Calling For Innovative Solutions That Promote Online Safety Across Africa

The exponential increase in internet, smartphone and mobile network usage over the past few years, which accelerated during the COVID-19 crisis, has created new opportunities for socio-economic development in Africa. However, the rapid growth has also resulted in an increasing number of safety and security concerns varying in the different African regions from identity theft, bullying and harassment, sex trafficking, hate crimes, terrorist recruitment and promotion, to mis- or disinformation and financial scams.

To address these pressing issues, social innovation accelerator and advisory firm Impact Amplifier has designed the Africa Online Safety Fund, supported by Google.org, to finance innovative existing and new solutions to combat online security and safety threats. 

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Research done by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), technical adviser to the Fund, highlighted specific areas of concern in various African countries.

Some key safety concerns in Nigeria include communal conflict, often caused by irresponsible and biased reporting online, which can further ethnic and/or religious divides and play a significant role in increasing polarisation offline, remaining a relatively unaddressed issue in the country.  Local, inter-communal violence poses a significant challenge to social cohesion in Nigeria, with conflict caused by dispute over land and water use often associated with inter-ethnic and religious tensions.

Nigeria ranked third on the 2019 Global Terrorism Index, with its terrorist threat stemming predominantly from domestic Islamist groups Boko Haram and its ISIS-endorsed offshoot, ISIS in West Africa Province (ISWAP), both of whom operate online and use social media for recruitment purposes and the distribution of harmful propaganda. 

Moustafa Ayad, ISD’s Deputy Director commented: “As we turn increasingly to an online existence, digital threats (ranging from terrorist and extremist use of the internet to cyberbullying and child grooming, mis- and disinformation, online hate speech and various forms of cyber-fraud) become more acute. The Africa Online Safety Fund comes at a pivotal moment as these threats are exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and we are excited to see the innovative, community-led and contextually relevant responses we know this call for applications will have.”

The Africa Online Safety Fund is making a $1 million commitment to address these online safety issues.  There are two funding categories. Transformative, which provides grants of maximum $100,000, is aimed at projects that provide larger and scalable solutions across multiple geographies and/or potentially large numbers of beneficiaries. The Catalytic category targets smaller, potentially local or culturally specific projects, with grants of a maximum $10,000.

According to Tanner Methvin, Impact Amplifier’s Director, the Fund although not exclusively focused, will favour solutions that address women and children’s online safety specifically, as they are the most targeted communities in this regard.  

Liza Belozerova, Google.org Grants Lead EMEA, commented: “Working with local communities to help people be safer online is a core focus of our work at Google.org.  Our work comes alongside the company’s long-standing commitment to strengthen privacy and security across the internet. The work of Google.org with local experts has taught us that the best answers often come from those closest to the problem. That’s why we are supporting Impact Amplifier’s Online Safety Fund with $1 million to support organisations and initiatives that seek to make the internet a safer place.”

The Fund will be open for applications from 17 July – 21 August this year.  The call is open to social enterprises, public sector or public benefit organisations (not individuals) throughout Africa, but will be prioritising Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Ethiopia and the Côte d’Ivoire.  

Methvin said that the primary criteria that will be used to select successful applications include innovation and replication; social impact; potential for success; management team; financial efficiency, and sustainability.

“The selection of finalists will be followed by a tight mentoring process to develop and implement the winning solutions in the regions and where applicable, across Africa in order to combat these socio, economic and political security and safety threats,” he added.

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