Mozilla has named two South African entrants in its selection of five semifinalists for its global Equal Rating Innovation Challenge.
South Africans Tim Human and Dr. Carlos Rey-Moreno, both residing in Cape Town, were two of the five semifinalist team leaders announced. Furthermore, Steve Song, a born South African who is now living in Canada, is among the final five.
Katharina Borchert, Mozilla’s Chief Innovation Officer, and Marlon Parker, Founder of Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs) and part of the Challenge’s panel of judges, announced the semifinalists and discussed the trends that were seen across submissions at an event held at RLabs in Cape Town on 17 January.
“Not giving people access to information creates a socio-economic divide, not just a digital divide,” said Parker. “Every person on the planet needs to have hope, which is what the internet is for. It gives you information, it gives you a choice, it gives you an option. This is why I wanted to be a part of this Challenge and become a judge.”
Mozilla’s judging panel evaluated the submissions against the criteria of compliance with Equal Rating, affordability and accessibility, empathy, technical feasibility, as well as scalability, user experience, differentiation, potential for quick deployment, and team potential.
Each team will receive 8 weeks of mentorship from experts within the Mozilla community, covering topics such as policy, business, engineering, and design. The mentorship is broad to better assist the teams in building out their proposed concepts.
The semi-finalists are:
Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband
- Team Leader: Prof. Abhay Karandikar
- Location: Mumbai, India
- Open source low-cost hardware prototype utilizing Television White Spectrum to provide affordable access to rural communities.
Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI)
- Team Leader: Steve Song
- Location: Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada
- A new business model for telecommunication companies to provide free 2G to enable all the benefits of the open web to all.
Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi
- Team Leader: Tim Human
- Location: Cape Town, South Africa
- Model to make Project Isizwe financially sustainable by connecting brands to an untapped, national audience, specifically low-income communities who otherwise cannot afford connectivity.
Free Networks P2P Cooperative
- Team Leader: Bruno Vianna
- Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Cooperative that enables communities to set-up networks to get access to the Internet and then supports itself through the cooperative fees, and while co-creating the knowledge and respecting the local cultures.
Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks (ZN)
- Team Leader: Dr Carlos Rey-Moreno
- Location: Cape Town, South Africa
- Bottom-up telecommunications co-operatives that allows the most disadvantaged rural areas of South Africa to self-provide affordable communications at a fraction of the cost offered by other operators.
While Mozilla will disclose further information about all of these teams and their projects in the coming weeks, some themes occurred in the overall submission process:
- Cooperatives were a popular mechanism to grow buy-in and share responsibility and benefit across communities. This is in contrast to a more typical and transactional producer-consumer relationship.
- Digital literacy was naturally integrated into solutions, but was rarely the lead idea. Instead it was the de facto addition. This signals that digital literacy in and of itself is not perceived as a full solution or service, but rather an essential part of enabling access to the Internet.
- Many teams took into account the unbanked and undocumented in their solutions. There seemed to be a feeling that solutions for the people would come from the people, not governments or corporations.
- There was a strong trend for service solutions to disintermediate traditional commercial relationships and directly connect buyers and sellers.
- In media-centric solutions, the voice of the people was as important as authoritative sources. User generated content in the areas of local news was popular, as was enabling a distribution of voices to be heard.
Following the mentorship period, on March 9th, Mozilla will host a day-long event in New York on the topic of affordable access and innovation where the semifinalists will present their concepts.
Following the presentations to the judges at this Demo Day, there will be a week of open voting on EqualRating.com to determine the winners of the Challenge which will be announced at RightsCon in Brussels on March 29th.