sanitation and energy services through five channels: mobile infrastructure, sales and distribution, machine-to-machine connectivity, mobile payments and mobile services.

  • Mobile Infrastructure
    Infrastructure such as telecom towers supply service to surrounding communities. The development of these towers will give more people access to mobile networks and enable entrepreneurial phone charging services in remote areas. This ensures convenient, affordable energy to relevant areas, addressing Goal 7 of the U.N. Global Goals.
  • Sales and Distribution
    Focus on sales, distribution and branding can help Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) improve sales and reach underserved communities. Utility service providers and MNOs can work together and co-brand for efficiency, bringing energy, water and sanitation solutions to underserved areas. This addresses Goals 6 and 7 of the U.N. sustainable development goals.
  • Machine-to-Machine Connectivity
    Under the M4D Utilities Program, machine-to-machine connectivity will be more efficiently monitored, increasing technological reliability and allowing service providers and entrepreneurs insight into customer behavior. For example, service providers can collect bills online. However, according to a GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities Program report, machine-to-machine connectivity needs to be more reliable. Improving reliability addresses Goal 6 of the U.N. sustainable development goals, ensuring access to water and sanitation.
  • Mobile Payments
    Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) is a form of mobile payment that has had great success so far under the M4D Utilities Program. It simplifies payment methods for customers and creates a digital record of payments for those without payment history. So far, 650,000 mobile-connected pay-as-you-go solar home systems have been delivered worldwide. This addresses Global Goal 7, ensuring reliable energy, but according to the GSMA report mobile money will need to be even more accessible in order to help meet the U.N.’s sanitation requirements.
  • Mobile Services
    Mobile services such as voice commands, SMS and apps can be used to improve customer service and field operations as well as to optimize supply chains. Communities, agents and service providers alike can use these mobile services to form strong foundations of customer support. However, in order to meet U.N. sanitation goals, mobile services could also make an effort to unite stakeholders and align with the government on its sanitization-improving policies.

The M4D Utilities Program demonstrates that using mobile technology actually works. It has raised more than $58 million in private sector funding and has so far benefited more than 1.9 million people. For example, in 2013 the solar energy company Mobisol used its pay-as-you-go solar business to provide 250,000 people in Rwanda and elsewhere with clean solar energy to power their households.

Improving access to energy, water and sanitation will improve the health and education of people in impoverished places. The Mobile for Development Utilities Program can help bring us closer to the target of universal and equitable access to reliable and safe energy, water and sanitation by 2030.

Liliana Rehorn

Photo: Flickr

Iqbal Quadir is an advocate of business as a humanitarian tool. With GrameenPhone, he brought the first commercial telecom services to poor areas of Bangladesh. Partnering with microcredit pioneer GrameenBank in 1997, Quadir established GrameenPhone, a wireless operator that provides phone services to 80 million rural Bangladeshi. The company has become the standard for a bottom-up, tech-empowered approach to development.

In his TED Talk, he first questioned the way that rich counties sent aid to poor countries to fight poverty. And also, even though he did not find much evidence to support the idea that connectivity can really increase productivity, he presented research done by the International Telecommunication Union showing the positive effects it has. The impact of one new telephone to richer countries’ GDP is very little, however, one new telephone has a huge impact on the GDP of poorer countries.

“Mobiles have a triple impact,” Quadir says. “They provide business opportunities; connect the village to the world; and generate over time a culture of entrepreneurship, which is crucial for any economic development.”

– Caiqing Jin(Kelly)

Source: TED Talk