October 10, 2020

While the Mobile Industry Increased Its Impact Across All SDGs for 5th Year in a Row, GSMA Report Says Operators and Key Stakeholders Must Accelerate the Pace and Scale of Their Efforts

"Mobile technology has been contributing to economic and social development for more than two decades by bringing connectivity into the palms of our hands," the GSMA, a UK-based organization representing the interests of mobile operators worldwide, says in its report on the mobile industry's impact on Sustainable Development Goals.

Moreover, "For billions of people around the world, mobile is no longer just a luxury service to connect with friends and family or browse the internet. It is now the primary platform to access life-enhancing and, in some countries, life-saving services. It also serves as the backbone of the digital economy – enabling payments and smart infrastructure – and as a vital part of the solution to tackle climate change."

In a press release, the GSMA explains that "[t]he report emphasizes that operators have an opportunity to build on their existing efforts and work with governments and other partners to drive positive, global impact. It also outlines some of the specific calls to action for each SDG, ranging from enhancing digital literacy skills for women and girls to reduce gender inequality to licensing sufficient and affordable spectrum to spur the building of resilient infrastructure."

Below are the report's key findings:

Since 2015, the Mobile Industry Has Increased Its Impact Every Year on Each of the 17 SDGs

"In 2019, the average SDG impact score across the 17 Goals increased to 48. This score translates to the industry achieving 48% of its potential contribution to the SDGs – up from 33% in 2015."

With the Usage of Mobile Services Accelerating Globally, the Industry’s Impact on the SDGs in 2019 Grew Faster Than Ever Before

"For example, 1.6 billion mobile subscribers use their phone to improve or monitor their health, representing an increase of 330 million since 2018. Moreover, 2.3 billion subscribers use mobile financial services, an increase of 620 million since 2018."

Mobile Connectivity Has Driven Significant Economic, Social and Environmental Gains

"Since 2015, mobile connectivity has contributed an incremental $360 billion in global GDP, or 4% of overall growth. In the same timeframe, the industry has increased global employment by around 5 million; in 2019, it supported roughly 30 million jobs. The use of mobile technology has also powered a global reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that is 10 times greater than the global carbon footprint of the mobile industry itself."

Mobile and Mobile Internet Adoption Underpin the Industry’s Impact Across All 17 SDGs

"By the end of 2019, 5.1 billion people (66% of the global population) were using a mobile phone, an increase of 600 million people compared to 2015. In addition, 3.8 billion people (49% of the global population) were using mobile internet, representing an increase of 1.1 billion people since 2015."

The Mobile Industry Continues to Achieve Its Highest Impact on SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Driven by Extensive Mobile Network Coverage

"Between 2015 and 2019, 3G population coverage increased from 83% to 92% (equivalent to 900 million additional people covered), while 4G population coverage grew from 55% to 85% (equivalent to 2.5 billion additional people covered). This infrastructure plays a vital role in stimulating inclusive and sustainable development, as well as greater innovation."

The Mobile Industry Achieved Its Most Improved Contribution in SDG 4: Quality Education

"This was a result of an additional 610 million individuals using mobile to access educational information for themselves or their children in 2019, taking the total to 2 billion people (equivalent to 40% of mobile subscribers)."

Usage Accounts for 40% of the Gap in the Industry Maximizing Its Impact on the SDGs

"When usage of mobile services grows, so does the impact on the SDGs. Unless the mobile industry and its partners act faster, we estimate that the industry will achieve around 70% of its full potential impact on the SDGs by 2030."

The Shift in Behavior Required to Increase the Usage of Mobile-Enabled Services Could Be Occurring During the Covid-19 Pandemic

"With lockdown measures in place in many countries, individuals have become increasingly reliant on digital services. Throughout this crisis, networks have remained resilient, despite the uptick in usage, due to the investments made by mobile operators."

But the Pandemic Threatens to Slow the Industry's Progress in Other Areas

"For instance, the rate of mobile and mobile internet adoption could slow in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) due to income loss among individuals and businesses, while the economic uncertainty could also constrain 5G rollouts and enterprise funding for IoT projects."

Effective Partnerships Underpin the Industry's Achievements on the SDGs and Will Be Essential to Accelerate Impact

"The progress made by the mobile industry on all 17 Goals would not be possible without multi-stakeholder partnerships involving the public sector, NGOs and other industries. It is vital that the current spirit of cooperation that has been fostered by the COVID-19 pandemic continues in order to meet future challenges."

As the title of this post suggests, while the mobile industry has made significant contributions to each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, operators and key stakeholders must accelerate the pace and scale of their efforts to maximize their contribution to the Goals by 2030. According to the GSMA, "By 2030, we estimate that the industry will have achieved around 70% of its full potential impact on the SDGs. SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, and SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being will still be the most impacted, with the industry achieving around 80% of its potential impact on these SDGs."

The organization's "analysis also indicates that mobile will reach an impact score of at least 60 on all the SDGs by 2030. This would represent important progress, but the industry and its stakeholders need to act faster to maximize their contribution to the SDGs by 2030. This is in line with other reports showing that the world in general is not on track to deliver the SDGs. In order to address this, in 2019 the UN Secretary-General called for a Decade of Action to deliver faster progress across all sectors of society."

What are your recommendations for how the mobile industry can maximize its contribution to the SDGs by 2030?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of GT Perspectives, an online forum focused on turning perspective into opportunity.

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