Home Startups SA’s Isizwe secures $460,000 funding from the Global Innovation Fund to bridge the country’s digital divide.

SA’s Isizwe secures $460,000 funding from the Global Innovation Fund to bridge the country’s digital divide.

by Weddy Thuranira
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Isizwe, a South African internet service provider that promotes accessibility for low-income communities, has secured a $460 000 funding from the Global Innovation Fund (GIF).

 For GIF this investment is made under ADVANCE – a partnership with Anglo American which provides a way to unlock private sector investment needed to scale new business models for the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

“This is a great investment for Isizwe and shows us that the world really cares about connectivity in Africa,” says Isizwe CEO Tim Genders. “Over 90% of homes in Africa only have mobile data as the way of connecting to the internet – this is on a per gigabyte billing basis, so it is incredibly expensive to connect.”

“The cost is similar to the cost of bathing in bottled water. Governments in developed countries understand the dangers of a digital divide and give significant investment to connect their rural communities. Connectivity is the new key to unlock the poverty trap, so it is great to see GIF and Anglo American applying this to Africa.”

Isizwe provides low-cost, pay-per-use unlimited WiFi connection in townships and informal settlements. Users pay R5 ($0.33) for 24 hours of internet access, compared to R100 ($6.63) per gigabyte in South Africa.

Isizwe provides internet connectivity in low-income areas by constructing WiFi Zones with hardware that links to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), allowing it to avoid investing in expensive backhaul infrastructure.

As a result, every home has a WiFi Zone within walking distance, with each zone covering around 100 homes. Since its inception in 2020, the team has established 80 Wifi Zones, including one for a group of educators trying to promote remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2022, Isizwe hopes to have installed over 25 000 Wifi Zones in South Africa.

Isizwe works with local communities in a collaborative model, utilizing sales agents known as WiFi entrepreneurs to engage with the community and produce direct sales. It also enters into offtake agreements with corporate partners to provide WiFi connectivity to employees and full-time students.

More affordable internet access can also help bridge the digital gender divide, with males being 21% more likely than women to be online globally. Women and girls who are unable to connect to the internet are limited in their opportunities, but innovations like Isizwe help to improve gender equality by allowing them greater access to the internet, potentially allowing them to identify additional income-generating activities and employment opportunities.

“We have seen the benefits of last-mile connectivity in India, Latin America, and parts of Africa, and aim to show that our investment can sustainably provide internet access to those living in South Africa’s rural and peri-urban areas, while generating both large-scale social benefits for users and attractive financial returns for investors,” says GIF Investment Director Khuram Hussain.

Anglo American prioritizes digital connectivity, particularly as a means of assisting mining communities in South Africa in establishing alternative livelihoods and sources of income in the wake of mine closures.

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