5 Semifinalist “Pitch” Their Solutions At Our Equal Rating Conference - Vote For Your Favorite!

“One point of connectivity can change the world.”
Gary Fowlie – Head, ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations

On 9 March, Mozilla gathered the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge semifinalists and judges, as well as industry leaders, NGOs, and the public in New York City for a day-long event dedicated to Equal Rating. The conference culminated in the “Demo Day” with the 5 Innovation Challenge semifinalist teams from South Africa, India, Brazil and Canada pitching their product solutions to the judges and the assembled audience.

After the welcome and introductory notes by Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, Gary Fowlie, Head of the ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations, outlined the enabling role of information communication technologies can play in progressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He also highlighted how more partnerships and projects on digital inclusion like the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge is critical to improving education worldwide.

Gary was followed by Dr Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research ICT Africa, who presented findings from field research in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa. Dr Gillwald explored the barriers users in these countries face when accessing the Internet, and showed how online behavior changes when data is subsidized.

Jeff Jarvis, Professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism (CUNY), added a journalist’s perspective to the conversation, arguing that improved digital media literacy and locally relevant content are critical to the health of the online ecosystem.  Jarvis advocated for an increase in intensive research on locally relevant content and a basic models of fair subsidy as a way to fundamentally change journalism for the better in emerging markets.

Mishi Choudhary, Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Center, closed the morning keynotes with a passionate plea to rethink the regulatory frameworks in the Global South to allow for the same rights and principles to get access, to “tinker,” and to be secure online.

In the second part of the conference, Mozilla’s Chief Innovation Officer Katharina Borchert moderated a panel discussion with the five esteemed Challenge judges, Omobola Johnson (Nigeria), Honorary Chair of the Alliance for Affordable Internet and Partner of TLcom Capital LLP and the first Communication Technology Minister of Nigeria, Nikhil Pahwa (India), Founder at MediaNama and Co-founder of savetheinternet.in, Rocio Fonseca (Chile), Executive Director of Start-Up Chile, Marlon Parker (South Africa), Founder of Reconstructed Living Labs, and Mitchell Baker (USA), Executive Chairwoman of Mozilla.

The discussion range from learnings from the Innovation Challenge to the role of governments and global players in shaping today’s access routes to the Internet. The panel also candidly explored critical topics such as Internet shutdowns and the dreadful harassment that especially women and minorities are often subjected to as part their (first) Internet experience.

The highlight of the Equal Rating Conference was “Demo Day” when the 5 semifinalists pitched their solutions to the judges. After having received 6 weeks of expert mentorship to further shaped their submitted concepts, each team shared their respective vision for a connected future. After each presentation, the judges had 10 minutes of Q&A where they pressed the semifinalists on issues such as scalability and business sustainability.

Our judges are now evaluating the semifinalist presentations and we would like to include your voice in the mix. We invite you all to watch the semifinalist pitches and cast your vote for what you think is the strongest solution. Voting is open until 16 March 23:59 GMT. The results of the community voting will be tallied and shared with the judges. The judges will consider these data along with the scoring matrix when they make their final decision.

What’s at stake? The total prize money for the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge is funding of USD250,000, divided into the following categories:

  • Best Overall (with a key focus on scalability): USD125,000
  • Best Overall Runner-up: USD75,000
  • Most Novel Solution: USD30,000

The winners will be announced at RightsCon Brussels on 29 March 2017.

Equal Rating Innovation Challenge: Semifinalist "Zenzeleni Networks"

We proudly present a mini-documentary of semifinalist project “Zenzeleni ‘Do it for yourselves’ Networks” (South Africa), bottom-up telecommunications co-operative model 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. This video was created during the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge.

Equal Rating Innovation Challenge: Semifinalist "Gram Marg"

We proudly present a mini-documentary of semifinalist project “Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband” (India), an open source low-cost hardware prototype utilizing Television White Spectrum to provide affordable access to rural communities. This video was created during the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge.

Equal Rating Innovation Challenge: Semifinalist "Free Networks P2P Cooperative"

We proudly present a mini-documentary of semifinalist project “Free Networks P2P Cooperative” (Brazil), a cooperative that enables communities to set-up networks to get access to the Internet and then supports itself through the cooperative fees, while co-creating the knowledge and respecting the local cultures. This video was created during the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge.

Equal Rating Innovation Challenge: Semifinalist "Freemium Mobile Internet"

We proudly present a mini-documentary of semifinalist project “Freemium Mobile Internet” (Canada), a new business model for telecommunication companies to provide free 2G to enable all the benefits of the open web to all. This video was created during the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge.

Equal Rating Innovation Challenge: Semifinalist "Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi"

We proudly present a mini-documentary of semifinalist project “Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi” (South Africa), a model to make the existing Project Isizwe financially sustainable by connecting brands to an untapped, national audience, specifically low-income communities who otherwise cannot afford connectivity. This video was created during the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge.

Join us at the Equal Rating Conference


Please join us for a convening of leading thinkers and doers on the topic of digital inclusion and affordable access.

Mozilla is convening leaders in industry, government, NGOs, and advocacy to discuss and debate the current state of affordable access. Following a lively morning session of speakers and provocations, we will host a Demo Day where the semifinalists of the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge will pitch their novel solutions.

Register to attend the event through Eventbrite.

Speakers include:

  • Mitchell Baker Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation
  • Katharina Borchert Chief Innovation Officer, Mozilla Corporation
  • Mishi Choudhary Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Center
  • Rocio Fonseca Executive Director, Start-Up Chile
  • Gary Fowlie Head, ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations
  • Alison Gillwald Executive Director, Research ICT Africa
  • Jeff Jarvis Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY
  • Omobola Johnson Former Minister of Communication Technology, Nigeria
  • Nikhil Pahwa Co-founder, savetheinternet.in
  • Marlon Parker Founder, Reconstructed Living Labs

Demo Day pitches:

  • Tim Genders (South Africa) presents Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi
  • Steve Song (Canada) presents Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI)
  • Bruno Vianna (Brazil) presents Free Networks P2P Cooperative
  • Dr Sarbani Banerjee Belur (India) presents Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband
  • Carlos Rey-Moreno (South Africa) presents Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks (ZN)


Date

Thursday, 9 March 2017
9:00am – 6:30pm

Location
Bathhouse Studios
East Village, New York City

Program
8:30–9:30am / Registration & light breakfast
9:30–9:45am / Welcome & overview of the day
9:45–10:00am / Opening remarks
10:00–10:25am Gary Fowlie – Head, ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations
10:30–11:05am Alison Gillwald Executive Director, Research ICT Africa
11:10–11:25am / Break
11:30–12pm Jeff Jarvis Professor, Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY
12:05–12:30pm Mishi Choudhary Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Center
12:30–1:30pm / Lunch
1:30–2:45pm Judges’ Panel Discussion
2:45–3pm / Break
3:00–5:15pm Demo Day with our 5 Innovation Challenge Semifinalists
5:15–5:30pm / Closing remarks
5:30–6:30pm / Reception

To attend the event, register through Eventbrite.


The event will be live streamed on www.equalrating.com.

Please email equalrating@mozilla.com with any questions.

Connecting Rural Women in India to the Internet

India has the second largest Internet user base, but also has one of the greatest online gender disparities. Girls are often told by their parents that the Internet is not safe for women, and that would be why they should not use the internet.

The women in India are at risk of getting left behind as the world goes online. In villages, generally parents do not allow girls to continue their education after 8th grade. While even urban women are coming online, rural women are struggling. There are still many women who do not know what the Internet is, and have never seen a laptop or tablet before. If they were able to get online, it would mean an enormous transformation of their lives. With the knowledge they would obtain, they would likely be able to earn a higher income and stand on their own feet.

In November 2016, a group of 24 Mozilla volunteers and staff met in Bangalore, India, to work on the DinoTank winning problem statement of how to connect rural women in India to the Internet. Participants spent a weekend ideating and building ideas for concepts that could tackle some of the many barriers for Internet access. The findings and results of the design sprint have now been published.

Vnisha Srivastav, volunteer in the Mozilla India community, wrote about the design sprint and her experiences on the Mozilla Open Innovation Medium Blog.

Semifinalist Announcement Event Recap

On 17 January, 2017 Mozilla, together with RLabs, a social enterprise focused on digital learning, community building and social innovation founded by Marlon Parker, one of our judges, co-hosted the announcement event for the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge semifinalists at the RLabs office in Cape Town, South Africa.

Mozilla Chief Innovation Officer Katharina Borchert, Mozilla Senior Global Policy Manager Jochai Ben-Avie – the moderator for the event – and RLab Founder Marlon Parker kicked off the evening by sharing Mozilla’s vision on Equal Rating and the broader implications of the Challenge.

When asked to explain why the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge was important, Katharina called for RLab alumni, Eric Coetzee, to share his story. Eric spoke of his path and the transformative impact being connected to the Internet has had on his life. With captivating and poignant words he spoke of the struggles in his youth, how he discovered the Internet through RLabs back in 2014, and how this encouraged him to eventually finish school. Ever since, he has been shaping his own future and helping others, providing hope and guidance. Being at the age of 24 he already founded 2 companies, INETWIZ and Green E-Waste Recyclage. Ending his very personal story by saying that being connected made him ”walk in the light” was clearly one of the emotional highlights of the event and underscored the power and potential of the internet to change people’s lives.

Following Eric’s engaging speech, Marlon announced the five selected semifinalists. Katharina emphasized how proud she was of the global scale and the overall high quality of the submissions from 27 countries around the world. “The level of engagement but also of the seriousness and quality with which people think and innovate around the topic of connectivity and digital inclusion has been outstanding,” she said. At the event we also had the opportunity to recognize our 2 South African semifinalists, Afri-Fi and Zenzeleni Networks, whose projects leads were both in attendance.

The final speaker of the evening was Chenai Chair from Research ICT Africa, a Cape Town based think-tank who hosts an African-wide ICT policy and regulatory research network established a decade ago with the purpose of developing the data and analysis necessary for evidence-based ICT policy and effective regulation on the continent and one of Mozilla’s Equal Rating research partners. Chenai shared valuable insights from Research ICT Africa’s recent field research in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa. We are very much looking forward to hearing and reading about more findings later this year.

Thanks to everyone who made this such a remarkable evening and milestone on our journey!

Here’s a short video from the event:

Next steps:

  • 18 Jan – 8 Mar 2017: Mentorship period for our semifinalist teams to advance their projects.
  • 9 Mar 2017: Demo Day in New York City, a day-long event on the topic of affordable access and innovation on which the semifinalists will pitch their solutions to the judges. Demo Day will be livestreamed to the website.
  • 10 Mar – 16 Mar 2017: Community voting
  • 29 Mar 2017: Winners announcement

Equal Rating Innovation Challenge: And the Semifinalists are...

Announcing the five innovative concepts that made it to the final round

by Katharina Borchert

About three months ago we launched this global Equal Rating Innovation Challenge to help catalyze new thinking and innovation to provide access to the open Internet to those still living without. Clearly the idea resonated. Thanks to the help of numerous digital inclusion initiatives, think tanks, impact hubs and various local communities that supported us, our challenge has spurred global engagement. We received 98 submissions from 27 countries around the world. This demonstrates that there are entrepreneurs, researchers, and innovators in myriad fields poised to tackle this huge challenge with creative products and services.

Our 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.

Here are the five projects which received the highest scores from our judges. Each team will receive 8 weeks of mentorship from experts within our 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.

Congratulations go to:

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 we will disclose further information about all of these teams and their projects in the coming weeks, here are some themes that we’ve seen in the submission process and our observations on these themes:

  • 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.

What’s Next?

Following the mentorship period, on March 9, we will host a day-long event in New York City on the topic of affordable access and innovation. We will invite speakers and researchers from around the world to provide their valuable insights on the global debate, various initiatives, and the latest approaches to affordable access. The main feature of this event will be presentations by our semifinalists, with a thorough Q&A from our judges. We will then have a week of open public voting on EqualRating.com to help determine the winners of the Challenge. The winners will then be announced at RightsCon on March 29 in Brussels.
At this point we want to thank all who have sent us their ideas, organised or hosted an event, or helped to spread the word. We also want to thank our esteemed panel of judges for their time, insight, and mobilizing their communities. While we did have almost a hundred teams submit solutions, we also had thousands of people meeting and engaging in this content through our events, webinars, and website. With this in mind, Mozilla aims to further engage with more teams who sent us their concepts, connect them to our network, and continue to grow the community of people working on this important topic.

Let’s keep this spirit burning – not only through the end of our Challenge, but beyond.