Mobile Industry Reports Increasing Impact Across all SDGs
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The report assesses the progress of the mobile industry’s contribution to each SDG.

The three SDGs most impacted by mobile are SDGs 4 (quality education), 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and 13 (climate action).

Three SDGs have significantly improved their SDG impact scores since 2015: SDGs 3 (good health and well being), 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and 13.

28 November 2018: The third edition of the Mobile Industry Impact Report finds that the mobile industry’s impact has increased across all 17 SDGs, with mobile operators aligning activities with the SDGs and integrating the SDGs into their core values, strategies and services. The report, produced by GSMA, emphasizes the mobile industry’s commitment to leverage the power of mobile networks and the services they provide to accelerate achievement of the SDGs.

GSMA represents the interest of mobile operators around the world, including more than 750 mobile operators with over 350 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem. The ‘2018 Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals’ from GSMA Intelligence finds that more than two-thirds of the global population are now connected to mobile technology. The authors argue that mobile is a powerful tool for achieving the SDGs, including reducing poverty (SDG 1), improving health care (SDG 3) and education (SDG 4) and driving sustainable economic growth (SDG 8). According to the report, countries with high levels of mobile connectivity have made the most progress is meeting SDG commitments; in other words, “quality of life improves as people gain access to mobile technology.”

Three key characteristics of the mobile industry explain how the industry increases its contribution across the SDGs: deployment of infrastructure and networks, which provide the foundations for a digital economy and act as a catalyst for innovative and diverse services; access and connectivity; and enabling services and relevant content, including mobile agriculture and mobile health. In 2017, there were 690 million registered mobile money accounts around the world, which helped to expand financial and social inclusion.

The report assesses the progress of the mobile industry’s contribution to each SDG with a score between 0 to 100, representing the actual industry impact on that Goal, relative to its potential. SDG 1 (no poverty) has a score of 42, which means that the industry is achieving 42% of its potential impact. The three SDGs most impacted by mobile are SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure), with a score of 51% ; SDG 4 (quality education), with a score of 48.2%; and SDG 13 (climate action), with a score of 46.9%.

As an illustration, on SDG 9, mobile is enabling new business models such as mobile savings and credit and pay-as-you-go solar models to access clean energy. A table illustrates progress on SDG target 9c (increasing access to information and communications technology (ICT) and providing universal and affordable access to the internet in least developed countries). On SDG 4, the report states that women are more likely than men to use mobile for educational purposes, underscoring how mobile can reduce gender inequality, in line with SDG 5 (gender equality). SDG 14 (life below water) received the lowest impact score, at 19.4%, followed by SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) at 34.3%.

On three SDGs, mobile impact scores have significantly improved since 2015: SDG 13, which has improved its score by 7.8%; SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), which has improved its score by 6.3%; and SDG 3 (good health and well-being), which also improved its score by 6.3%. Since the mobile industry committed to the SDGs, the industry has played an increasing expanding role in humanitarian response, such as through the use of mobile phone to provide essential humanitarian assistance during natural or climate-related disasters or epidemics. In 2017, mobile operators reached more than 30 million people affected by crisis and disasters.

The report showcases examples of a better future through mobilize communication. In Malaysia, for example, mobile technology is helping forestry officials to monitor new growth of mangroves, which is expected to help protect coastal areas and enable fish populations to recover. In Peru, mobile classrooms facilitate digital learning for children in remote areas of the Amazon rainforest, providing students with access to educational resources and teachers with innovative materials and methods. In Puerto Rico, AT&T deployed its Cells on Wings (COWs) drone following Hurricane Maria, providing wireless connectivity to customers in a 40 square mile area and facilitating thousands of calls and texts among residents effected by the disaster.

The report also provides in-depth analysis on five SDGs in which operators are engaged and have achieved a significant impact or improvement since 2015: SDG 2 (zero hunger); SDG 10 (reduced inequalities); SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation); SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) and SDG 11. As an illustration, the mobile industry’s impact on SDG 6 and 7 improved significantly between 2015 and 2017, with the industry driving progress in providing critical utility services to off-grid populations and new service delivery mobiles through different mobile channels, including connectivity, mobile money and M2M technologies. In East Africa, the solar pay-as-you-go model (PAYG) has been so successful that other sectors in the region are replicating the business model for cookstoves, solar-powered irrigation, sanitation products and water delivery. Globally, PAYG solar sales increased from 450,000 in 2015 to 1.6 million in 2017, with 8.5 million individuals benefitting from access to clean and reliable energy in their homes as a result of this technology.

Despite progress towards the SDGs, the report recognizes that the industry “must also do more, faster” to achieve the SDGs, including by delivering and scaling mobile-enabled solutions to accelerate SDG achievement and extending mobile connectivity to people who are offline. Three factors that contribute to slower increases in impact, the report finds, are: market maturity, with less scope to match earlier progress when the mobile industry has already achieved significant gains; challenges connecting the final third of the population, including challenges related to affordability issues, remote locations and lack of digital skills and local content; and growth in new technologies only partially compensating for the ‘deceleration’ effect in network expansion and connecting the unconnected.

To accelerate progress, the report recommends accelerating mobile connectivity to unconnected populations and addressing barriers to mobile connectivity, particularly around incentives for infrastructure investment, affordability, the gender gap, digital skills and availability of local content and services. Second the report recommends proving and scaling mobile-enabled solutions to catalyze SDG achievement by increasing mobile money, mobile health, education, agriculture and mobile-enabled energy, water and sanitation and digital humanitarian assistance and digital identity services. The report underscores the importance of operators, governments, international organizations and other industries collaborating to support the scaling of new and existing mobile solutions.

The report was presented at an event on mobilizing ICTs for sustainable development, held at UN Headquarters in New York, US on 28 November 2018. [Publication: 2018 Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals] [GSMA Press Release] [SDG Knowledge Hub sources]

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