Open Cities Lab is an IRL Fund Awardee. We spoke with Project Lead Ella Alcock about the MyCandidate app that’s changing the way people across Africa vote and bolstering young democracies across the continent

Ella Alcock, left, at work
Ella Alcock, left, at work
  • Many African countries with young, fragile democracies suffer from low voter turnout, and it’s difficult for citizens to access accurate candidate information

  • MyCandidate is an app that empowers voters with easy-to-understand electoral information that anyone can access ahead of an election

  • The goal is to encourage citizens to actively participate in politics, fostering informed voices that, in turn, strengthen democracies across the continent

The Issue

In 2019, South Africa celebrated its 25th year as a democracy and held a general election. Open Cities Lab found that accessing candidate information was challenging for many voters due to cumbersome, non-user-friendly PDF formats. Many African democracies are in their early stages, and voter turnout has dropped, especially among youth, due to disillusionment from broken promises, corruption, and economic inequality. Open Cities Lab identified that a lack of critical voter information was causing voters to disengage from the political process, eroding trust in electoral systems and threatening young democracies.

The Approach

Born from the frustrations witnessed during the 2019 South African election, MyCandidate is a web app that provides accessible candidate information. Users input their address to receive a list of local candidates, including names, ages, and election locality. Links to Google search results are included. The app empowers informed voting, increasing political engagement and leveling the playing field for smaller, under-funded candidates. Open Cities Lab’s work is grounded in the understanding that insufficient candidate information is an issue that impacts democracy. As such, it has designed the app to help people make more informed voting choices with confidence.

Open Cities Lab is one of the first 13 awardees of Mozilla’s “In Real Life” (IRL) Fund, which supports community-serving organizations in Africa that are advancing digital and human rights, both on and offline — with a particular focus on Eastern and Southern Africa. This grantmaking mechanism is part of the Africa Innovation Mradi, a program that leverages Mozilla’s role as stewards of the open web to promote innovation grounded in the unique needs of users in African countries.

MyCandidate has already reached more than a million users through the various elections in which it was implemented – in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Zimbabwe. In Kenya alone, the app reached 366,000 users. Millions of African citizens are now better-informed voters and more actively involved in democracy. With 25 major elections scheduled for 2024 across Africa,Open Cities Lab is scaling MyCandidate to as many countries as possible. Project engineers are generalizing the code base to make it easier to merge their system with partner organizations, putting critical information about candidates in the hands of as many people in as many places as possible in time for the elections. Mozilla’s funding allowed Open Cities Lab to partner with CHRDI, an established development and human rights advocacy organization with strong community ties, to build a version of MyCandidate tailored to Sierra Leone in direct response to a last-minute request.

What Does Success Look Like?

“The work is never done. Working towards an informed citizenry and participatory democracy is a lifelong journey, for me at least,” Alcock said.