How mobility data can improve humanitarian and development response

WFP Innovation Accelerator
5 min readApr 10, 2024


By: Bethany Plant and Sophie Delaporte

Flowminder staff and partners at workshop in Ghana in June 2023. Photo: Flowminder

For decision makers across sectors, population size greatly impacts resource allocation and the implementation of strategic interventions for population well-being. However, low- and middle-income countries often lack recent and accurate population data meaning decision makers rely on national censuses which, when available, only provide a once-a-decade snapshot of population demographics. Particularly when a population is mobile, using a static estimate from a census can create large inaccuracies over time.

Data for good: Flowminder

Flowminder, a Swedish non-profit foundation, recognizes this data scarcity challenge and seeks to tackle it. To do so, it leverages, processes and analyses anonymized call detail records data from mobile network operators (MNOs) to provide estimates of population mobility and distribution that can be integrated into official statistics. MNOs automatically generate this data for billing purposes and subsequently anonymize it, maintaining data privacy for users.

By grouping billions of records from cell towers that route network events, Flowminder can map the approximate locations of network subscribers and study their movement patterns. Flowminder then scales and adjusts this data, implementing a unique method it developed internally to correct for bias and to represent entire populations (not just network subscribers). Together, this process produces reliable dynamic internal migration and population estimates.

The power of call detail record data in improving pandemic response

Call detail records-derived mobility data, like those that Flowminder develops, can be applied to a wide range of sectors and use cases, providing tremendous opportunities for both development and humanitarian activities.

Flowminder has already proved the value of mobility data in the health sector. Mobility data is invaluable to health actors, as it helps them identify and monitor disease outbreaks or resource challenges and respond effectively to improve the health of the populations they serve.

During the COVID-19 pandemic in Ghana, Flowminder and the Ghana Statistical Service processed and analyzed anonymised and aggregated data from Telecel Ghana (previously Vodafone Ghana) to map population movements as mobility restrictions and lockdowns were announced, imposed and lifted. They also explored how mobility recovered over time.

“By looking at how the number of active users changed, we could see how effective lockdowns were in restricting people’s movement. This was vital in telling us when to lift and when to renew measures,” said Mahamudu Bawumia, Vice President of Ghana in The Guardian.

Flowminder conducted similar analyses in six other countries.

Flowminder worked closely with the Ghana Health Service to integrate call detail records-derived data estimates into key health metrics. Photo: Flowminder

Revolutionizing aid: Breakthrough insights from Flowminder’s WFP Innovation sprint

Flowminder is one of the innovations participating in the Digital Health Innovation Acceleration Programme (DHIAP), powered by the WFP Innovation Accelerator and BMZ digilab — the innovation lab for digital solutions, initiated by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) in collaboration with GIZ, the German Development Bank KfW, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The programme focuses on scaling digital innovations that advance pandemic preparedness in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo. At the beginning of this programme, specific challenge areas were identified using the Digital Pandemic Preparedness Assessment, a tool for evaluating a country’s digital ecosystem and preparedness for a possible pandemic response. Based on its solution to the challenges and potential impact, Flowminder was selected alongside other high-potential innovations to receive up to US$250,000 in equity-free funding, coaching support from the WFP Innovation Accelerator and access to a network of world-class mentors and collaborators to help them bring their innovations to the next level.

Flowminder used the support from DHIAP to test the value of integrating call detail records-derived dynamic population estimates into key health metrics for the Ghana Health Service in non-emergency and non-pandemic conditions.

For certain districts in Ghana, Flowminder’s preliminary findings using 2020–2022 data highlighted large population fluctuations due to migration. As a result, there are substantial incongruencies in health metric values, with up to 56 percent variation between existing health metrics and those utilizing dynamic population estimates. In other districts, however, current static and dynamic population estimates are comparable, which is likely due to the static estimates being derived from a more recent (2021) census. Over time, Flowminder anticipates that health metrics measured with call detail record-derived data will diverge from those measured with census-derived data.

“DHIAP and WFP’s support have been pivotal in enabling us to design and test the use of dynamic population estimates for enhancing health metrics. Our collaboration with the Ghana Health Service has been integral to this journey,” says Cathy Riley, Strategic Partnerships Director at Flowminder.

“It’s been really great to have an opportunity to explore with them how and when these data would be useful and identify the potential barriers or blockers to adoption. We are deeply committed to working hand-in-hand with the Ghana Health Service and we’re actively collaborating with them to seamlessly integrate these data into their workflows. Furthermore, we are exploring further avenues to design solutions that bolster immunization interventions across the country,” she adds.

The far-reaching implications of data innovations on the humanitarian sector

The use of call detail record data for population mobility estimation has the potential to transform the humanitarian and development sectors beyond health, from disaster management to official statistics.

In Haiti, for example, Flowminder is providing humanitarian actors with insights on population displacement triggered by gang violence. It highlights movements that may not be visible to on-the-ground observers and captures population destinations that may be outside of recognized sites for internally displaced people.

Innovations like Flowminder remind us that one solution can be applied across diverse challenges and contexts when provided with the right resources and connections to scale. At the WFP Innovation Accelerator, we strive to work with our innovators and partners to provide best-in-class support to initiatives disrupting the humanitarian and development sectors and bringing us closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Visit for more examples or contact to discuss your mobility data needs.

Bethany Plant is an innovation venture consultant at the WFP Innovation Accelerator specializing in impact assessment.

Sophie Delaporte is a marketing and communications manager at Flowminder.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP colleagues, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies, and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support, and WFP’s global operations.

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.