Global Innovation Fund invests R7m to bridge South Africa’s digital divide

The Global Innovation Fund (GIF) has invested $460 000 in Isizwe, a South African internet service provider that promotes access for low-income communities. 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.

Isizwe offers data through unlimited WiFi at 20 times cheaper than the standard rates

“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 offers unlimited WiFi access in townships and informal settlements on a low-cost, pay-per-use basis. Users pay R5 ($0.33) for 24-hours of internet access compared to the average cost in South Africa of R100 ($6.63) per gigabyte.

To deliver the service, Isizwe builds WiFi Zones with hardware that connects to Internet Service Providers (ISPs), enabling it to provide internet access in low-income locations without having to invest in building expensive backhaul infrastructure.

The result is WiFi Zones within walking distance of every home, with each zone covering approximately 100 homes. Since launching in 2020, the team have set up 80 Wifi Zones, including zones for an education group working to facilitate remote-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Isizwe looks to the roll out more than 25 000 Wifi Zones in South Africa by 2022.

Connectivity is the new key to unlock the poverty trap

Isizwe operates a collaborative model with local communities, employing sales agents – known as WiFi entrepreneurs – to engage with the community and generate direct sales. It also enters offtake agreements with corporate partners to sponsor WiFi access for employees, as well as students in full time education.

More affordable internet access can also help bridge the digital gender gap – which currently sees men as 21 percent more likely to be online than women globally. Digital exclusion limits the opportunities for women and girls unable to connect, however innovations like Isizwe contribute to improved gender equality by allowing them greater access to the internet, potentially enabling them to identify additional income earning 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.

Digital connectivity is a priority area for Anglo American, particularly as an enabler to help mining communities in South Africa establish alternative livelihoods and sources of income in the wake of mine closures.

Read more: RocketNet app tech lets ISP agents diagnose your network issues

Featured image by Rodion Kutsaev/Unsplash

Lindsey Schutters


Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights. sign up

Welcome to Ventureburn

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest in digital insights.