Project Isizwe extension bags R1m funding

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Tim Genders, Project Isizwe's COO, presenting at Mozilla's Equal Rating Innovation Conference in New York City.
Tim Genders, Project Isizwe's COO, presenting at Mozilla's Equal Rating Innovation Conference in New York City.

Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi, the Project Isizwe extension, was named runner-up of Mozilla's Equal Rating Innovation Challenge, winning a funding award of $75 000 (R1 million).

Mozilla says the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge was founded on the belief that reaching out to the local expertise of innovators, entrepreneurs and researchers from all around the world would be the right way for the company to help bring the power of the Internet to the next billion people and beyond.

In January, two South African Internet connectivity projects - Project Isizwe and Zenzeleni - made it into the semi-finals of Mozilla's Equal Rating Innovation Challenge.

Mozilla, the non-profit organisation behind the open source browser Firefox, launched the 'Equal Rating Innovation Challenge' in October 2016 as part of its endeavour to help catalyse new thinking and innovation for providing open Internet access to communities living without it.

With this global competition, Mozilla called for creative and scalable ideas to provide affordable access to the full diversity of the open Internet.

It offered awards, totalling $250 000 in funding and expert mentorship to bring these solutions to the market. Mozilla received 100 submissions from 27 countries. The final shortlist of the best five entries was chosen by a panel of expert judges from around the world.

The winner of the challenge was India's Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband, which walked away with $125 000. Gram Marg, which translates as "roadmap" in Hindi, captured the attention of the judges and audience by focusing on the urgent need to bring 640 000 rural villages in India online.

The team created a low-cost and rugged TV UHF device that converts a 2.4GHz signal to connect villages in even the most difficult terrains.

The runner-up, Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi, is an extension of Project Isizwe, where 2.9 million users all access 500MB of free daily WiFi data. The key goal of Afri-Fi is to create a sustainable business model by linking together free WiFi networks throughout SA and engaging users meaningfully with advertisers so they can "earn" free WiFi.

Mozilla notes the team presented a compelling and sophisticated way to use consumer data, protect privacy and bolster entrepreneurship in its solution.

"The team has proven how their solution for a free Internet is supporting thriving communities in South Africa," says Marlon Parker, founder of Reconstructed Living Labs, on behalf of the judges.

"Their approach towards community building, partnerships, developing local community entrepreneurs and inclusivity, with a goal of connecting some of the most marginalised communities, are all key factors in why they deserve this recognition and are leading the free Internet movement in Southern Africa."

Tim Genders, COO of Project Isizwe, says: "The divide between rich and poor is being defined as your ability to access the Internet. Free WiFi allows everyone to gain access. Free WiFi allows the poor to play on the same field as the rich. Free WiFi removes the barriers to education, social inclusion, skills development and job applications. In short, free WiFi empowers.

"Our next steps are to make free WiFi scalable and self-sustaining through an advertising model. We want to make free WiFi the new medium to get messages out to communities."

The 'Most Novel' award worth $30 000 went to Bruno Vianna and his team from the Free Networks P2P Co-operative in Brazil.

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