Local lads lead innovation challenge

Two South African entrepreneurs are in line to win funding to the tune of $250 000. Tim Human and Carlos Rey-Moreno made it through to the semifinals of the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge hosted by Mozilla, the non-profit organisation behind the open source browser Firefox.

Human and Rey-Moreno will join South African-born Steve Song (who now lives in Canada), Abhay Karandikar (India) and Bruno Vianna (Brazil), for an eight-week mentorship programme coordinated by Mozilla to better assist the teams in building out their proposed concepts.

The innovation challenge, launched three months ago, aims to “catalyse new thinking and innovation to provide access to the open internet to those still living without.”

Human’s project, Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi, wants to create a financially sustainable model that will connect low-income communities who otherwise cannot afford connectivity. Human, who worked on Project Isizwe, helped deploy 803 free internet zones in Tshwane and connected 40 000 more users in and around schools in Atlantis and Robertson, in the Western Cape.

Rey-Moreno’s project, Zenzeleni Networks, is a 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.

With South Africa’s internet penetration about 50%, projects like this will help grow the digital footprint of the country and provide more communities with access to the world wide web.

Katharina Borchert, Mozilla’s chief innovation officer and one of the judges, said that the reason she became a judge was to see everyone connected to the internet.

“Not giving people access to information creates a socioeconomic divide, not just a digital divide. 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,” she said.

The teams will be judged on a variety of criteria including affordability and accessibility, empathy, technical feasibility, as well as scalability and user experience.

On May 9 the teams will get a chance to present their projects to the public, with the winners to be announced on March 29 in Brussels.

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