29 September 2018

The world is going through a digital revolution, where access to education, healthcare, jobs and even modern relationships has moved online.

This then means there is a disparity between not only the poor and the rich, but the divide between those who have access to the internet and those that do not have widened extensively over the years and is becoming larger by the day in our country.

Project Isizwe was founded in 2013 by Alan Knott-Craig jnr, who recognized the gap and the need to find an organization that will not only advocate to bridge the digital divide but facilitate the deployment of free Wifi infrastructure. Alan, pitched the idea to various municipalities and companies, but only the Council in Tshwane bought into it and the Capital City became the first municipality to connect its people.

Tshwane is Project Isizwe’s flagship, but what I want to draw your attention to this morning is the fact that, before the Free Wifi Project in Tshwane; subsidized public WiFi in municipalities was not on the list of what is being considered basic services, nor was it a priority for municipalities to connect its citizens in low income communities. Project Isizwe in partnership with the City of Tshwane propelled that.

Through all our projects and partnerships, we have managed to connect over 4.4 million people to the internet; we have a footprint in 5 provinces across the country, with all our projects subsidized either by a private or public organization.

What makes Isizwe different from every other internet service providers in the country is our passion for advocacy.

Someone must tell the story of those who were not connected but now are, and how having a digital footprint has and continue to impact their lives.

For example, in one of our recent projects in Botshabelo (Free State) one of our frequent users and ambassadors – Wilberforce (aged 25), uses our Wifi hotspots to apply for jobs; and the Principal at Nyalungu Primary in Bushbuckridge told us that since we installed the Wifi router at the school, teachers are now able to submit their reports to the Department of Education in time.

Affordability lies behind the digital divide.

Affordability stretches across every conceivable sector of society from location, to income, education and even gender. High income individuals tend to buy data in large bundles; which brings the cost down.  However, this obscures costs for those in low income communities.

According to a report by World Wide Worx, education is a barrier to internet access, with less than 20% access among all segments that have below Grade 7 and fewer than 40% of those with less than a Grade 11 qualification have internet access, and it rises rapidly after that.

For me, working with Project Isizwe and being the face for advocacy is personal, because I too was part of the statistic report by World Wide Worx.

My first encounter with a computer was not until I enrolled for my first year at University and the rest of my family only got acquainted to the internet when I got awarded a scholarship to pursue my master’s overseas 5 years ago.

We all know or have family / friends residing in low income communities that do not have access, and we equate their poverty or lack of opportunities to anything else but access to the internet.

The World Economic Forum wrote a report that stated that for every broadband connectivity in a developing country there will be 1.38 % estimated growth in GDP.

So, if economic growth is becoming synonymous to internet access, then we must start playing an active role in not only assisting connect the unconnected; but be more innovative in our organizations and business and solve South Africa’s solutions digitally, because that will result in effective collaborations and efficient scaling.

All of this should be geared towards driving local economy and empowering the nation.