“One point of connectivity can change the world.”
Gary Fowlie – Head, ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations
On 9 March, Mozilla gathered the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge semifinalists and judges, as well as industry leaders, NGOs, and the public in New York City for a day-long event dedicated to Equal Rating. The conference culminated in the “Demo Day” with the 5 Innovation Challenge semifinalist teams from South Africa, India, Brazil and Canada pitching their product solutions to the judges and the assembled audience.
After the welcome and introductory notes by Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, Gary Fowlie, Head of the ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations, outlined the enabling role of information communication technologies can play in progressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He also highlighted how more partnerships and projects on digital inclusion like the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge is critical to improving education worldwide.
Gary was followed by Dr Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research ICT Africa, who presented findings from field research in Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and South Africa. Dr Gillwald explored the barriers users in these countries face when accessing the Internet, and showed how online behavior changes when data is subsidized.
Jeff Jarvis, Professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism (CUNY), added a journalist’s perspective to the conversation, arguing that improved digital media literacy and locally relevant content are critical to the health of the online ecosystem. Jarvis advocated for an increase in intensive research on locally relevant content and a basic models of fair subsidy as a way to fundamentally change journalism for the better in emerging markets.
Mishi Choudhary, Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Center, closed the morning keynotes with a passionate plea to rethink the regulatory frameworks in the Global South to allow for the same rights and principles to get access, to “tinker,” and to be secure online.
In the second part of the conference, Mozilla’s Chief Innovation Officer Katharina Borchert moderated a panel discussion with the five esteemed Challenge judges, Omobola Johnson (Nigeria), Honorary Chair of the Alliance for Affordable Internet and Partner of TLcom Capital LLP and the first Communication Technology Minister of Nigeria, Nikhil Pahwa (India), Founder at MediaNama and Co-founder of savetheinternet.in, Rocio Fonseca (Chile), Executive Director of Start-Up Chile, Marlon Parker (South Africa), Founder of Reconstructed Living Labs, and Mitchell Baker (USA), Executive Chairwoman of Mozilla.
The discussion range from learnings from the Innovation Challenge to the role of governments and global players in shaping today’s access routes to the Internet. The panel also candidly explored critical topics such as Internet shutdowns and the dreadful harassment that especially women and minorities are often subjected to as part their (first) Internet experience.
The highlight of the Equal Rating Conference was “Demo Day” when the 5 semifinalists pitched their solutions to the judges. After having received 6 weeks of expert mentorship to further shaped their submitted concepts, each team shared their respective vision for a connected future. After each presentation, the judges had 10 minutes of Q&A where they pressed the semifinalists on issues such as scalability and business sustainability.
Our judges are now evaluating the semifinalist presentations and we would like to include your voice in the mix. We invite you all to watch the semifinalist pitches and cast your vote for what you think is the strongest solution. Voting is open until 16 March 23:59 GMT. The results of the community voting will be tallied and shared with the judges. The judges will consider these data along with the scoring matrix when they make their final decision.
What’s at stake? The total prize money for the Equal Rating Innovation Challenge is funding of USD250,000, divided into the following categories:
- Best Overall (with a key focus on scalability): USD125,000
- Best Overall Runner-up: USD75,000
- Most Novel Solution: USD30,000
The winners will be announced at RightsCon Brussels on 29 March 2017.