South African startup Afri-fi, has been awarded US$75,000 for emerging second in Mozilla’s Equal Rating Innovation Challenge.

Afri-fi, which is a free public Wi-Fi was named runner-up after being shortlisted alongside 4 other entries from a pool of 100 submissions from 27 countries by a panel of experienced judges including Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation; Marlon Parker, Founder of Reconstructed Living Lab; Nikhil Pahwa, Founder @medianama; Omobola Johnson, Honorary Chair of the Alliance for Affordable Internet/ Partner of TLcom Capital LLP; and Rocio Fonseca,  Start-Up Chile Executive Director.

Mozilla had earlier this year called for creative ideas to offer inexpensive access to the full diversity of the open internet. For this purpose, Mozilla offered rewards totalling $250,000 in funding and professional mentorship to bring these solutions to fruition.

Commenting on being named runner-up, Tim Genders, COO of Project Isizwe which manages and runs Afri-Fi said: “The divide between rich and poor is being defined as your ability to access the Internet. Free wi-fi allows everyone to gain access. Free wi-fi allows the poor to play on the same field as the rich. Free wi-fi removes the barriers to education, social inclusion, skills development and job applications. In short, free wi-fi empowers.

“Our next steps are to make free wi-fi scalable and self-sustaining through an advertising model. We want to make free wi-fi the new medium to get messages out to communities”, he concluded.

On his part, Marlon Parker, the Founder of Reconstructed Living Labs said: “Their approach towards community building, partnerships, developing local community entrepreneurs and inclusivity, with a goal of connecting some of the most marginalized communities, are all key factors in why they deserve this recognition and are leading the free Internet movement in Southern Africa.”

Another judge, Omobola Johnson, who was a former minister of communication in Nigeria said she was excited with how Africa was represented. Her words: “I was particularly delighted to see strong African representation in the semi-finalists. The solutions were contextually innovative and they all emphasised a strong need to collaborate; big companies, local governments, rural communities, Telco’s, all working together to implement solutions where each of them come out a winner. This unique approach provides a strong platform for sustainability, and I do hope the prize money will go to further scale these projects and extend knowledge gained to other parts of the world with similar context.”

The Overall Winner was Project Gram Marg based in Mumbai, India and it received US$125,000 in funding.