GSMA Innovation Fund for Digital Urban Services 2021

Deadline: 2 July 2, 2021
Open to: social enterprises in Africa, South or South East Africa
Benefits: an equity-free grant of between £100,000 and £250,000 to scale their innovation


The GSMA is looking for start-ups, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and social enterprises in Africa, South or South East Asia.

These organisations should be leveraging digital technology to deliver urban services with socio-economic, commercial and environmental impact in the following sectors:

  • Plastic and Waste Management
  • Water
  • Energy
  • Sanitation

The objective of the Fund is to extract insights from business models to inform the improvement of essential urban services delivery across energy, water, sanitation, plastics and waste management. Grants will be utilized to test digital innovations, enable scale, and provide essential services to underserved populations across all four sectors.

The grant projects must seek to demonstrate:

  • How innovative digital technology, including mobile, can support delivery of urban services to underserved populations;
  • What business models and partnerships are required for innovative digital solutions to be adopted at scale;
  • What are the social, commercial and environmental/ climate impacts delivering urban services to underserved populations; and
  • What role mobile operators and other technology companies can play in these business models, and how they can make their role commercially sustainable.


Applicant must

  • Have active users and commercial revenue (revenue generated from any products or services offered by the organisation) in at least one eligible low- or middle-income market.
  • Commit to providing 25% to 50% matching funding depending on the total grant amount requested.
  • Ensure the proposed grant project is implemented in an urban area as defined by the World Bank.
  • Be an entity registered and operating in the country of project implementation (whether domestic or foreign owned or a joint venture). In cases where responsibility for service delivery lies with a downstream partner, rather than the applicant, for example service delivery by a local government, it may be acceptable for the applicant to be registered in a country other than that of project implementation.
  • Be fully compliant with relevant business licensing, taxation, employee and other regulations in all applicable countries of grant project operation.
  • Be registered and have a bank account in the country where they will receive the grant money (if not the same as the project implementation country).
  • To be eligible, applicants must be an eligible entity and will need to demonstrate that a majority of their income is derived from commercial activities. Early stage companies who have not reached this threshold will need to demonstrate a reliable path to sustainability via commercial activities that generate revenue to be considered.
  • Only one organisation can apply for funding and become a grantee. An applicant can have downstream partners who have a role in the project as per the GSMA’s Downstream Partner Guidelines. In case government entities are grant project partners, they cannot be a sub-recipient of the grant.

They particularly encourage the following applicants:

  • Female founders, and applicants with good representation of women at all levels of the organisation.
  • Local entrepreneurs, and applicants with good representation of local talent at all levels of the organisation.
  • Applicants who proactively demonstrate their solution disproportionately and actively reaches more female users.
  • Applicants who have a clear understanding of the environmental/climate impact of their operations and have proactively taken steps to set targets to reduce or systematically measure these impacts.


  • Successful projects for The GSMA Innovation Fund for Digital Urban Services will receive an equity-free grant of between £100,000 and £250,000 to scale their innovation over a 15- to 18-month period.

How to apply?

The deadline for submitting pitches is 23:59 UTC+1 (UK time) on July 2, 2021.

For more information, see FAQ or visit the official website.

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