Being counted: among the things that matter most

Ask any Telenor employee what they’re most proud of, and chances are they’ll say this: that we’re helping empower societies. Or that we’re reducing inequalities.

Written: Aug 2018

Telenor has been in the connectivity business since 1855. The world, our business and not least technology has evolved massively since then. But our commitment to making an impact beyond our core business has always been there. From helping bring Norway’s rugged coastline together through telegraph cables, to pioneering mobile connectivity in the 1970s, to expanding into Europe and Asia with mobile and digital services – we’ve remained committed to bringing the benefits of being connected to as many people as possible.

Telenor has chosen #SDG10 as our commitment. This is reflected in our business strategy and our purpose. At Telenor we are convinced that a more equal world is good for our business and for the people we serve. We aim to realize #SDG10 by helping raise standards wherever we operate, and by offering services that make real impact on people’s lives. Here are some examples:

Having an identity is among the things that matter most

1.1 billion people in the world today have no official proof of their own existence. Yet it is crucial to social, political and economic inclusion. It’s a record of age, a guard against child labor and against child marriage. It protects children from being treated as adults in the justice system, protects them from being trafficked, and helps them reconnect with families in times of conflict and disaster. In Pakistan alone, 60 million people are unregistered.

Meet Jeet. He’s 4 years old and lives the small town of Badin in Sindh province, Pakistan. He is the first child in his family to be registered. It happened through a pilot project run by Telenor Pakistan in partnership with UNICEF and local authorities. During the first 6 months of the program, birth registration moved from 30% to 90%, and with an equal gender balance of those registered. So far this year, 53,000 have been registered and 81,000 are in line to be. We’ve set an ambition to reach 700,000 by the end of 2018. Scaling up beyond Pakistan, we aim for 7 million registrations by 2020.

Digital inclusion is the first step towards reducing inequalities.

Access to financial services means you protect your present and prepare your future

2 billion people in the world do not have access to a formal bank account. Most of them live in developing countries. 10% of all unbanked people live in countries of Telenor’s emerging Asia region: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar. What does this mean to our individual customer, who lives outside the big cities? It means you have to travel to the next city and queue up for hours to pay your bills. If you are a day worker, you easily use a day worth of salary just for paying your bills. You need to rely on the informal sector to send money to relatives — with all the risks connected to it. But: while less than 20% have access to bank accounts, 80% have a mobile phone.

Meet Khin. She’s from the countryside but works in a restaurant in Yangon. Every week she sends money back to her village. But rather than sending cash with friends or via a bus driver, or missing a day’s pay to queue for a wire transfer, she can send money or pay bills as easy as sending a text. With mobile money, like WaveMoney in Myanmar, customers like Khin can visit one of 13,000 agents across the country and do a transfer.

Next, I want you to meet Jameel. He’s a daypay construction worker in Pakistan, but he’s skilled a doing plumbing work. He wants to set up his own business, but cannot afford to buy a motorcycle or the tools he would need. Nobody would give him a loan, because he has no credit history. But because he is a mobile customer, we know a lot about him and his habits. With his consent, we can build a credit history — recording how Jameel moves regularly between his house and a place of work, how he tops up his prepaid card regularly and how often he visits our store. Based on this, we can give him a credit score — and a small loan to help set up his business.

In Pakistan, we have also introduced biometric verification. It was done as a public security measure from the government’s side, but it’s also a very effective way of building a trusted and authenticated identity: together with mobile money solutions it can be used to disburse cash and pensions. At lower risk to the government — and to the recipients.

Financial inclusion is the next step towards reducing inequalities.

True resilience comes from the ability to protect your own health

More than 800 million people face catastrophic health costs every year. It means that they have to spend 10% or more of their income on health-related expenses. 120 million people experience being pushed below the poverty line because of it. Every year. Many of these health problems are chronic diseases that could have been prevented with better information and healthier habits.

Chronic diseases require prolonged treatments and occasional hospital stays, causing financial strain on the patients’ families. Millions experience severe financial challenges because of own illness or illness in their near family. Health insurance is virtually non-existent at the bottom of the pyramid, and government subsidies are not enough in most cases.

Meet Roksana. She’s a housewife at Noakhali, Bangladesh. Recently she was hospitalized for four days, and had to take help from a relative to cover the costs. But because she’s a Tonic customer, entitling her to a USD 1,200 health insurance based on a monthly cost of USD 1.5, she was able to reclaim the hospital costs and reimburse her relative. 5 million people in Bangladesh are now members of this health service scheme.

Meet Latifa. She’s one of the consulting doctors at Tonic’s Dhaka offices. In Bangladesh, there are 0.4 doctors per 1,000 people. Physicians are few and far between, and many of them are concentrated in the big cities. Access to qualified medical advice is now accessible over the phone for Tonic customers, as part of the membership benefits. This means doctors like Latifa can consult members on health issues that worry them, and advice on the best course of action.

Being able to protect your own health means reducing inequalities.

Mobile phones leave data trails that can be used for good

Ubiquitous access to mobile connectivity means that we have better insight about the whereabouts of each and every one of us. Using that data requires anonymization to protect privacy. Once done, these data can be used to identify where and how people move. This is especially important in times of crisis and emergencies, but also to help predict the spread of disease.

In 2013, we used data from Grameenphone’s network to map movements of people after a cyclone. In Pakistan, we did a study with Harvard University and local authorities to find how dengue fever spread — and figured out that mobile data could vastly improve prediction results. Now we’re working on a regional study across three markets to map the spread of drug-resistant malaria — a disease that has to be contained east of India and Africa to not escalate into a new humanitarian disaster.

Connected societies are empowered societies

By making sure as many as possible of us can participate — having an identity, a bank account, an ability to access healthcare — we can have real impact on reducing inequalities. Big data insights can help us protect and prevent disease and economic ruin for individuals in times of crisis or disaster.

It can help governments be prepared and focus the efforts of private companies. None of us can do this alone, but we can do it through mutually beneficial partnerships. Doing good has to be good business — if not, it will not be sustainable.

By offering connectivity and services that make real impact, we are empowering societies. This is the reason our employees get up in the morning. To help make this happen — at scale.