Less than a year after Food For Mzansi was announced as the continent’s best digital news start-up, the internet giant Google has also selected it as one of only 21 media houses to be empowered by the Google News Initiative’s first innovation challenge in Africa, Turkey and the Middle East.
Additionally, Food For Mzansi was selected by the South Africa Media Innovation Programme (SAMIP) as one of only five new organisations added to its impressive cohort of participants.
Google says its GNI Innovation Challenge is part of a $300 million USD global commitment to work with the news industry to help journalism thrive in the digital age. It is focused on strengthening quality journalism, supporting sustainable business models and empowering newsrooms through technological innovation.
Over 527 applicants from 35 countries entered, and in the end only 21 projects from 13 countries was selected to receive $1.93-million in funding. Food For Mzansi and Daily Maverick are the only South African media brands selected. In Africa, only 7 media companies made the cut.
Co-founder of Food For Mzansi, Ivor Price, says the GNI Innovation Challenge enables the agricultural news and lifestyle platform to launch an exciting citizen journalism project – empowering small-scale farmers and agricultural workers in three different provinces.
“Now, thanks to our new partnership with the Google News Initiative, we can reach even deeper into rural communities whilst also empowering and mentoring a new generation of citizen journalists to tell their own stories,” Price explains.
The Google News Initiative focused on projects that would generate revenue and/or increase audience engagement for local news start-ups, online-only publishers and national news publishers. Throughout the review and rigorous interview process, judges sought ideas that tackled the challenge of creating new forms of revenue and audiences for the news ecosystem.
In a recent article posted on the Google Africa Blog, recipients manager at GNI Innovation Challenges, Sarah Hartley, said: “Finding new and meaningful ways to engage readers is a hot topic for news organisations of any size, and the first Google News Initiative (GNI) Innovation Challenge for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa prompted a myriad of different approaches.”
Since its inception in 2018, Food For Mzansi has endeavoured to salute the unsung heroes of the country’s agricultural sector, whose stories are often overlooked by the mainstream media.
Food For Mzansi’s brand-new citizen journalism project is aimed at South Africa’s youth and young farmers who reside in rural communities with limited internet access. The project is expected to empower at least 50 small-scale farmers and agri workers.
Kobus Louwrens, co-founder of Food For Mzansi, says that although internet access in Mzansi’s big cities are quite impressive, research indicate that rural provinces have fallen far behind.
He explains: “Most of the people living in these rural provinces are unemployed, whilst those who are employed mostly work in the agricultural sector. They have particularly low literacy rates, and are also being held back by exorbitant mobile data prices, which currently excludes them from the news agenda and access to news media.”
Targeting three agricultural communities, citizen journalists will be trained and mentored in basic news reporting, filming and video-editing to tell often overlooked, yet compelling stories from their own lives and villages. The content will be published on Food For Mzansi and citizen journalists will be remunerated for their services.
SAMIP chooses Food For Mzansi
SAMIP deploys funding and mentorship opportunities for independent media organisations. It is funded by the Media Development Investment Fund, which invests in independent media around the world providing the news, information and debate that people need to build free, thriving societies.
The programme announced the inclusion of five new organisations into its cohort of participants. Food For Mzansi was selected as one of these organisations by the SAMIP Advisory Committee who deliberated over the shortlisted candidates in December 2019.
The other organisations included in the SAMIP programme from 2020 are the Media Hack Collective, QuoteThisWoman+, Scrolla and Stokvel Talk. SAMIP says the five organizations are a mixture of start-ups and small businesses from around the country and they look forward to working with them in accelerating innovation and transformation in South Africa’s news media industry.