The United Nations' 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to tackle the interconnected challenges of poverty, inequality, and climate change sustainably and inclusively. It's a mission shared by governments, private- and public-sector organisations across the globe.
Undoubtedly, the pandemic has stalled progress or even reversed years of good work across the world in meeting the SDGs, placing greater urgency on the need to double down in our efforts. We wholeheartedly support the United Nations' call to kickstart a transformative recovery that not only addresses the pandemic, but also reduces risks from potential future crises.
In the face of health, social and economic challenges brought on by the pandemic, Vodacom has remained steadfast in meeting our purpose of enabling inclusion for all within the sustainable digital society we're helping to shape. Over the 2021 financial year, we aligned our purpose on a local scale with government's National Development Plan and on a global scale with the UN by focusing on the eight SDGs where we could make the most impact, as shown in the key highlights below.
Enabling Good Health and Well-Being: SDG 3
By leveraging our network, digital platforms, and data-analytics capabilities, we supported governments and communities in the COVID-19 crisis, while still addressing UN health priorities, such as high maternal and child mortality rates.
Our digitised Stock Visibility Solution tackles medicine supply-chain inefficiencies with real-time reporting and is used across 5 935 health facilities in South Africa, Zambia, and Nigeria. In Zambia, our eLABS electronic pathology-management solution reduced test-result turnover time from 31 to 13 days in 1 100 healthcare facilities, while in Tanzania, our mobile platform M-Mama helped reduce the maternal mortality rate by 27% in connecting rural-community women to free transport in healthcare emergencies. We also invested a total of R118 million in related activities, like helping Lesotho's government secure vaccines, enabling Tanzania's government to source PPE, and supporting vaccine delivery to vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities in South Africa, Tanzania, the DRC, Mozambique, and Ghana.
Delivering Quality Education: SDG 4
Our mobile technology and subsidised education resources have enabled continued learning, despite serious disruptions brought on by the pandemic.
We launched various zero-rated, digital schooling platforms, serving 1.25 million learners in South Africa, 113 840 in the DRC, and 150 000 in Tanzania. Empowering teachers to provide quality education underpinned our R7.9 million investment in free connectivity for 92 teacher centres across South Africa. While in Mozambique, we ensured access by equipping 12 libraries across eight provinces with 240 computers, 6 400 books and internet connectivity.
Promoting Gender Equality: SDG 5
Inclusive connectivity that unlocks socioeconomic opportunities and essential information is at the heart of how we promote gender equality.
We've given access to maternal healthcare information and support through various mobile platforms, serving 1.9 million users in South Africa and 1.3 million in Tanzania. Skills development is equally crucial: in South Africa, we invested a total of R145.5 million in continuous skills development for black women and digital skills training for Gender Based Violence survivors. We've also trained 1 600 female farmers in ICT skills, and imparted coding skills to 1 672 young girls.
Contributing to Decent Work and Economic Growth: SDG 8
In the 2021 financial year, we enabled financial inclusion for 57.7 million customers. Our mobile M-Pesa platform has now reached 50 million customers as of September 2021, making it the biggest financial services provider in Africa. In Mozambique alone, M-Pesa connects nearly 5 million customers, even those in remote areas, to the digital economy.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are key to economic growth. In the DRC, we empowered over 500 youth-led SMEs with business skills. In South Africa, our VodaLend fund extended R74 million in credit to 330 SMEs to help them stay afloat during the pandemic. Added to this, we ensured our SME suppliers were paid within three days of invoicing, issuing over R1.1 billion in early payments.
Boosting Industry, Innovation, and infrastructure: SDG 9
We increased infrastructure investment to expand coverage reach while tackling connectivity barriers like affordability.
To this end, over 1.3 million low-cost smart feature phones were sold across South Africa, Mozambique, and Tanzania, highlighting the need for affordable handsets. We also invested R13.3 billion in infrastructure across our markets to bolster coverage. In South Africa's rural communities, we expanded 4G coverage to reach 82.9% of communities by adding an additional 192 network sites, bringing total sites up to 2784. In Tanzania, we extended our coverage reach to 52% of the population, which equates to
1 184 villages.
Creating Sustainable Cities and Communities: SDG 11
Our mobile and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions have helped South Africa's public and private sectors action environmental targets and boost citizen engagement.
Through our IoT connections – including 160 000 smart metering solutions and 616 210 smart logistics and fleet management solutions – customers made carbon savings of 1 648 494 mtCO2e. Meanwhile, our digital citizen engagement platforms, such as Mpilo and MySAPS, have a combined total of 227 144 users.
Meeting Targets for Climate Action: SDG 13
It's crucial that we meet customer connectivity needs in ways that help preserve the planet's resources, through sustainable energy consumption, for example.
To this end, we've set up 1 088 solar powered sites across our markets, helping us produce 5GWh of our own renewable electricity, in addition to the 1 183 898kWh sourced from suppliers. This has contributed to our R16 million saving in energy costs and 12 272 mtCO2e reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Further Together Towards a Shared Goal
"Sustainable development is the goal we are all working towards, and Vodacom understands that achieving it requires partnerships, not only between sectors, organisations, and governments, but also between people and technology," says External Affairs Director for Vodacom South Africa, Takalani Netshitenzhe. "Leveraging technology in a responsible way opens incredible opportunities for inclusive progress as we tackle the SDGs. Our purpose journey has a clear commitment, which is to remove barriers to digital access and deliver the significant societal benefits associated with improved connectivity as we continue with our ambition to improve the next 100 million lives and halve our environmental impact by 2025."
To view the progress Vodacom has made across all eight SDGs, download our 2021 UN SDGs Report here.