MWC 2016: Mobile Industry Helps Developing World And Refugees With Tech

UK government teams up with GSMA to help improve access to energy and clean water, while Vodafone Foundation pledges support for refugee camps at MWC

The British government, mobile industry body the GSMA and Vodafone have used Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona to detail charitable initiatives that use mobile technology to improve the lives of people in the developing world and in refugee camps.

The UK Department for International Development (DFID) is extending a partnership with mobile industry body the GSMA and claim their latest efforts will make a “significant” contribution to emerging economies by improving access to clean energy, safe water and financial services for women.

UK government

Vodafone Foundation Instant ClassroomPrevious efforts have seen the two bodies work on solar energy initiatives in Ghana and Uganda, where a lack of access to electricity damages the economy and affects lives, as well as a sensor project in Rwanda where maintenance teams are alerted to problems with water pumps, reducing the average time a community spends without safe water by 131 days.

“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,” said Nick Hurd, UK International Development Minister.

“Through our Mobile for Development team, the GSMA has a proven track record in delivering life-enhancing mobile solutions at scale, in critical areas such as mobile money, health and nutrition, agriculture, utilities and many others,” added Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA. “We welcome the opportunity to partner with DFID to bring the power of mobile to our shared objectives of reaching the underserved and delivering on the Global Goals.”

Vodafone Foundation

Separately, The Vodafone Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the mobile operator, has created a portable outdoor charger and an ‘instant classroom’ for refugee camps, in particular those set up by migrants heading to Europe.

‘Instant Charge’ is a 23kg system that when combined with a power source can charge up to 66 devices simultaneously and will be deployed In a number of locations including the Lesbos and Samos islands in Greece, where it is provided with free Wi-Fi and can be set up in under 10 minutes.

“When the Vodafone Foundation, alongside UNHCR, assessed how it could help, one of the requests from refugees was: ‘Where can I charge my mobile?’” explained Oisin Walton, Vodafone Foundation Instant Network Programme Manager. “Unlike refugees in many other parts of the world, many of the refugee families arriving in Europe have smartphones, rather than feature phones, and there is an increasing need for access to power. Instant Charge was developed in response to that need”.

‘Instant Classroom Lite’ is a smaller version of a similar system for camps in Africa. It comes with a projector, audio system, 3G and 4G connectivity and a laptop preloaded with educational content. It can be powered by a car socket, mains electricity or solar panel and can stay powered for up to four ours. Vodafone says it is durable and water resistant so it can cope with changeable conditions.

The full size version has helped up to 60,000 school children in Kenya, while Vodafone has also deployed ‘Instant Networks’ to emergency disaster areas. Such a unit was used in Nepal following the earthquake there last year.

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