Zain Group, a leading mobile telecom innovator in eight markets across the Middle East and North Africa, has become a signatory to the GSMA’s Humanitarian Connectivity Charter, which was launched at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in 2015.
The industry-wide initiative is geared at demonstrating the commitment of the mobile industry to supporting customers and responders before and during humanitarian emergencies. Through the Charter, mobile network operators (MNOs) will commit to a common set of principles and work towards the adoption of initiatives focused on humanitarian connectivity. The aim of this initiative is to create a more coordinated and predictable response to disasters.
A signing ceremony to honor the occasion was held at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona between Zain and the GSMA attended by Zain Group Chairman, Asaad Al Banwan; Zain Group CEO, Scott Gegenheimer; Zain Corporate Sustainability Head, Jennifer Suleiman and senior executives from both Zain and the GSMA, as well as industry figures and international media.
Zain is one of the most active companies, across sectors, in corporate sustainability and social responsibility within its region of operation, and the aspirations and principles expressed the Charter align seamlessly with its own efforts to render assistance wherever possible and improve the lives of people consistently.
With respect to the Charter’s principle to enhance coordination within and among MNOs before, during and after a disaster; Zain will engage with the other MNOs in its respective operating territories to facilitate coordination. Emergency measures such as access site sharing, mobile base station sharing, and waiver for inter-operator call/SMS charges will be explored for humanitarian connectivity.
Commenting on becoming a Charter signatory, Zain Group CEO Scott Gegenheimer commented, “Zain has and shall continue to work rigorously to improve the conditions of people in distressed or unfortunate situations. However, throughout history has been made abundantly clear that the pooling of efforts and resources often achieves more positive results than what can be done individually, and we are thus looking forward to contributing our efforts and resources under the Charter.”
Another principle included in the Charter is to strengthen partnerships between the mobile industry, government and the humanitarian sector, and Zain, with the support of the GSMA, will lead the development of a partnership framework engaging MNOs, telecommunications regulators, government and humanitarian bodies (Red Crescent, WHO) within its region of operations to provide effective response capabilities to society at large.
Jennifer Suleiman, Head of Corporate Sustainability & Social Responsibility at Zain Group said, “We live and operate in a region where the cost of human suffering as a consequence of war and natural disaster is all-too apparent. Thus it is not just our responsibility but our duty to band together and render whatever assistance is possible, particularly at times of extreme need, and we are up to working closely with our peers to achieve this under the banner of the Charter.”
The principle to scale and standardize preparedness and response activities across the industry to enable a more predictable response has seen Zain establish a Business Continuity Management & Disaster Recovery program in line with ISO 22301 for uniform implementation across its operating companies. In order to sustain mission critical services (voice, SMS, data), the underlying network elements & IT platforms are designed with geographic resiliency and Zain’s technical teams and partners are capable of execution of disaster recovery plans to restore services within acceptable timeframes.
At Zain, we have considerable experience in overcoming challenges that have resulted from crisis situations. One example is in Iraq, when on August 23, 2014, an explosion resulted in major damage to one of Zain’s core sites located nearby. The result was a complete outage of 850 network sites across six Iraqi provinces. Swiftly implementing our contingency plans allowed us to restore connectivity to three and a half provinces by the following day, with full service restoration achieved within two days.
The launch of the Humanitarian Connectivity Charter reflects the growing recognition within the mobile industry and among government and responding stakeholders of the crucial role that mobile plays during humanitarian crises. Mobile devices are often one of the first things people reach for when disaster strikes.
Over the last decade, 1.8 billion people have been affected by disasters around the world. The challenges posed by these crises are too large for any single entity to address individually and the Charter will provide a vehicle for driving collaboration and partnership both within the industry and with external partners. In this context, ensuring preparedness and resiliency is critical from both a sustainability and business perspective.
The Charter is supported by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the UN Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). It was created following two years of industry workshops and collaboration facilitated by the GSMA Disaster Response program, in association with UN agencies, mobile operators, vendors and non-government organizations (NGOs).