SAMIP names winners of first Innovation Challenge

Nine organisations, startups and nonprofits have been selected as winners of the South Africa Media Innovation Program’s (SAMIP) first Innovation Challenge.

The nine winners are: Children’s Radio Foundation, Mosêlê, Digest, Hashtag Our Stories, Media Factory, The New Era, Pocket Reporter, Not Yet Uhuru Radio and Volume News.

SAMIP is a $4 million, 3-year initiative to accelerate digital media innovation among independent media outlets and encourage new entrants to the South African market. It provides the funding and mentorship needed for the independent media sector to develop and deploy new solutions and reach new audiences.

Bilal Randeree, Program Manager for SAMIP, said that the winners will share a pool of grant money to help them meet specific goals that will advance their projects. “This is just the beginning for SAMIP – we are excited to help these organisations financially, so that they can grow and focus on their products and audiences,” Randeree said.

“We were overwhelmed by the energy and excitement around the SAMIP Innovation Challenge – we were expecting about 100 entries, but ended up receiving more than 200,” said Mohamed Nanabhay, Deputy CEO of MDIF, who chairs the SAMIP Advisory Committee.

SAMIP is managed by MDIF and supported financially by The Open Society Foundation of South Africa and Omidyar Network (ON) to accelerate digital innovation and foster new business models for independent media.

The Innovation Challenge was announced at SAMIP’s launch event on August 31.

The Advisory Committee, that helped select the nine winners, includes political commentator Justice Malala, ON investment principal Khuram Hussain, Mail & Guardian journalist Pontsho Pilane, media consultant and lecturer Dinesh Balliah and media entrepreneur Matthew Buckland.

“I am very hopeful with where independent media is going,” says Pilane. “Working in this industry with print sales going down and large scale layoffs, the SAMIP applications have made me very hopeful.”

Pilane highlighted Media Factory, a startup that has been incubated at the Wits JamLab in Braamfontein, that she sees as the “Tinder of journalism”. Founded and led by Nelisa Ngqulana, Media Factory aims to create a virtual newsroom staffed by freelancers in rural and out-of-reach areas that can be accessed by large media houses looking for local reporting.

Balliah picked out Digest, a financial literacy newsletter aimed at Millennials, as a good example of the type of innovation required in the local media space. “Financial literacy is critical in the current economic climate and in South Africa, and ordinarily this knowledge is steeped in jargon that only a few will understand. The newsletter in itself and the languages it aims to deliver its content in is very transformative,” says Balliah.

M&C Saatchi Creative Spark CEO Matthew Buckland believes that the Pocket Reporter app will help improve the quality of journalism – the app guides rookie journalists in the storytelling process while still in the field.

OpenUp has partnered with the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP) in rolling out the app to dozens of community newspapers across the country and translating it into all the official languages of South Africa. “There is a need for a tool like this, and it’s delivered in a practical and accessible manner as a mobile companion. I can see journalists using this and benefiting from it,” Buckland added.

Besides creating hyperlocal content and assisting journalists in storytelling, other projects also targeted women, which Pilane believes is an important issue.

Pilane notes that women have been excluded from the conversation and, in a country like South Africa that experiences high rates of violence against women, it was refreshing to see that some of the finalists were not only female-led but also created content aimed at those voices that have been silenced.

Khuram Hussain, ON’s Investment Principal, said that he was impressed by the volume and standard of applications.

“It is incredibly encouraging to see the nine Innovation Challenge finalists representing both the geographic breath as well as the depth of media innovation in South Africa. With the winning submissions ranging from new approaches to integrating existing tech platforms into core operations through to experimentation with new digital tools to reach broader audience, it will be exciting to see these innovations implemented and the delivery a broad spectrum of positive impacts.”

“The diversity in the applications and the finalists is commendable considering how transformation in the local media landscape is important for the future of the industry,” said Justice Malala.

More than 200 applications from all corners of the country were received since the call to action was made. There was an equal distribution of nonprofits, startups and private organisations all looking to secure funding, either to get their ideas off the ground or to expand what they have developed.

In the coming months, SAMIP will be accepting applications for general entry into the program. Visit the SAMIP website to sign up for more details and to read an update about the finalists and the program.

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