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How start-ups can help bridge the gap in public service provision in developing countries

Updated: Nov 2, 2022

Cities and utilities in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) are struggling to provide affordable, reliable, safe and sustainable utility services to many of their residents. This growing urban service gap is being exacerbated by rapid urbanisation, climate change and widening structural and spatial inequalities.

There is growing evidence that innovative digital solutions can help address these challenges. Partnerships between start-ups pioneering these solutions and public sector organisations have emerged as an innovative and impactful way to address critical gaps in essential urban services – particularly when it comes to reaching low-income urban populations in informal settlements.

Source: GSMA Image Bank

Over the last decade, through the GSMA Innovation Fund, we have supported more than 100 start-ups and SMEs working across LMICs. In that time, we have observed how central partnerships are to start-ups’ scaling journeys and wider social impact. We have also seen how partnership formation between stakeholders with different organisational cultures, time horizons, and strategic priorities can pose challenges. Meanwhile, there has been little research and few resources tailored towards start-ups and early-stage private sector innovators pursuing partnerships with the public sector.

This toolkit therefore aims to:

1. Highlight the role of start-up-public sector collaboration in the context of the many challenges facing cities in LMICs;

2. To provide a conceptual framework of how to think through, frame, and define start-up-public sector partnerships;

3. To offer practical tips and tools to start-ups navigating these complex partnerships; and

4. To highlight additional resources that might be relevant to those aiming to catalyse start-up public sector collaboration.

You can access the toolkit here.


About this project:

This research was conducted by UrbanEmerge (Research Consultants: Naji Makarem, Teslim Giwa, Larissa Duma, Joshua Palfreman) in partnership with The Hungry Lab (Bian Li - Team Leader).

Thank you to GSMA Digital Utilities team and Mobile for Development (Project Lead: George Kibala Bauer- Director, GSMA Mobile for Development Utilities team).

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