Empowering People Through Internet AccessProject Isizwe is a nonprofit organization based in South Africa. With a goal of connecting millions of African people to the Internet, Project Isizwe is committed to empowering people through Internet access. In pursuit of this goal, the organization advocates for Internet access as a universally acknowledged human right and as an important tool to minimize education, health and employment inequality in Africa.
The organization began with the Tshwane Free WiFi Project in South Africa in 2013. The project had remarkable success, with an estimated 1,000 new free WiFi hotspots providing Internet connection to more than 600,000 people monthly.

Internet Access and Equality

In developed countries, the Internet is accessible at home, in schools, businesses, coffee shops and train stations. For those living in this environment, it is difficult to consider a world without access to the Internet, and even unclear how a computer can empower people through Internet access. For perspective, the IMF reports that the highest rates of Internet use among businesses in Sub-Saharan hover at around 60%, whereas the number is as high as 85% in Europe and Central Asia.
In terms of economic benefits, financial institutions both within and between countries rely heavily on the Internet. This is evident even in developed economies where rural areas with limited internet access suffer isolation from the rest of the world. Internet equality is also closely linked to the national economy, as the IMF suggests that a 1% increase in internet users within a country can boost per-capita growth by up to 0.4%.

Internet Access as a Human Right

An Internet connection is a guaranteed path to information about education, work, health and safety. According to estimates, one-fifth of children in the elementary school age bracket in Sub-Saharan Africa are not in school. Brick-and-mortar schools are often far away, unsanitary and lack adequate funding. These problems are less of a concern when children can attend school from home by taking advantage of the Internet.

Although Internet access is not universally recognized as a human right, many countries consider it one. Among these countries are Canada, Germany and Finland. Even in the United States (U.S.), the Supreme Court has acknowledged the empowering nature of the Internet.

The Internet’s Impact on Africa

According to the Pew Research Center, 79% of Sub-Saharan Africans think the Internet has a positive impact on education; 63% believe the same is true about the economy. Despite the widespread belief, Africans use the Internet far less than people in other areas. In 2015, more than 90% of adults in countries such as South Korea and Australia reported occasional Internet usage. In contrast, South Africa was the only Sub-Saharan country where more than half of all adults used the Internet. The number was even lower in Tanzania, with less than 30% of adults reporting occasional internet usage.

The way Africans use the Internet is also interesting. Connecting to the Internet via mobile phones is extremely popular and is an important part of staying connected to careers, finances and information. The Pew Research Center reports that in 2017, 59% of mobile phone users in Sub-Saharan Africa use their devices to keep track of payments. Similarly, just over one-quarter of adults use the Internet to find and apply for jobs, while 14% use it to earn certificates through online courses. Additionally, about one-third of adults use their phones to find information about topics like politics and medicine. These trends highlight the importance of empowering people through internet access.

Project Isizwe’s Efforts

Project Isizwe provides WiFi to people who need it. It has helped more than 20,000 students across 15 schools in South Africa gain access to all the tools the Internet provides. The organization also maintains 70 additional hotspots for mining, solar and wind farm communities and hundreds of homes throughout South Africa.

Project Isiwe also empowers people through Internet access by connecting multiple shopping centers throughout South Africa to the Internet. Through its work with the Futuregrowth Community Property Fund, more than 30,000 consumers can access online employment opportunities and engage in online shopping. As a result, these people stand a better chance of securing equitable positions in both the digital world and the real world.

Looking Ahead

In its mission to connect millions of people to the Internet, Project Isizwe has made significant strides in empowering individuals and bridging the digital divide in South Africa. By providing free WiFi hotspots in schools, communities and shopping centers, the organization has enabled access to educational resources, employment opportunities and online services. With its efforts, Project Isizwe is playing a crucial role in creating a more equitable and connected society, where the power of the Internet can be harnessed by all.

– Christina Albrecht
Photo: Flickr