“It was extremely important that GSMA recognised this success”

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“It was extremely important that GSMA recognised this success”

Erim Taylanlar
CEO, Ncell

Ncell recently won the prestigious GSMA Global Mobile Awards 2016 in the Mobile in Emergency or Humanitarian Situations category. The award was handed out to the Nepali telecom giant and its partner Flowminder, a Swedish research foundation, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Feb 23 for their initiative aimed at helping people affected by the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015. Together with Flowminder, Ncell provided a mobile service to identify people displaced by the earthquake and their pattern of movement to better target humanitarian support. During that time, more than 500,000 people left the Kathmandu valley to go to the Terai and, across the country, an estimated 1.8 million people left their home districts. In an interview with Archana Prajapati of New Business Age, Ncell's CEO Erim Taylanlar, expressed his views on the significance of the award and the company's future plans for its CSR activities. Excerpts:

Ncell and Flowminder have jointly received an award under the category ‘Mobile in Emergency or Humanitarian Situations’ at the GSMA’s Global Mobile Awards 2016. How are you feeling at this time?
We feel really excited about the award because it’s related to how you can utilise mobile technology during a humanitarian crisis. Mobile phones have become an integral part of our daily lives. Its role is multipurpose. So this is a perfect example of a mobile network operator providing support to people right after a terrible earthquake and it was extremely important that GSMA recognised this success. It is, also, a joint success with the Swedish research foundation- Flowminder. It is very important to us as GSMA is the biggest entity in the mobile world.

How do you look at your initiative with Flowminder winning this award? 
Our collaboration with the Swedish research foundation, Flowminder, has been among those sincere initiatives aimed at helping the people who were most affected (by the earthquake) and forced to leave their place and then to be noticed by the rescue and relief agencies so that they could receive much-needed support as soon as possible. We were already happy with its approach and the contribution it could make for relief work. GSMA’s Global Awards has added a crown on the top. The most exciting aspect of the award is that, this initiative has been admired by the world’s mobile leaders as an outstanding effort. We demonstrated to the world how mobile technology can contribute in emergency or humanitarian situations.

What major factors do you think contributed to Ncell achieving this award?
Our team identified the potential risks that Nepal faced at the time of the earthquake and then we co-operated significantly with Flowminder. The project is actually based on where people, who have been affected by an earthquake or flood or landslide, or any other natural disaster, are moving, so you use the mobile data of the individuals without actually using identification. It was based on the significant results from the hard work done by Flowminder and Ncell which started before the earthquake.

How big is this award?
GSMA’s Global Mobile Awards offer mobile companies and supporters of mobile eco-system from around the world a platform to showcase the latest products, services and initiatives to the world. For the awards this year, there were more than 930 entrants, and from this list 170 nominees were shortlisted for the awards in around 40 different categories/subcategories. So, it’s a huge platform.

How does this award winning system function?
It is related to following a group of affected people during a time of   crisis. The technology allows us to identify where a mobile hand set is located. But we do not breach anyone's privacy by identifying who that mobile phone belongs to, or who that sim card belongs to, or where the location is. This system helps to locate the biggest gathering of affected people geographically, based on the GSM data. This information is important for aid agencies to reach the victims at a time of crisis. It is especially important in the rural parts of the country.

Could you please briefly highlight features of the Ncell-Flowminder initiative? 
We had laid the foundations for the collaboration back in 2014, and further built it for implementation when Flowminder was here during the GSMA workshop on disaster preparedness, which was just a week before the first big earthquake. So, immediately after the first quake, we started providing an anonymised network data to Flowminder, which then generated information on where people were, identifying their pattern of movement and displacement in the wake of the disaster. This was the first time a method to track movement in an ongoing ‘live’ situation was adopted; hence the collaboration approach was quite innovative. The information consistently featured in the UN’s regular updates to aid organisations and proved critical in ensuring that relief efforts were directed to the right regions.

How was Flowminder selected to develop the system?
We are always open to new ideas and new ways of doing our work. The Flowminder and Ncell cooperation goes back to 2014 where we were searching for a social project, in the case of Nepal, that could help the people at a time of emergency. So we got to meet each other and we both got an opportunity to contribute. 

Did the project help Ncell in its business?
We did not look at this project commercially. It is a social project and it is related to the part of society and its people who need help during a humanitarian crisis. So, from a business point of view, it did not (and does not) contribute any revenue to us. It is a corporate social responsibility project where we demonstrate our technology with our partner Flowminder, and we feel proud of this. We see this as a strong social payback to the country, not because we won the prize, but because it’s a useful project for times of crisis.

Who used the report? How did it contribute to the immediate relief response?
The UN consistently incorporated the report in its regular updates, and it was circulated to aid organisations working for rescue and relief operations. Since the report incorporated information like the whereabouts of the quake affected people and where they were moving, it helped relief agencies to target the relief operations more effectively.

What are you future plans?
We are looking into similar projects. We will continue to pay heavy interest in corporate social responsibility in Nepal. Ncell's parent company, Teliasonera has committed Rs 1 billion to the reconstruction of Nepal after the earthquake and we are happy that we are continuing our project on that also.

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