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. Research done by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), technical adviser to the Fund, highlighted specific areas of concern in various African countries.
Child sexual exploitation is a big challenge in Ethiopia, particularly girls who are subject to child marriage and /or sexual abuse on- and offline. While recent progress to combat child marriage in Ethiopia is notable, the country still ranks amongst the highest in East and Southern Africa in regard to the pervasiveness of this issue.
Hate Speech and associated crime has surged in recent years and predominantly targets ethnicity and LGBTQ communities. Twitter, for example, saw a growing level of hate and abusive speech in the country between 2014 and 2019. Ethiopians have been exposed to misinformation, which is commonplace, furthering ethnic violence. Experts are particularly concerned about an influx of misinformation ahead of the next general election in August 2020.
Ethiopia has a disproportionately low media literacy rate compared to its internet and social media penetration rates, suggesting the country is ill-equipped to counter online harms at an individual level. This places users at risk of exploitation (sexual, financial), abuse, being unable to distinguish fake from real news or poor journalism from responsible journalism, and of being unaware of their rights online (including how to report abusive content and to say no to users requesting private or intimate content).
Moustafa Ayad, ISD’s Deputy Director commented: “As we turn increasingly to an online existence, digital threats 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.