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Mobiles for Development Partnerships are Still Hard!

By Kristen Roggemann on January 22, 2014

I am Kristen Roggemann, and at the recently-concluded GSMA Mobile for Development Summit, GSMA mWomen was thrilled to host a spirited discussion on the opportunities and challenges facing partnerships in the M4D sector.  In what was a frank exchange between representatives of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), NGOs and ecosystem partners, some key lessons – and lingering questions – surfaced:

Key lessons:

  • State the obvious and keep stating it: There was some hesitation in the room over articulating things people felt were ‘obvious’, such as working with the right partner team and ensuring you have a strong business case before approaching an operator.  These lessons and others are crucial for the entire stakeholder community to state and restate throughout the partnership process.  While it might seem obvious, NGOs and MNOs continue to struggle with these foundational tenets of partnership formation – and thus we are not done stating them:
  • Lessons for NGOs approaching MNOs:
    • First impressions matter: do your homework on the MNO to ensure you know their strategy, targets and timelines
    • Having a benchmark matters: prove you’ve done it in another country
    • Get clear on your approach: if you go to CSR folks with a commercial pitch, they will send you to the commercial side, and vice-versa
    • Donor-dominated markets are crowded with NGOs wanting to work with MNOs – ensure you have a clear articulation of the business value you bring to the MNO with your partnership offering
  • Lessons for MNOs working with NGOs:
    • Timelines at NGOs are often slower than at MNOs, so plan accordingly
    • When you’re building a VAS, NGOs can add value in terms of content and market knowledge
    • NGOs face an issue of have the social mandate to work across MNOs in a country, so network exclusivity could be challenging

Lingering questions:

  • From the NGO perspective: what is that threshold level when you should approach an MNO?  At what point in your service does an MNO pitch make sense?
  • From the NGO perspective: At what level do I seek at meeting with the MNO, local or regional or HQ?
  • From the MNO perspective: How do I choose between all the NGOs that want partnership?  How can I communicate clearly to the NGO community what need to from a partnership so they can come with a pitch that aligns with our business and operational model?

Got answers? Please share your thoughts in the comments section so we can continue the conversation! For more takeaways from M4D 2013, see “Top Takeaways from Mobile for Development Summit”. Thanks!

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Kristen Roggemann currently serves as the Principal Mobile Solutions Specialist at DAI. She previously worked at GSMA mWomen, Souktel, Inc., and The Bridgespan Group. Kristen has extensive field experience in the Middle East and Africa working on mobile for development initiatives in both public and private sector contexts and got her start in international development through a Fulbright Scholarship to study women’s literacy in Morocco in 2005.
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One Comment to “Mobiles for Development Partnerships are Still Hard!”

  1. With recent technological advancements, connecting to a network is becoming easier. With most developing nations having 3g or 2g coverage, and SmartPhones and Tablets being able to connect to these networks, we now need mobile applications to be designed to meet the nuances of these non-wifi networks.

    Furthermore, with the increase of social entrepreneurs creating tools for good over profit, many mHealth tools, and others, are priced in such a way to ensure any NGO can afford to use these tools while bypassing the need for a partnership with an MNO, because these private companies often will do the leg work to partner with MNOs.