When Mozilla launched the Africa Innovation Mradi, we knew grantmaking would be a key part of the initiative. The African continent is home to some of the most creative and impactful innovation online — and Mozilla is eager to work alongside those people and projects.
Our grantmaking also embodies the Africa Mradi’s non-extractive, collaborative approach. Local organizers, technologists, builders, educators, artists, and others are already exploring how technology impacts the lived realities of Africans. Mozilla wants to do this important work with them, rather than starting anew next to them. African communities understand better than anyone how the internet is intersecting with social justice and human rights across the continent.
With these principles in mind, the Africa Mradi team launched its grantmaking strategy in October 2022. We drew heavily on lessons learned from past engagement on the continent, the results from a baseline study we conducted, and consultations with various partners such as the Numun Fund and Al Mawred.
Our grantmaking embodies the Africa Mradi’s non-extractive, collaborative approach.
Roselyn Odoyo, Mozilla
Then in November, we opened calls for our first round of grants: the In Real Life (IRL) Fund. The IRL Fund provides grants of $50,000, $25,000, and $15,000 to African nonprofits working at the intersection of technology and social justice.
That may sound like a broad scope — which was our intention. We didn’t want to fall into the trap of a single-story narrative. Instead, we wanted to facilitate an organic emergence of what different African entities are prioritizing when it comes to technology and their lived realities.
This broad approach had its pros and cons. On one hand, we saw a diversity of projects from all different settings and perspectives: urban, peri-urban and rural; gender-based; access- and education-based; and more. On the other hand, casting such a wide net resulted in some projects that weren’t the right fit (but still provided valuable insight into where resource gaps existed for future exploration).
We also precluded for-profit organizations from applying, a gap worth exploring in the near future.
In all, the positive response to the call for proposals affirmed the need for intersectional grantmaking. We know now more than ever that it’s a method of building important bridges between technology and the issues that matter most to Africans.
In the coming days and weeks, the Africa Mradi team will announce its first cohort of grantees. The IRL Fund selection process was made possible by a panel of individuals from and working across different contexts in the African continent. We’re deeply grateful to the panel for sharing their time, insight and expertise:
Otto Saki, a global program officer with a private philanthropy. He is working on protection of human rights defenders and the expansion of civic space, with a special interest in digital-related aspects such as surveillance, privacy and data protection.
Thobekile Matimbe, a human rights lawyer and researcher who serves as a partnerships and engagements manager at Paradigm Initiative. She manages several digital rights projects and advocates for digital rights in Africa at national, regional and international levels. She has over 10 years of civic engagement experience, actively managing digital rights coalition engagements, and collaborating with partners across Africa and beyond.
Chenai Chair, a senior program officer at the Mozilla Foundation. She coordinates Mozilla's Africa Mradi project. And she leads the Mozilla Common Voice African languages program work focused on East Africa. Chenai’s work draws on principles of feminism when assessing and implementing digital technology. She has developed projects focused on privacy, data protection and AI as a 2019/2020 Mozilla Fellow, available at mydatarights.africa.
Rotimi Babalola, a frontend engineer on the Common Voice team at Mozilla. Rotimi has over six years of experience as a frontend engineer across different teams. He holds a Bachelor's degree in computer engineering and is currently based in Berlin, Germany.
Ashnah Kalemera, who coordinates multi-country projects promoting the use of ICT in democratic processes and for citizen participation, including training for citizen journalists, mainstream media and government officials. She holds an MSc in informatics with a major in electronic government (Örebro University, Sweden) and a BSc in computer and management sciences (University of Warwick, United Kingdom), and has work experience from Spain, UK, and various African countries.
Kathleen Siminyu, an AI researcher who has focused on Natural Language Processing for African languages. She works at the Mozilla Foundation as a machine learning Fellow to support the development of a Kiswahili Common Voice dataset and to build speech transcription models for end use cases in the agricultural and financial domains. In her NLP research, Kathleen has previously worked on speech transcription for Luhya languages and contributed to machine translation for Kenyan languages as part of Masakhane. Before joining Mozilla, Kathleen was regional coordinator of AI4D Africa, where she worked with ML and AI communities on the continent to run various programs.
And Pumla Maswanganyi, a South African entrepreneur, strategist, and innovator, working at the intersection of art and impact.
The Africa Mradi team is excited to continue our grantmaking work; to learn from each phase; and to keep fueling innovation and social justice grounded in the unique needs of African internet users. Stay tuned for updates along the way.