Community driven voice datasets for Kiswahili, Kinyarwanda, and Luganda. Major grants for artists, activists, and technologists across the African continent. The extension of the Responsible Computer Science Challenge to Kenya.
2022 was a busy year for Mozilla’s Africa Innovation Mradi, spent building within the African digital ecosystem. But at the same time, we’re just laying the groundwork for 2023.
As 2022 winds down, our team is reflecting on the progress the Africa Innovation Mradi has made over the past several months. And, how that progress sets us up for a 2023 supporting thriving African innovation, all aimed at making the internet a healthier, more equitable place for people across the continent.
It may be helpful to start with what the Africa Innovation Mradi is. The Africa Mradi — which translates from Kiswahili as “project” or “strategy” — is a pan-Mozilla initiative fueling innovation and social justice grounded in the needs of the African digital ecosystem, from internet users to innovators. The Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation are working together to fuel product innovation, grow local movements, and strengthen innovation ecosystems, especially in East and Southern Africa. Note the use of “local” and “regional” — the Africa Mradi isn’t about Mozilla parachuting into new spaces with pre-established ideas. We build with and not for. Our approach is non-extractive: We collaborate with local partners and leverage existing expertise and capabilities. Our position is based on consultative processes, informed by African knowledge in the ecosystem.
We build with and not for. Our approach is non-extractive: We collaborate with local partners and leverage existing expertise and capabilities.
And in 2022, we did a lot of collaborating. We worked with the Common Voice team — and countless volunteer contributors — to grow African language contributions in our data set. We announced $400,000 USD in awards for Kiswahili voice technologies and selected eight winners. And we partnered with Hekaya Arts Initiative and Pwani University to expand our Kiswahili data.
The Africa Mradi team has also been working closely with Mozilla’s Creative Media Awards, which fund artists who use artwork to explain and demystify AI. In the latest call for proposals — which seeks artwork exploring responsible design — two Creative Media Awards are allocated specifically for applicants from Eastern and/or Southern Africa. We’re excited to see the applications that come in and what the winners create.
Meanwhile, the Africa Mradi focus has been key in extending the Responsible Computer Science Challenge to Kenya. We announced our call for proposals on November 1. The goal: To support Kenyan innovation hubs and accredited institutions of higher education that blend ethics and computer science curricula — and help shape the next generation of technologists in Kenya. At least 10 grants of $25,000 USD, or 3 million KSh, will be awarded.
The Africa Mradi also announced its “In Real Life,” or “IRL,” grants, on November 2. These will provide $350,000 USD to not-for-profit organizations focused on and based in the African continent — from those influencing better internet policy, to those using art to inform Africans about the impacts of AI in their daily lives. You can learn more about the IRL Fund at our next information session on the 21 of November.
Our colleagues at the Mozilla Corporation have also been busy over the last year, launching Pocket in Kenya and strengthening partnerships with key industry allies across the continent. And before the year ends, the pan-Mozilla Africa Innovation Mradi team will be attending the 17th annual Internet Governance Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from 28 November to 2 December.
All of these 2022 milestones tee us up for a busy 2023. In the coming months, we’ll be selecting grantees and launching more grant opportunities; connecting more communities; collecting more voice data. But we have new ambitions on the agenda, too. 2023 will feature the first-ever “MozFest House: Kenya.” We’ll also welcome a handful of Mozilla Senior Tech Policy fellows based in Africa. And we’ll expand our advocacy work across the continent.
The Africa Mradi’s work is made possible by the activists, educators, and technologists across Africa who we partner with each day. It’s also made possible by a small but mighty team here at Mozilla Foundation: J. Bob Alotta, Jaselle Edward-Gill, Hanan Elmasu, Koliwe Majama, Shandukani Mulaudzi, Roselyn Odoyo, Temi Popo, Kofi Yeboah, and myself.
I’m excited to continue working with this community and these people in 2023 — and to continue meeting the unique needs of African internet users.