September 23, 2016

Measuring the Impact of the Mobile Industry on Sustainable Development Goals

The GSMA released a study, 2016 Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals, that "offers critical insights into the transformative impact of the mobile industry on individuals, societies and economies around the world, in developed and developing markets. Importantly, it establishes a benchmark through which the industry will assess its success in contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and serves as a blueprint for other industries as they commit to achieving the SDGs."

As explained in a press release dated Sept. 19, 2016, the report, which was developed by Deloitte for the GSMA, "is designed to facilitate progress reporting by creating a common, measureable system that links the industry's activities to their impact on the SDGs and will serve as an input into industry decisions on strategy, planning and investment." Furthermore, "The report will enable the mobile industry to engage more effectively with partners based on impact on the SDGs, and it creates a framework that can be shared with others in the mobile communications ecosystem, as well as with other industries. The Mobile Industry Impact Report forms a baseline to measure the industry's progress against the SDGs; updates will be published on a yearly basis."

The development of the report and its associated assets has four main objectives:
  1. Facilitate progress reporting through the creation of a common, measureable system that links the industry's activities to their impact on the SDGs and their associated targets;
  2. Provide an input into industry decisions on strategy, planning and investment;
  3. Allow the mobile industry to engage more effectively with existing or new partners on the basis of the impact on the SDGs; and
  4. Create a framework that can be shared with others in the mobile communications ecosystem, as well as with other industries.
While the report is primarily focused on the assessment of impact across the SDGs, and the forward-looking implications of that analysis, there are three additional topics covered:
  1. Sustainable business policies and practices: Acknowledgement that the mobile industry has a primary responsibility to respect and uphold universal principles of responsible business in areas such as human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption in the conduct of their business;
  2. The industry's commercial model: Reflections on the strength and sustainability of the commercial model in light of the current and expected impact on the SDGs; and
  3. Commitments: A series of commitments by the industry to further promote the SDGs, enhance the industry impact on the SDGs, and advance the capability of other sectors to also contribute.
The report also notes that all 17 SDGs are impacted by the mobile industry to varying degrees, with the greatest impact being felt on: SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure; SDG 1: No Poverty; SDG 4: Quality Education; and SDG 13: Climate Action. The way the industry contributes across these four SDGs differs significantly:
  • SDG 9 calls for resilient infrastructure, sustainable and inclusive industrialization, and innovation. The industry makes a powerful contribution through: extending and upgrading its infrastructure; connecting remote, less-included communities; stimulating economic participation; and supporting IoT-related innovation;
  • SDG 1 focuses on eradicating poverty, providing equal access to economic resources, and building the resilience of the poor. The industry plays its part by stimulating economic participation and activity through voice and data services; providing affordable connectivity; and acting as a provider of financial services to developing economies, including the powerful platform of mobile remittances that is particularly valuable to underserved communities;
  • SDG 4 targets significant improvements in the quality of, and access to, good education across formal and more skills-based categories. The industry primarily impacts this SDG by providing connectivity to schools and learners, giving access to digital resources. The industry also provides educational platforms directly, including content, and facilitates the purchase of school-related services in poorer economies through mobile money; and
  • SDG 13 seeks improvements in community resilience to the effects of climate change and improved planning and management. The industry contributes by providing emergency communications systems, connectivity and tailored services, e.g. broadcasts at times of disaster and early warning systems based on data analytics, sensors, and crowd sourcing.
Having spent my a good amount of my professional career supporting technology entrepreneurs, as well as advising the United Nations and sovereign governments on economic development matters, I understand the beneficial role mobile technology plays in improving the livelihood of billions of individuals worldwide. (This experience, coupled with my passion of creating technological tools for personal empowerment, is the catalyst that led to the formation of ROI3, Inc.) Therefore, I am pleased to see the publication of the 2016 Mobile Industry Impact Report, which comes at a point in human history when global mobile phone use is becoming ubiquitous. Measuring the impact of the mobile industry on the impact of SDGs is essential to achieving sustainable development goals in developed and developing markets.

What are your impressions of the report?

Aaron Rose serves as President and CEO of ROI3, Inc., a Seattle, Wash.-based company that empowers people in emerging economies through innovative, technology-based solutions. He is also the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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