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Interview: Mozilla’s CIO unfolds the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge

January 23, 2017 • Features, Top Stories

Katharina Borchert, Chief Innovation Officer at Mozilla. (image: irwanda24)

Katharina Borchert, Chief Innovation Officer at Mozilla. (image: irwanda24)

The semi-finalists for the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge were announced in Cape Town earlier this week.

This challenge was launched in October by Mozilla in a bid to find creative solutions for providing affordable access to the open Internet. The non-profit organisation called for enterpreneurs, designers, researchers to propose creative ideas and solutions to connect people. Mozilla received submission from 27 countries of which 60 percent were from Nigeria, Kenya, USA, India and Brazil.

Out of the five semi-finalists selected, two teams were from Africa.

The criteria for selecting these finalists was based on affordability, accessibility, empathy, technical feasibility and scalability, among others. The five teams will be given eight weeks of mentorship from experts within Mozilla. The teams will then attend an event in New York city on 9 March where they will present to the panel of judges and go through a Q and A session. Winners of the challenge will be announced on 29 March at RightsCon in Brussel.

IT News Africa interviewed Katharina Borchert, who serves as Mozilla’s Chief Innovation Officer. She is responsible for fostering and enriching a culture of open innovation, internally and externally. With a background of more than a decade of new business growth and technological innovation in media and journalism, she most recently served as CEO at Spiegel Online, the online division of one of Europe’s most influential magazines.

Q: How will this initiative impact Africa?
A: We received 98 submissions from 27 countries around the world. Among them we have seen disproportionately many submissions from Africa. The fact that 2 of 5 teams which were selected into the final round are from the continent. Mozilla believes that there’s no single silver bullet that will connect the next billion people in Africa and across the world to the open Internet, which is why we’ve designed the Challenge to galvanize innovation, broaden the discourse, and advocate for sustainable solutions that serve local needs.

Q: What role does the internet play in the growth of the economy?
A: Access to the Internet changes lives. Internet access brings vast new possibilities in nearly every aspect of life – from the individual and community level, to business growth and better governance. For decades, we have experienced this positive evolution, and seen the effect on Internet-connected geographies around the world. To create opportunities for innovation around the world, from a diverse set of actors in a diverse set of economies, it is crucially important that the open Internet is fostered internationally. A healthy Internet is an unparalleled source of knowledge, empowerment and growth, leveling playing fields and reducing barriers everywhere.

Q: Which other companies in Africa has Mozilla partnered with for this initiative?
A: As part of the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge we partnered with local Impact Hubs, with Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs), a Social Enterprise founded by Marlon Parker in 2008 as an environment for community driven innovation and reconstruction, and Research ICT Africa (RIA). RIA is a Cape Town-based think-tank which hosts an Africa-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.

Q: What other initiatives in Africa is Mozilla currently a part of or is looking to be a part of?
A: Mozilla has been running and partnering with numerous web literacy initiatives all over the world. In Africa for example we teamed up with UN Women — the United Nations entity devoted to the empowerment of women — to teach digital skills to girls and women in Nairobi, Kenya and Cape Town, South Africa. We’re continuously evaluating how and where we could best add value to local partners and communities in the future.

Q: How will the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge evolve?
A: Mozilla has run challenges in the past, but this is the first in such a global scope. We chose to focus on this topic because we have been engaged in the debate around Equal Rating and net neutrality on a policy level for quite some time already. Adding to our policy and research efforts we concluded that social innovation requires diverse participants and novel ideas; alternatives to existing business and technology solutions that aren’t bound by conventional wisdom. We saw that there was a need to inject practical, action-oriented, new thinking into the current efforts. This is why we have designed the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge to foster innovation and broaden the community of people working on this global challenge to provide affordable access to the full diversity of the open Internet. We hope to build new connections between people who have been working on this challenge for some time and people for whom this focus is newer – not only through the end of our Challenge, but beyond.

The ultimate goal for Mozilla is to get a better understanding of how the internet affects the daily lives of many. In doing so they intend on finding solutions and educating people about the potential of the internet.

Fundisiwe Maseko

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