What did Mobile World Congress 2018 show us about Creating a Better Future?

At the annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) 107,000 visitors from 205 countries gathered to see the latest offerings showcased by the mobile industry and convene around topics such as 5G, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) – all connected to greater theme of Creating a Better Future. But, how can we create a better future for all by leveraging mobile and technology?

Gender Equality

As young women attending MWC for the first time, there were times we felt out of place and aware of being one of the few women in the room, so we want to highlight Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Approximately 24 per cent of attendees and 28 per cent of speakers were female, an increase from 23 per cent and 21 per cent in 2017 respectively. We are proud that the Digital Impact Alliance had representation from five female employees at the event and that Kathy Calvin, the CEO of the United Nations Foundation, was a featured keynote speaker.

In addition to her powerful LinkedIn post and the inspiring day-in-the-life of Kathy Calvin at MWC video, we were struck by her response to the on-stage question “What is the most pressing issue of today?” because there are so many to choose from. “Inequality is at the heart of every countries’ challenges today. Today we have people who are richer or poorer, we have people with fewer rights than others and even something as simple as 200 million fewer women have access to mobile phones.”

While progress is being made, it’s important to remember there’s always more to be done to improve equality, especially as we evaluate how to better use mobile and data for development. In the words of our partner Data2x, “better data from everyone enables better decisions for everyone”.

Better Data

It was an important week for data. DIAL is proud to be an advisory panel member of GSMA’s Big Data for Social Good (BD4SG) initiative, which works towards establishing a holistic framework and approach to analyzing data captured on operators’ networks to help public agencies and NGOs tackle epidemics, natural disasters and environmental crises. At MWC, the BD4SG initiative announced the success of its first wave of trials and shared demonstrations to attendees. The initiative also announced its next phase which will focus on disaster preparedness. DIAL is excited to be working even more closely with GSMA moving forward to scale the use of mobile data for development (and humanitarian) purposes.

DIAL’s Data for Development team also released a paper at Mobile World Congress on the topic of Unlocking MNO Data to Enhance Public Services and Humanitarian Efforts, which provides insights to governments, humanitarian organizations and mobile network operators on the shared value proposition of using mobile data for development (D4D). The paper seeks to address and highlight market implementation experiences to advocate for a more systematic, secure and fully functional D4D ecosystem.

Engage the Government

As part of the Capturing Big Data for Social Good fireside chat, DIAL’s CEO Kate Wilson had the opportunity to sit down with Godfrey Itaye, the Director General of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority.

Mr. Itaye shared of the regulators aspirations in regard to the big data for social good initiatives. He particularly referenced the digital health project in Malawi where DIAL, together with partners Cooper Smith and the Ministry of Health, are leveraging data from Mobile Network Operators, geospatial data and routine health systems data to generate insights and analytics that help understand population densities and migration patterns as they relate to health outcomes such as placement of health facilities.

Unlike cases where rigid regulations have hindered the use of Mobile Network Operator data for such causes, Itaye emphasized the importance of developing dynamic legal and regulatory frameworks that can support the use of data for development. He articulated the multitude of potential that such data for development initiatives would ultimately have in creating social impact across sectors such as health, education, climate change management and urban planning among others.

“As a regulator, we support the use of big data for social good. We believe that; if it is for the good of the common Malawian, it must be supported”.

DIAL sought to hear from Itaye on the concerns the regulator may have regarding the use of MNO data for development initiatives. Itaye, reiterated the importance of adhering to data protection laws and standards.

Itaye ended off with some piece of advice to D4D practitioners:

Do not ignore the regulator in D4D deployments. Engage us, we regulate the Telecomms sector and data is a central part of it. We are partners in development. Let regulators and D4D practitioners avoid working in isolation.

By Rachel Sibande and Danielle Dhillon